Thursday, August 10, 2006

Poverty in America

According to a new survey by NPR/Kaiser/Harvard, Americans perceive the federal government’s definition of poverty as being too low. The government says that a family of four with an income lower than $17,029 is poor. However, 64% of Americans say that a family of four with an income of $20,000 is poor.

Americans are divided over the causes of poverty. About half the public says the poor are not doing enough to help themselves out of poverty, and the other half says that circumstances beyond their control cause them to be poor.

When asked, what are the causes of poverty, low-income Americans rank drug abuse (75%), medical bills (69%), low paying jobs (64%), single-parent families (61%), a decline in moral values (58%), lack of motivation (56%), no job (52%). By and large low income Americans are honest, blaming their poverty on themselves. Given motivation, most of these poor people will eventually pull themselves out of poverty.

Americans divide almost evenly in their views on whether welfare recipients really need help from the government. Notably, 35% of low-income people think that they have easy lives or that welfare recipients don’t really need the help (39%). About half of Americans know of the new welfare law’s (limiting time on welfare and requiring work in most cases) and, among them, 61% say they think the new law is working well.

About half of those polled (and half of low-income people) believe that government programs aren’t having much impact one way or the other on the condition of poor people. On the other hand, large majorities want the government to try.

Blacks (72%) are more likely than whites (52%) to rate poverty a big problem; to say outside circumstances are the main cause of poverty (57% to 44%); to say that poor people have hard lives (59% to 39%); to say that the government could eliminate poverty (67% to 40%); and to say that most welfare recipients really want to work (54% to 45%).

Given this survey data, my Omnilore class was asked three questions. I sent the questions to PalosVerdesBlog (PVB) readers and their responses are shown below, as well as responses from a nationwide survey of Republicans (GOP) and Democrats (Dem). Percentages do not add to 100% since some people refuse to follow directions (eg say “both”)

1. Which is the bigger cause of poverty today — that people are not doing enough to help themselves out of poverty, or that circumstances beyond their control cause them to be poor?

PVB: Not doing enough = 63%, Beyond their control = 0
GOP: Not doing enough = 63%, Beyond their control = 31%
Dem: Not doing enough = 37%, Beyond their control = 57%

2. If the government were willing to spend whatever was necessary to eliminate poverty in the United States, do you think that this is something that could be accomplished, or not?

PVB: Gov. could eliminate poverty = 12%, Could not = 88%
GOP: Gov. could eliminate poverty = 34%, Could not = 61%
Dem: Gov. could eliminate poverty = 56%, Could not = 40%

3. Which of the following statements comes closer to your own views: Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return, or poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough t o help them live decently?

PVB: Poor people have it easy = 59%, Hard = 24%
GOP: Poor people have it easy = 60%, Hard = 28%
Dem: Poor people have it easy = 38%, Hard = 55%

PVB people are generally equivalent to Republicans. Dems line up well with blacks. Some of the PVB responses were interesting.

In response to question 1:

It used to be people were embarrassed to be on welfare and could hardly wait to get on their feet and off the dole.

People still come from all over the world to America with nothing in their pockets (i.e. Vietnam boat people) and years later, own a house, a business and put their kids in college... only in America, God bless her!

Both - those who are on welfare want to stay that way and don't help themselves. The loss of jobs is making others go into poverty.

In response to question 2:

I am having a problem with the question, because it assumes that poverty can be eliminated. That was the fallacy of communism, which ended up creating massive poverty. The U.S. has spent trillions on ending poverty, and has not ended it.

Never! Availing oneself of opportunities will raise the "poor" to whatever status they desire. Making opportunities available does not cost the Government much at all.

Jesus said, "You will always have the poor with you."

Ummm.... excuse me, but.... are you serious? "Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem."

In response to question 3:

The fact is poverty is only one of life's inequities. Some people are good looking, smart, talented, witty, popular, good natured, or gifted. Others are not.

Seems to me that poor people, by definition, are poor; and being poor is never a good thing.

Why work when your necessities are provided.......and then some?

People should be responsible for their own lives - it's not the government's responsibility to take care of you.

Poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently and they're misled into believing that there's nothing more they can do.

In the Omnilore class I provided a few facts to supplement the opinions. What does it really mean to be poor in America?

The poor family will:

1. Pay zero federal income tax.

2. Receive substantial government handouts. (Taking these into account in calculating income finds that the poor number only 5% of the people in America.)

3. Own at least one color TV (97%) with cable or satellite reception (62%), a car (73%), and live in air conditioning (76%).

4. Live in a dwelling with 3 bedrooms and 1.5 baths, garage and patio on a half acre lot. This is more living space than the average middle class family in a European city. Nearly 50% of US poor own your homes.

5. Have children who are super-nourished consuming, on average, double the recommended levels of protein.

6. Your children receive 13 years of free education and are able to attend college if they have decent grades.

Furthermore, only about 1% of American families remain perpetually in poverty. A University of Michigan study has been tracking over 50,000 Americans since 1968. It showed that only 5% of families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution in 1975 were still there in 1991. More than 75% of the families in that lowest quintile in 1975 had made their way up to the two highest quintiles by 1991.

As to the major source of the problem, every year 1.3 million children are born out of wedlock (equal to the number who joined the ranks of the poor in 2003). Unwed mothers typically work 16 hours/week. If these families stayed together and one parent worked 40 hours/week, 75% of poor children would be lifted out of poverty.

Aside for the relatively few who could not exist without government support (the disabled, orphans, some elderly, etc) the vast majority of poor people can escape poverty by getting married and staying married, not having babies until you can afford to take care of them, staying off drugs and out of trouble and working full time. It’s not rocket science.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poverty is a mentality more than a state of being...We all know that old addage about...If you took the richest 1/2 of the nation and had them exchange places with the poorest 1/2 of the nation...Each group would end up where they'd started from within a few years...The (originally) rich would once again be rich and the (originally) poor would once again be poor...Its about lifestyle, choices, moderation of living, ingenuity...a mentality...

Sharon Rose

12:14 PM  

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