Thursday, November 10, 2005

Poverty in America

My sister-in-law and I have been arguing back and forth about Poverty and the causes of it and it's severity in America. Her contention is that poverty is imagined, that people on welfare stay on welfare and we basically create a dependance so that generations and generations of people merely abuse the welfare system and don't learn how to get off of it. She felt that this was one of the most pervasive issues in the country and that my feelings about it were dead wrong.

My feelings are that every man, woman and child in the world (not just America) deserve a roof over thier heads, heat in their homes and food in their bellies.

Her other large contention was this, "The poor in America don't have it as bad as anywhere else in the world, so they're doing okay. We shouldn't have to worry about them, they have TV's and Jacuzzis. Also, illegal immigrants are sucking us dry."

She kept waving in front of my face a "research" paper that supported all of her points written by a guy named Robert Rector from the Heritage Foundation entitled How "Poor" are America's Poor. She kept saying it was from the Heritage Foundation as though that was supposed to mean something. I don't know if I'm just an idiot but Heritage Foundation didn't ring a bell. So I decided to look into things myself.

What I found was a little surprising. First, I found a flurry of articles about the author of the piece explaining how and why this Rector character is a Conservative shill who distorts facts to support the positions of his partisan think-tank. Next, the date on the study is 9/21/1990. So, that throws things way out of date and 5 years of the Bush administration would certainly cause poverty to increase.

Then I did a small amount of digging into the Hertiage Foundation. All I needed to find was this quote from Rush Limbaugh, conservative fruitcake:

So, it's obvious that this stuff has a conservative bias.

Then I started looking into credible sources to find my countering information (I avoided partisan think tanks from either side). I started with the Census Bureau because that's what Rector attacks the most. It's basically number crunching and not all that helpful. It was enlightening in this respect though: when Rector wrote his paper the amount of people living in poverty in this country was between 31 and 32 million Americans. The estimated number of Americans living in poverty is now 37 million. (I found a couple of other articles that mentioned the flawed nature of Census statistics as it doesn't count families without stable residences and doesn't include the homeless. Additionally, if you read the methodology behind the census and the formula they use to calculate what poverty is, you realize that it's still probably low. Rectors article takes issue with the fact that the Census Bureau doesn't count cars and microwave ovens. So, if a poor person owns a microwave oven, they aren't poor. His other big point is that Americans eat more meat, therefore are better off than people who eat less.

My favorite was that 22,000 "poor" households have heated swimming pools or jacuzzis. I'm not good at math, what percent of 37 million is 22,000?

He doesn't make a lot of sense and he tries to fake numbers to make them seem more outrageous than they really are.

Another big part of his paper is that Welfare causes dependency on the state and if we were to expand welfare it would diminish work effort, thusly reducing earned income and thus making families more dependant on welfare. He also claims that welfare is the leading cause in destroying the work ethics in inner city low-income neighborhoods.

A simple check at the Joint Center for Poverty Research (they work closely with the Department of Health and Human Services (that's where I got the link to their site)) and I found a list of common myths about welfare that debunks all of Rectors points:

1) All poor are long term: False, most are not.

2) All welfare recipients are long term: False, the average period of welfare for a recipient is 3 years.

3) Most Poverty is found in inner cities: False, although poverty problems in these areas are often severe, many more of Americas poor live outside of these areas.

And here's a good piece about Immigrants and Welfare.

I also found an entire list of articles that would be good to read that I also got from the Dept. of Health and Human Services: The University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research that outlines varying degrees and shades of gray in the poverty issue. One of note was called "Exit Routes From Welfare: Examining barriers to Employment, Demographic and Human Capital Factors."

I don't know. Maybe all of this will change her mind. Or maybe it will just piss her off. One thing I do know is I'm a helluva lot more informed on an issue now.


Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system. Health insurance is a major aspect to many.

stackdogg said...

I'd like to add that I live below the poverty line, am not on welfare, am white, and have a full time job. If I'm lucky, one day I will be bumped to working class (sarcasm). People like you Sis-in-law enrage me b/c they have obviously never experienced what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck. I am college educated, but in this economy that means very little. I dont't plan on staying in this position forever, but obviously I have no choice now. Please inform you sister that not everyone who is poor are lazy, stupid, or deserving of their lot in life. Many of us are not born with the advantages that she seems to be endowed with.

Bryan said...

The problem with my sister-in-law is that she does live paycheck to paycheck and still doesn't get it.

In fact, I live paycheck to paycheck and have loaned her thousands of dollars I didn't have to keep her afloat (that's just the kind of guy I am) that she still owes me.

She still doesn't get it and it makes me sad.

Marcia said...

What I want to know is how we solve this great divide in thinking. The capitalist think their "wonderful businesses are the solution to everything, they believe they are providing jobs to everyone and that we just don't want them. (who wants to die in a mine?) Not realizing that it's these so-called wonderful jobs that are really impoverishing us by not paying us enough to keep up with inflation, and by poisoning the food we eat and the water we drink. And then on top of that the mechanize and displace workers after sucking up any competitive job in the neighborhood, so when you're fired there is no where else to go because there is no other job in town.

Really THIS IS THE CRUX of all our arguments: Capitalism versus Socialism.
I'm for some blend called a Mixed Economy. Join the Green Party and make it come true.