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Poverty in the US

Pre-reading: Discuss in groups of twos: Do you believe that poverty can happen to anyone? What is the toughest part of being poor?

Poverty in the US

Poverty in the US

Watch the video clip Jean and her children from and answer the following questions.

  • Where are they?
  • Why doesn't she like to use the word “homeless”?
  • What events in their lives brought Jean and her family into this situation?
  • How does she and her fianceé cope financially with the situation?
  • How does she feel about raising 5 children in this situation?
  • What were Jean's three wishes?

SOL= Shit Out of Luck

The report released by the US Census Bureau on September 16th, 2010 shocked both Americans and people around the world. In 2009 the number of poor had risen to its highest level in over 50 years. According to the US Census Bureau, 43.6 million Americans were living in poverty in 2009 compared to 39,829 million in 2008.

The poverty line based on yearly earnings for a family of four was $21,954 for 2009. For one individual it was $10,956. In 1959 the US poverty rate was 22.4%. In 2009 the rate was 14.3% but with the growth of population taken into consideration the latter percentage translates into a higher actual number of poor. The highest percentages of poor in 2009 are blacks, 25.8% and Hispanics, 25.3%. One in five children under 18 or 20.7% lives in poverty.

About the figures

It has been argued by several organizations such as The National Academy of Science, that these statistics may heavily undercut real percentages, saying that the US Census Bureau use outdated methods stemming back to the 60’s when the costs of living and expenses were lower. However, the National Poverty Center claims that although the methodologies used by the US Census Bureau for its calculations were established in the 60’s, the thresholds and expanding definitions for poverty and are updated yearly.

The Reasons for Poverty

Helping the Homeless. Photo.
Helping the Homeless

Critics say that the recession, which has caused mass poverty, is due to an economic elite in the US which can control political parties and legislation. They claim that 99% of the American population no longer has political representation. Big Business and the rich are motivated mainly by making profits. They spend large amounts of money lobbying Congress and the Administration for tax breaks and subsidies. They also back the parties and candidates who are on the same side as Big Business. They regard any interference by the federal government as socialistic. Government bailouts or programs to raise taxes to help the poor are regarded as a threat to rights and freedom of the individual.

Others claim that military spending on the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan have cost hundreds of billions of dollars and have added to the huge deficit in American economy. Nevertheless, the lack of education among the poor, the rising number of number of dropouts from school, and the lack of jobs are also reasons for poverty. Nearly 6.3 million students or 16% of the population in the US between the ages of 16 and 24 dropped out of school in 2007. According to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Alternative Schools Network in Chicago, Illinois dropout rates were highest among Blacks and Latinos.

Individual Suffering

In America, the richest country in the world, there is no denying that individual suffering is at its highest. Today more and more people have to rely on food stamps to get food, and an estimated 50 million Americans are without health insurance. Bankruptcies, loss of pensions, and foreclosures on houses, homelessness and mass unemployment fill the news and media. Recent pictures of people standing in long food lines or standing in front of charitable organizations for clothes seem like ghostly images from the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

America’s financial crisis has altered Americans’ way of life. Young people ready to start their adult lives are forced to live with their parents much longer, they are delaying marriage. According to USA Today, the proportion of women 18 and older who are married fell below 50%. The number of people between the ages of 24 to 34 who have never been married has jumped to 46.3% in 2009. Those who lost their jobs due to the cutbacks of the recession are also threatened with the loss of unemployment benefits. With the scarcity of jobs, people are also working more for less pay. Many have to take two jobs to make ends meet. The psychological stress pending economic ruin or living from paycheck to paycheck is enormous. Those who have benefited the most are companies who can employ many workers at lower wages per hour.

Look to the Future

What can be done to solve the problems of poverty? Of course, the reconstruction of food, housing and financial systems are basic roads to recovery. However, within such a vastly differentiated, multicultural society this is hard to achieve. Thr total US population is estimated at 307,212,123 (See CIA The World Fact Book). On a more down to earth level, many believe that education is the key to winning the war on poverty for the young. Staying in school and acquiring skills and degrees keep more people off welfare. Also retraining programs for newly created jobs as old jobs and skills become obsolete are essential. Making jobs available for everyone who wants to work and creating affordable health care are equally important.

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