Poverty In America

Below are the U.S. Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines:

This is a chart from The Heritage Foundation showing changes in the poverty rate since 1959:

As you can see, the War on Poverty actually slowed down the decrease in the poverty rate that had begun in 1950.

This is a chart from Pew Research showing how the American family has changed:

First of all, living in poverty in America is not the same as living in poverty in any other part of the world.

The Heritage Foundation reports:

Because the official Census poverty report undercounts welfare income, it fails to provide meaningful information about the actual living conditions of less affluent Americans. The government’s own data show that the actual living conditions of the more than 45 million people deemed “poor” by the Census Bureau differ greatly from popular conceptions of poverty.[7] Consider these facts taken from various government reports:[8]

  • Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, at the beginning of the War on Poverty, only about 12 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • Nearly three-quarters have a car or truck; 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.[9]
  • Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite television.
  • Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and a quarter have two or more.
  • Half have a personal computer; one in seven has two or more computers.
  • More than half of poor families with children have a video game system such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
  • Forty-three percent have Internet access.
  • Forty percent have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
  • A quarter have a digital video recorder system such as a TIVO.
  • Ninety-two percent of poor households have a microwave.

I think it’s time to examine closely the impact of the War on Poverty. One of the differences between business and government is that in business when something doesn’t work, you fix it. In government when something doesn’t work, you simply add more money to it. It is obvious which solution is more effective.

The goal of any poverty program should be to help people develop self-reliance and get out of the poverty program. Obviously that is not happening–we have generations of welfare recipients. Another goal of any poverty program should be to support the family unit. Obviously our current welfare programs do not do that. It’s time to reevaluate and redo our poverty programs–they are breaking the budget and not accomplishing their goals.

In March 2013, The Brookings Institute posted the following three rules to avoid poverty:

First, many poor children come from families that do not give them the kind of support that middle-class children get from their families. Second, as a result, these children enter kindergarten far behind their more advantaged peers and, on average, never catch up and even fall further behind. Third, in addition to the education deficit, poor children are more likely to make bad decisions that lead them to drop out of school, become teen parents, join gangs and break the law.

In addition to the thousands of local and national programs that aim to help young people avoid these life-altering problems, we should figure out more ways to convince young people that their decisions will greatly influence whether they avoid poverty and enter the middle class. Let politicians, schoolteachers and administrators, community leaders, ministers and parents drill into children the message that in a free society, they enter adulthood with three major responsibilities: at least finish high school, get a full-time job and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.

Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class (defined as earning around $55,000 or more per year). There are surely influences other than these principles at play, but following them guides a young adult away from poverty and toward the middle class.

Those three rules should be the foundation of any poverty program.

The American Family

Some thoughts from a blog called The Conservative Millennial:

In the book, Home Economics: The Consequences of Changing Family Structure, Nick Schulz presents data that shows the deconstruction of the nuclear family since 1960. Not only are people getting married later and less than they used to, in 2009, 41% of all births were to unmarried mothers.

This is significant, because, as explained in a study by Jane Anderson published by the National Institutes of Health, children and society are generally happier, healthier, and more successful when the nuclear family is intact. She points out that as societal norms and perceptions of marriage have changed – from something that’s healthy and beneficial to something that’s constricting and even harmful. Therefore, our culture has evolved to glorifying singleness — and even single parenthood — rather than embracing the nuclear family.

This has led to a higher risk of emotional distress, of psychological immaturity and social and financial immobility for many children who were raised in single-parent homes, which in turn negatively affects societies economically and socially.

This is not to say that this is the sole cause for young people committing acts of violence.  This is to argue that the deterioration of the family has hurt society as a whole, and children, specifically.

…Furthermore, a study by the Social Science Department at UCLA cites a clear link between loneliness and isolation and delinquent behavior. Sociologist Adam Lankford actually argues that lonely, troubled childhoods are a direct cause of more mass shootings.

Fatherlessness, in particular, seems to play a key role in violence among young men. In fact, the majority of school shooters come from fatherless homes. Research by W. Bradford Wilcox suggests that boys who grow up in single-mother homes are twice as likely to commit crimes than those who grow up with a present father. Both sons and daughters are more likely to be depressed without a strong relationship with a father. Broken families, in general, create not only a higher threat of delinquency for children, but also an increased risk of poverty and social immobility. The breakdown of the American family hurts our adolescent who often grow to be hurt adults, which consequently leads to a cycle of pain and violence.

All of this said, correlation does not necessarily equal causation. It is difficult to say, empirically, that the breakdown of family and community causes these horrible acts of violence, but it sure hasn’t helped.

So, if we want to get real about talking about solutions to violence and crime in America, we need to talk about the truth behind these crimes and criminals. The glorification of individualism, of singleness, and of isolation has coincided with our culture’s embrace of moral relativism and rejection of absolute truth is doing more to damage our country and promote discontentment which can lead to violence than it is helping.

Why not start there?