Anti Poverty

Written by admin on May 19th, 2011


Anti Poverty in USA


                          Even the wealthiest nation in the world like the United States does not escape the problem of poverty. This paper takes a critical look at poverty and anti-poverty policies in the United States. In this paper, I have argued that poverty is caused by several factors. This paper also discusses the liberal and conservative perspectives for reducing poverty in America. The conservatives have focused on individual factors such as wide wage gaps, breakdown of family, racial factors and other reasons while the liberals have focused on the structural transformation of the American economy to explain the persistence of poverty.  Since 1960, both the federal and state governments have been responding with policies that address the problem with mixed results. In this paper, I have analyzed the policies and have also recommended the possible ways to deal with this intractable nature of poverty.

                   According to Sen (1981), ‘the poor are those people whose consumption standards fall short of the norms, or whose income lie below that line’. The word “poverty” suggests destitution, an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. Over thirty-six million Americans live below the official U.S. poverty line (Blank, 2007). This means a family of three earns less than less than $ 16,000 or a single individual earns ,300 per annum (Blank, 2007, p. 17). Millions more struggle each month to pay for basic necessities, or run out of savings when they lose jobs or face health emergencies. Job cuts, high rates of unemployment, foreclosures and high food and gas prices continue to stimulate policy formulation designed to improve the condition of the poor.

                     Poverty is integrally associated with misery and suffering. The lost potential of children in poor households and the lower productivity and earnings of poor adults are all intertwined with poor health, increased crime and broken neighborhoods. Childhood poverty typically leads to poor health care and high crime neighborhoods. Persistent childhood poverty is estimated to cost the United States 0 billion each year, or about 4% of the nation’s gross domestic product (Blank, 2007, p.1).

                    One in eight Americans lives in poverty and poverty in the United States is far higher than in many developed nations (Rebecca Blank, 2007, p1). Inequality has reached record high. The richest 1 percent of Americans in 2005 held the largest share of the nation’s income (19%) since 1929 (Rebecca Blank, 2007, p. 2). At the same time the poorest 20% of Americans held only 3.4% of the nation’s income (Rebecca Blank, 2007, p.2).

                    Colorado in spite of being surrounded by the beautiful Rocky Mountains and experiencing a cool, mountain climate has many homeless people. Scholars have identified that, a growing number of single parent households, a shortage of jobs for lower wage workers and a low rate of high school graduation have contributed to the growth of poverty in Colorado. The Colorado poverty rate has increased from 9.2% in 2000-2001 to 10.6% in 2005-2006 while the poverty rate of United States has increased from 11.5% in 2000-2001 to 12.5 % in 2005-2006 (Center on Law and Policy, 2006, p.1).  Most of these ill-fated poor people suffer from mental and health problems. 

Causes of Poverty

                        Policy analysts are trying to explore numerous perceived direct and indirect causes of poverty in the United States to formulate effective policies to alleviate poverty. The work of scholars such as Corley (2003), Sowell ( 2004), Iceland (2006), Jencks (1992), James Tobin (1993) and others have shown that the intractable nature of poverty is a result of not any one factor but of the interaction of a variety of causes. The breakdown of family and other social causes as well as the structural changes in the economy, have all contributed to society’s failure to eradicate poverty inspite of ardent efforts by policy analysts.

                   Individual Explanation of poverty mainly stresses the attitudinal or motivational factors and human capital factors. Thus lack of motivation among indigents causes poverty. Generous welfare programs sometimes affect the mind-set of recipients and they prefer to stay at home and enjoy the benefits rather than work outside. Murray (1984) argues that individuals prefer to remain on welfare because of insufficient motivation to come out from public welfare programs.

                  Formulation and proliferation of policies to alleviate poverty has been a major concern of the United States Government since 1960. Educational attainment is necessary to get a high paying job. Elementary school education, as well as lack of adequate skills and motivation among indigents to come out of the situation is the major causes of poverty. People well equipped with technical skills get high salaried jobs while people who are school drop outs get low pay on an hourly basis. During the 1960s when the then- President of United States Lyndon Johnson began to implement the United States ‘war on poverty’, he placed great emphasis on education (Jencks, 1992). The Lyndon Johnson administration even invested in programs like Head Start and occupational training to upgrade the skills of the poor and also to prevent future generations from working in low-paying jobs. Scholars like Sowell (2004) and Corley (2003) have emphasized individual level factors as the central causes of poverty. They argue that a person’s compensation is based on his or her educational qualification and marketable skills. Sowell (2004) argues that the lack of appropriate skills has affected the ability of many indigents to climb out of poverty. He also argues that there has been an increase in the poverty rate of unskilled Americans, who have lost jobs to Asian immigrants. Corley (2003) also supports the above argument and regards ‘lack of educational attainment’ as one of the entrenched sources of poverty. Low quality education from poorly funded inner-city schools results in few marketable skills which leads to low-wage jobs and other miseries associated with it such as less ability to pay for housing, food, clothing, medical care, bad neighborhoods, funding problems for schools, and increased risk of serious illness (Corley, 2003). 

                          Many scholars have argued that structural changes are the primary reason for the persistence of poverty in the United States. Structuralists emphasize issues such as joblessness, discrimination in education, institutional racism and economic transformations in explaining the causes of poverty. Scholars argue that the inability to provide decent paying jobs for some American families and the ineffectiveness of American public policy to reduce poverty are basically the result of structural failures and processes. Poverty is rooted in the structure of American society. Rank, 2004 supports the above view and argues that lack of human capital tends to place individuals in a vulnerable state when events and crises occur. The incidence of these events like loss of a job, family break-up and ill-health often result in poverty. These ill-fated people unable to handle these situations often end up in paying more. Scholars also argue that the acquisition of human capital is strongly influenced by the impact of social class on this process (Rank, 2004). Apart from poor family, race and gender also play a role in the acquisition of human capital (Mark Robert Rank, 2004).

                          Globalization, the expansion of credit markets leading to greater indebtness and foreclosures leading to recession in 2008 all point to the growth of poverty.  Iceland (2006) primarily focused on economic factors and has argued that poverty is also the product of deindustrialization. As the U.S. shifts from a manufacturing, industrial society to a service-oriented, high-tech society, many of the blue-collar jobs that required little education but paid well are disappearing or are being outsourced. Rural areas, such as Appalachia, suffer losses of mining jobs, and cities such as Detroit lose many manufacturing jobs to automation or overseas factories. Some people are unable to follow the jobs or commute to work are left in neighborhoods without employment or tax-basis to support needed social functions, such as schools, public transportation, police departments, and so forth. Others simply cannot find jobs because of the shift towards a service-based economy; in economic terms these people are structurally unemployed due to the changing skills needed. Tobin (1993) supports the above viewpoint and emphasizes on the disappearance of jobs in the 1900s as the main reason for the country’s failure to eradicate poverty. Recent employment data shows that the US housing slump and the crisis in America’s credit markets are threatening to increase poverty levels. Isidore (2008) mentions that the job losses  are widespread, with the battered construction sector losing 51,000 jobs and manufacturing employment falling by 48,000 in the year 2008 . Retail employment dropped by 12,000 jobs, and business and professional service employers cut staff by 35,000. The unemployment rate jumped to 6.1% in September from 4.9 % in

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