Pat Conover: Sharing the Journey
Pat's Comments Session Five

From PAVA's Roof
Seekers Church School of Christian Living
April 28, 2009
Pat Conover

Generalizations About Poverty in the United States

Quote by Jane Jacobs (approximate)

"Poverty doesn't have any causes. Prosperity has causes."

Comparisons to other countries

In 2008 the World Bank estimated that 1.4 billion people live on an income of less than $1.25 a day, about 25 percent of the world population.

16,000 children a day die from hunger and hunger-related causes.

Germany has roughly the same poverty rate as the United States. In France, poverty decreased by 60 percent over 30 years to a rate of 6.1 percent, but the cutoff point for official poverty tends to be lover than in the United States, and methodologically troublesome since it is figured as a percent of median income and is therefore relative than absolute.

The United States has an infant mortality rate of 6.4 per 1,000 live births compared to: Sweden 2.8, Japan 3.2, Italy 5.7, Guatemala 29.8, Angola 184.4.

Government and Non-Profit Involvement

Defining poverty in the United States as a lack of income to meet basic needs means that even if you have your basic needs met with assistance of various kinds from governments and/or non profits, you still get counted as being in poverty. The basic conception is individualistic, or individual family, or individual household. The person (family, household) would be in poverty if they were not receiving the assistance. Said alternatively, it is a matter of power. The person (family, household) does not have control over enough resources to meet their basic needs.

This conceptual concern influences a lot of politics, cultural perceptions, and self-concepts. If one receives a low-income tax-credit that is money to spend, just a different source of income. Such income would commonly be counted as lifting someone (family, household) out of poverty. However, if money is transferred from a government to someone (family, Household) from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (welfare) then the person (family, household) is counted as "being dependent on welfare," and therefore as not in control. How does this play out for a host of governmental supports: Food Stamps, the Child Health Insurance Program vs Medicaid, Section Eight housing versus a tax write off for the interest portion of a home mortgage, a Pell grant versus a National Science Foundation Grant to go to college, etc. What if the help comes from the government to buy or renovate a house rather than for rent? What if the help comes in the form of an increased wage and benefits because a government is required to use union labor or pay a wage determined by union standards?

Suppose the help comes from charitable support from a non-profit service organization. It usually doesn't count toward eligibility standards for various support programs. What if the support comes from a friend, a distant relative, someone who hires you just to give you a break? What if the support from the non-profit is financially based to a great extent on government funds.

The kinds of supports available for at least some people with low-incomes is another thing that makes cross-national comparisons problematic. It is not merely that !.4 billion people have daily incomes of $1.25 or less. The same people are also less likely to have pure water, access to electricity, public libraries, and public transportation. Indeed, access to many of those things is not evenly distributed in the United States. If you live on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota it is at least a 50 mile trip, one way, to fill up your truck with gasoline. There is a school and health clinics and churches, but no laundromat, few jobs, and no grocery store or pharmacy. Rural isolation creates different social and cultural dynamics among people with low-incomes than in urban centers. The mix of health and welfare services, enrichment programs through the public schools, recreation centers, etc., is very different in wealthy counties like Montgomery County, Maryland and poor counties that are challenged to pay for basic police, fire, and sanitary sewers.

Rewards and Punishments differ for different categories of low-income people
Hard for ex-felons.
Lost benefits as earned income increases and eligibility is lost.
Work first programs versus training and education.
Who gets to the front of the line for work opportunity and work training programs.
Some counseling and some drugs for people defined as having a "mental illness" with blocks to some employment and avoidance by employers concerned about health care costs.

The Business of Poverty

Consider the roles and rewards for poverty experts, service providers, organizations representing the interests of people with different kinds of low-income, the media, and the voices of low-income people themselves. Follow the money...

Factor Comparisons

Compare and contrast, and consider the interaction of: individual factors, group factors, family factors, and factors analyzed by category. Consider the culture of poverty theory.

Individual factors include physiological limits (effects of drugs, malnourishment, intelligence, appearance, injuries), psychological organization (effects of trauma,abuse, drugs, life skills, coping patterns), social factors (categorical discriminations, opportunity mix, access to services), and cultural factors (expectations of others, expressive styles, sub-cultural identities, age-graded expectations, language facility and accents, and "culture of poverty).

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