Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Oh Snap!

When you are poor in America you will remain poor. When you are working poor there are a few as in few safety nets that can assist but all of it falls upon income, age, gender and having children.

So if you are a single male or female who works but is under the age of 62 you qualify for the tax cuts in the ACA and possibly food stamps that usually top at about 75 bucks or so a month.  When you are a single parent that benefit tops at 200 month, the tax credit for the ACA and you may qualify for section 8 housing if that is still available in your area (as in in amount and properties).  When you are a family there is little to nothing other than the ACA credits.  Medicaid is possible in all cases if income is beneath the threshold for poverty which means you are living in the street and that is pretty much it.

There are local credits for heating, a landline and some transit discounts and of course free/reduced lunch if you have children.  Again the idea is that anyone without progeny is pretty much exempt and that even with children you need to be single and near destitute regardless.

If I hear the phrase "middle class" one more time I will demand a census on who exactly comprises this group and a clear definition of what comprises middle class by region.

As I sit here typing this I am watching Million Dollar Listing. The greed, avarice and sheer arrogance is so distressing that I cannot say one good thing about any of the players in that game.  This is America we seem to think that anyone who is not rich is suffering from a lack of character and desire.  Watch this show and tell me who you would trust?

Below is Eduardo Porter's column today about how the current political debate ignores the poor.  This is not new.  It is Soccer Moms, Middle Class, or whatever new label that is deemed of import when discussing the American economy.  We ignore the poor. There is nothing more to say.

Republicans remain wedded to the fantasy that there is no problem tax cuts can’t fix. Democrats offer a more varied policy tool kit, hoping to lean against widening inequality and give a leg up to struggling workers.

But both parties, focusing most of their concern on the middle class, appear to be ignoring the Americans who need their attention most: the deeply, persistently poor.

It is not a small number. Even after accounting for every government assistance program — housing subsidies, food stamps, help with the electricity bill — nearly 16 million Americans still fall below 50 percent of the poverty line, measured by the Census Bureau’s revamped poverty measure that includes the effect of government support. That translates to roughly $8.60 per person per day for a family of four. That group is six million people larger than half a century ago.
What’s perhaps most surprising is how the apparatus of government assistance has turned its back on these people, not just failing to offer new strategies to help overcome the deepest deprivation but even removing critical programs that used to keep many of them afloat.

How can this be possible, given that support for low-income families has grown substantially since the 1980s? The answer is that even as the government increased its assistance to the poor, it became pickier about which poor it supported.

The distribution of that support has dramatically changed,” Robert Moffitt, an expert on poverty and welfare programs from Johns Hopkins University, said in his presidential address to the Population Association of America last year. “That increase has gone to families deemed as deserving and not to those deemed as not deserving.”

Many of the poorest ended up on the wrong side.

From 1983 to 2004, government benefits dropped by more than a third for 2.5 million single-parent families with the absolute lowest levels of income. For single parents with private income just above the poverty line, by contrast, they increased 74 percent, and even faster for those who made just under two times the poverty level.

The 1996 welfare overhaul, which ended the poor’s entitlement to aid from the federal government while increasing benefits for those who worked, sharply realigned the distribution of help — favoring the employed, those who are married and who have children, and leaving out the childless and those who had either no or very low earnings from work.

All in all, in the early 1980s more than half of government transfers to low-income families went to the very poorest. Thirty years later these families received less than one-third of the government’s help.
Out of sight, out of mind. “We know startlingly little about life at the bottom of society,” notes Matthew Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, in a new journal released on Tuesday by the Russell Sage Foundation — one of the nation’s pre-eminent research institutions on social policy — that explores severe deprivation in America. The American antipoverty strategy, so focused on choosing between good and bad guys, those worthy or unworthy of public assistance, is shaped by this ignorance.

It exposes the inadequacy of viewing poverty as personal failure and the limitations of relying so heavily on providing low-income working Americans with a tax break to encourage better behavior, get a job and just stop being poor.

Deep poverty, according to the scholars who contributed to the journal, is an ecosystem, where bad individual decisions occur within broken environments, where the social glue has come unstuck. 

Cognitive abilities and character are important at the individual level, but they can’t be cleanly separated from their environment. Indeed, deep poverty has no single, or most important cause — not family, neighborhood, job or education. Plucking at one or the other, alone, won’t do.

“Deprivations come bundled, packaged, and may reinforce each other over time,” said Robert J. Sampson, a Harvard sociologist who is the co-author of an essay in the journal with his doctoral student Kristin L. Perkins. “The implication for policy is that one can’t just think of extracting out individual causes for policy action.”

Witnessing the presidential campaign debates, I am not optimistic that deep poverty is going to become anybody’s priority. If anything, the very poor seem to recede into the background.

I could be wrong. Just a few days ago, Arthur C. Brooks, president of the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute told me “the time is ripe for a new conservative anti-poverty agenda.”

He argued that such an agenda would be “rooted in core conservative principles like earned success through work and a sustainable safety net for the needy,” and that it could “cut across the supposed schism within the movement.”

Professor Wilson, a progressive, argues there is space for a bipartisan effort against poverty, which could be built around the theme of helping people help themselves. “There are ways to talk about it,” he said. One needs “a message that makes people aware that they are better off in a more inclusive society.”

The American Enterprise Institute and the left-leaning Brookings Institution have even sponsored a group of scholars across the political spectrum to put together a comprehensive anti-poverty plan that all of them could support. The document will be released in two weeks.

Yet while the experts talk, 20 states run by Republican governors are still refusing to expand Medicaid, as offered under the Affordable Care Act, blocking the access of many poor Americans to medical care.

There’s a reason. Even as the Black Lives Matter campaign and the movement to raise the minimum wage gain steam, the deeply poor remain politically unorganized. They may not even rate a tax cut.

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