Sunday, July 29, 2018

Poverty exists

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N Nikki Haley argued that it was “patently ridiculous” for the United Nations to study poverty in America, a waste of “time and resources.” Then President Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers released a  report all but asserting that poverty isn’t a problem in the country. In service of the administration’s goal of imposing work requirements on any anti-poverty program it can, like health insurance or housing, it’s declaring victory in the war on poverty launched a half-century ago. The true problem, the administration claims, is not that people are poor, but that they’ve been made lazy and have to be forced to work. Rather than relying on the official poverty numbers released by the Census Bureau, the CEA would rather use an alternative measure based on how much families spend, not how much money they have.

It’s a strange way to measure poverty — not by the money in your bank account, but by what you buy, which can be funded by cash but also simply racking up debt. And indeed, when two economists examined this way of measuring poverty earlier this year, they found the method doesn’t hold up. The other measures — the official poverty numbers, the supplemental ones, measures of material hardship, measures of how many people lack decent work— have their flaws, but they all point to poverty rates multiple times higher. In fact, the consumption-only measure would lead one to believe that poverty dropped significantly during the Great Recession, a time of mass unemployment and foreclosures that decimated people’s finances.

15.6 million American families who were food insecure for at least part of 2016, meaning they had limited access to food because they couldn’t afford what they needed. More than 6 million of those families went through times where someone in the household had to cut back on how much they ate and their eating patterns were disrupted because they couldn’t afford enough food. 7 percent of adults who say they struggle to get by and the 40 percent who wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected expense of just $400. It’s clear that too many families have been left out of the social safety net altogether, forced to subsist on pitiful amounts of money in a country that boasts the richest billionaires in the world; in a country whose collective wealth has surpassed the $1 trillion mark.

The Trump administration has declared an end to the US war of poverty, which began in 1964. even though a third of people in part of Alabama have hookworm, a parasite associated with the poorest developing countries. The National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine revealed that more than one in three people they tested in a poor part of Alabama had hookworm. This filthy parasite thrives in extreme poverty and is particularly partial to raw sewage. 

If poverty is relative, then the poor in the Cotton States have a lot in common with the poor of rural South Africa. Families living on welfare in Mississippi are as distant from the Upper East Side as their peers in the Eastern Cape are from the rich suburbs of Cape Town.

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