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Poor Americans

by David Doody

Tags: poor, poverty, poverty level, middle class, economic inequality, food stams, unemployment, unemployment benefits, health insurance, Obama administration, jobs, politics, Mother Jones, In These Times, The Take Away, City Limits, The Atlantic, David Doody,


The data on the poor in this country announced Tuesday by the Census Bureau was not good, and due to measures already taken by Congress and those likely to come, the outlook doesn’t provide much reason for hope. Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones gives some of the “lowlights”:

In These Times’ David Moberg continues:

All this while we learn, as associate editor Margret Aldrich wrote on her Sweet Pursuit blog last week, “Economic equality equals happiness. So suggests a new study to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. In order for Americans to be truly blissed out, it finds, we need to close the gap between our wealthiest and poorest citizens.”

Unfortunately we see that’s not happening, leaving The Take Away this morning to ask the discouraging question, “Does America Care About Its Poor?” Though The Take Away left it up to listeners, the answer seems to be, for the most part, no. That said, Moberg at In These Times does point out that “bad as these numbers are, they would have been much worse if many government programs and policies had not been in place,” including unemployment insurance, The Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and the Obama administration’s stimulus programs. (I don’t know how many times economists and others have to point out that the only problem with Obama’s stimulus was that is simply wasn’t big enough before it will be okay to use the word “stimulus” again. But I digress.) Still, “welfare” programs aren’t what they used to be. “Evidence suggests,” writes Jarret Murphy in City Limits, “that today’s needy families are, in large measure, not getting the help to which they are legally entitled. In 1996, for every 100 families that were in poverty, 79 were on welfare. In 2010, the figure was 28, according to the CBPP [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].” LaDonna Pavetti, the vice president for family income support policy at the CBPP is quoted as saying, “It’s just truly people are not being served. And it’s not because we’ve had this incredible decline in poverty.” Point proven by the recent Census data.

But now the conversation in Washington is switching back to jobs, so everything should be just fine, right? We’ve gotten our priorities straight, so we can figure out how to fix the problem. Not so fast. Writing about the declining middle class in The Atlantic, Don Peck writes that the jobs that are coming down the pike will be low-skill, low-wage jobs, jobs like the ones highlighted a decade ago by Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed and now touted (though not in so many words) by the possible Republican presidential candidate from Texas. In short, jobs that won’t bring people up out of poverty and back into any sort of middle class. “[T]he overall pattern of change in the U.S. labor market suggests,” Peck writes,

Peck’s article offers a number of suggestions about how to regain a middle class and avoid further separation between those at the top and those at the bottom. Unfortunately, nothing so serious as his article seems to be on the table in Washington discussions. And it’s Americans who are paying for it.

Audio from The Take Away with guest Photojouranlist Steve Liss, director of AmericanPoverty.org: 

Source: Mother Jones, In These Times, The Take Away, City Limits, The Atlantic 

Image by sylvar, licensed under Creative Commons