published Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Poverty in U.S. is mainstream: Perhaps the social safety net should be strengthened

Poverty is not what most of us think. And the myth vs. the reality is causing us as a nation to draft, pass and preserve poor policy.

The myth is that poverty affects only a few, and mostly in inner cities among people who aren’t working hard enough. But Mark R. Rand, a researcher and professor of social welfare at Washington University, is a myth-buster.

Rand is the co-author of a forthcoming book called “Chasing the American Dream: Understanding what Shapes our Fortunes.” Last week he wrote a commentary for the New York Times that offers a peek at his findings.

“My research indicates that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line” during those years of their lives, and 54 percent will spend a year at or near poverty, Rand writes.

The poverty line is $23,492 for a family of four.

“Even more astounding, if we add in related conditions like welfare use, near-poverty and unemployment, four out of five Americans will encounter one or more of these events,” Rand wrote for the Times. He calls poverty “a mainstream event experienced by a majority of Americans.”

Here’s another myth-buster: The average time most people spend in poverty is fairly short — not the stereotype of the entrenched underclass.

According to the U.S. Census, poverty also is an equal-opportunity scourge: In 2012, nearly 10 percent of whites were living in poverty, 11.4 percent of Asians, 25.6 percent of Hispanics and 27 percent of blacks. Rural areas are not immune. From 2000 to 2009, Chattanooga’s metropolitan statistical area — Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie counties in Tennessee and Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties in Georgia — saw its number of high-poverty census tracts rise from four to nine. And Grundy County — which is nearly all white — has one of Tennessee’s highest poverty rates. Four in 10 children there live in poverty.

What these facts show is that our policymakers should not be talking about safety nets as code words for “entitlement.” Especially given that 21.8 percent of U.S. children under 18 live in poverty.

Yet Congress — especially the radical Republicans who like to wrap themselves in flags and family and apple pie — seems to be increasingly against anything that might strengthen the safety net for people who are impoverished for usually brief periods of their lives. Instead of strengthening the net, Congress is pulling away at the food-stamp and temporary-welfare-assistance threads of it.

Remember Rep. Paul Ryan said: “But we don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency…”

Actually, given the size of the poverty problem and the increasing income gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and the slumping income increases for the working poor and middle class, perhaps we need to expand the net to something that is a bit more hammock-sized.

The maximum weekly unemployment benefit in Tennessee is $275. In Georgia, it’s $330, and in Alabama it’s $265.

Food stamp benefits were just cut for 47 million Americans, and many in the GOP want the Affordable Care Act repealed. Many GOP governors turned down ACA money that would extend health-care coverage to some of their poorer citizens.

Now a new report has found that in more than half of states, it costs more to put an infant in a child-care center than to cover tuition and fees at a public college. And — oh, yeah — we made big cuts to Head Start, too.

Welfare enrollment, by the way, is down nearly 5 percent in Tennessee and down more than 10 percent in Georgia. In August 2013 the Tennessee Department of Human Services reported that the number of households receiving Families First (welfare) assistance was 51,735 and the average monthly cash benefit for participating families was $164.92, according to a department web page.

Don’t worry. These folks are not getting too comfortable in Ryan’s imaginary hammock of entitlements. These folks are falling straight through.

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nucanuck said...

Year after year the workforce contracts and the general economic conditions for a large majority of Americans worsen. We are seeing a secular change in the US economy that no longer needs as many workers due to technology advances and outsourcing.

We have a surplus of people that is not going away. Our society will be determined by how we deal with the over-supply of people. Growing poverty leads to growing desperation and that desperation leads to disruptive behavior...and the birth of revolutions.

Internment camps won't contain an angry populous who see unimaginable wealth on the one hand and starvation on the other. Is this the road that we wish to travel? We are on it now.

November 10, 2013 at 12:35 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Dealing proactively with unemployment, the uninsured, and poverty in general is not just a matter of bleeding heart liberalism. Conservatives like to make the argument that liberals don't think objectively, we just react instinctively out of some "feel good" gene that we seem to have. And while any nation that calls itself civilized ought to have a government that always strives to do the right thing for its poor and disadvantaged, it is just as much a matter of prudence to have strong safety nets for them as it is a matter of compassion. From a purely economics perspective, it does not even make sense, on any level, to cut or diminish the safety nets, especially at a time when the economy is suffering to the extent that it is. Every dollar that people on welfare or food stamps or unemployment insurance receives goes right back into the economy, creating more demand, and the demand in turn creating more jobs. Not only that, those who are economically disadvantaged are able to keep their heads afloat, pay their bills, and have a base from which to gain a more secure footing for themselves. It's not easy getting out of poverty in the first place. How much harder is it when you don't even have a roof over your head!

Of course there are those who lack motivation or self-respect to strive for something better for themselves - there have always been the lazy and the shiftless among us and there always will be. But the vast majority of people want much more than the mere subsistence that food stamps or welfare provides. The "tough love" that today's conservatives profess to espouse is actually a mask of their own selfishness and greed to continue on this road that we have been traveling for the past 30+ years, of minimal taxes on the rich and a system that has been rigged heavily in their favor.

November 10, 2013 at 2:34 p.m.
soakya said...

you give yourself too much credit ricky, conservatives don't believe liberals operate on a "feel good gene" that you seem to have. we believe you operate on ignorance, arrogance, complete disregard of the facts and delusions of grandeur.

November 10, 2013 at 4:27 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Soakya, if I had a nickel for every time I've heard conservatives say that liberals don't think, they just like to do what "feels good," I could buy a yacht. If you want to deny that lots of righties say that, well, so be it. It just goes to show that you yourself "operate on ignorance and... a complete disregard of the facts." As for the arrogant part, I can't really hurl that epithet at you - lord only knows, you don't have anything to be arrogant about.

November 10, 2013 at 4:40 p.m.
nucanuck said...

soakya, got anything to add about the editorial or are you just out taking pot shots?

November 10, 2013 at 7:21 p.m.
soakya said...

nucanuck, what part of the editorial are you responding to with the above post?

if you liberals want to dish it then take it. you don't like the post don't read it.

November 10, 2013 at 7:26 p.m.
nucanuck said...

soakya, the editorial speaks to safety nets and I referred directly to how we treat our "over supply of people". You, on the other hand, just fired off a not very good zinger for no apparent reason than to be disagreeable. I take you are quite young.

FYI, I consider myself a conservative, just not in the mold of those who have currently co-opted the term.

November 10, 2013 at 8:29 p.m.
soakya said...

you very well may consider yourself a conservative and so does john McCain and lamar alexander. its not others that have co-opted the term its folks like yourself and the above.

again you don't like the post don't read them. you can't take it don't dish it. i'm not going to take the time to go back and read your previous post but if I did I am sure I would find what you called zingers from you and probably hate filled vitriol directed at those that disagree with you. so take your whining elsewhere.

November 10, 2013 at 8:55 p.m.
nucanuck said...

Another young gun without much ammo!

November 10, 2013 at 10:27 p.m.
soakya said...

don't need much nucanuck you're firing blanks

November 10, 2013 at 10:31 p.m.

Over-supply of people? No. Imminent revolution? No. Such is the miniscule pervue of self-consumed, cynical ideologues.

There is an under-supply of capital-development opportunities and an over-supply of pass-the-buck “compassion” (as seen in the stinginess of liberals with their own resources and the burdening of future generations with the price tag for their safety nets).

Safety nets “built” by the state become hammocks. Wishful thinking and attempts at guilt-inducement will not alter human nature.

November 11, 2013 at 11:50 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

The jobs that were lost and the companies that folded as a direct result of the Great Recession are not coming back. And the "job creators" that you wing-nut conservatives praise so highly are not creating jobs with those tax breaks they have been getting for the past decade and more. Not only are they not creating jobs, they are not even raising wages for the employees where profits are higher than ever.

So what is the fault of the "under-supply of capital investment opportunities?" Obamacare? Over-regulation? There have not been any serious regulations put in place since Obama took office. Cap-and-trade, the most stringent regulation that could affect the polluting industries, is barely whispered in the White House, even among the most liberal of Democrats. As for really want to get serious about removing that onus of employer-provided health care? Go to a single-payer universal health care system! I totally agree that it is a terrible burden on businesses to expect them to provide health care for its employees. It worked well for a brief time after WW2, before our major industries shipped all their jobs overseas, but today we are practically the only industrialized nation that ties our health care to our place of employment. It is an unworkable, antiquated system that needs to be scrapped altogether. Imagine the capital that could be freed up if business owners didn't have that expense to worry about, and the opportunities for new start-up businesses that would avail themselves if potential entrepreneurs knew they wouldn't have to worry about that expense at all. Even if Obamacare disappeared tomorrow you righties would still expect business owners, whom you say are over-burdened and over-regulated already, to provide our health care, because none of you bother to come up with another plan. All you want to do is tear down and go back to the same ol' same ol'.

WWWTW, it's funny to hear you speak of the "miniscule pervue of self-consumed ideologues." You are describing yourself to a T (as in Teabagger). You keep your narrow vision focused on the so-called waste of our safety net programs and you can't even see the much greater waste that is at the root of our economic woes, which is the abominable tax doges, loopholes, and subsidies we provide to the richest among us. If you want to complain about leeches, moochers, and takers who have become dependent on the government as they suckle at its teat, then talk about those at the top of the ladder, not the bottom of it.

November 11, 2013 at 1:21 p.m.
conservative said...

So,Ms. Sohn,if a poor person gets free medical care, free welfare, free dental care, free food stamps, free education, almost free housing, how much would they have to limit their income to get totally free housing?

November 11, 2013 at 5:35 p.m.
nucanuck said...


Over-supply of people? Most certainly. A contracting labor force and a growing working age population have given the US 101 million people who, for varying reasons, are not working. Unemployment is at abnormal highs all over the developed world. The rest of the world is awash with people. There is no reason to believe that prior growth rates that fed off of cheap and abundant energy will ever return.

Birth rates are dropping everywhere except Africa. World population is predicted to max out at nine billion. If that number is reached, there will be widespread misery. Let's hope that population actually begins to fall in a steady even pattern, because the alternative is a die-off from events that get out of control.

November 11, 2013 at 11:20 p.m.
Pam Sohn Opines..... And Grundy County — which is nearly all white — has one of Tennessee’s highest poverty rates. Four in 10 children there live in poverty....... I will respond with.....There were 5,562 households out of which 33.40% had children under the age of 18 living with them.......12.00% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.10% were non-families....... About 22.60% of families and 25.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.50% of those under age 18.....Your sample size of Grundy county is 1133 persons under the age of 18 living in poverty. This in a county with no industry or manufacturing to speak of yet 78% of families live above the poverty line......So 12% are unwed mothers accounting for 667 families in the county and the average family size is 2.54 so that accounts for up to 1027 children which is very close to your sample size of after breaking down the numbers  can we say that Grundy county  tells us it is unwed childberth and a lack of industry that lead to 40% child poverty rate...
November 12, 2013 at 10:22 a.m.


November 12, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.
November 12, 2013 at 10:34 a.m.

Sorry for the multiple posts but not seeing my rebuttle

November 12, 2013 at 10:42 a.m.
fairmon said...

Nothing is said about the failure of those in need to qualify themselves for better jobs, the need to entice an employer to hire them. The attack on businesses is why many have left the U.S. and why many more will follow them. Consumers fail to realize that any legislation resulting in added cost to a business is simply passed on to the consumer. The reason those in office bash them is they love to suck the blood from them and hide the fact it is a tax on those they are supposed to represent.

Is it reasonable to expect an employer to hire and provide good pay and benefits to someone that cannot read, write, comprehend, do basic math? The number that have little to offer an employer is not much smaller than those needing assistance long term unless they improve their ability to make a meaningful contribution to an employers success.

The solution? Abolish all legislated cost to businesses and abolish all business tax therefore the manipulation in the form of deductions reductions, incentives etc. except one incentive for the cost to train those hired to perform the job they are hired to do without protecting the employment of those that cannot or will not be reliable, productive and perform the work propely.

November 12, 2013 at 11:48 p.m.
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