Addressing Poverty

March 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Poverty may be defined as the inability to cover one’s (or one’s family’s) basic needs (i.e housing, food, health care). While poverty has an obvious monetary focus it encompasses a wide range of social issues such as the failings of our educational and health care systems and a variety of personal failings (i.e. pyschological and/or anti-social behavior).

According to the United Nations’ Development Programme’s annual Human Development Index (HDI) for 2011, the U.S only scores 23rd in the world when factoring the inequality present in society. This lamentable finish places our nation towards the bottom of the heap amongst all industrialized countries.

Although we often hear voices on the Right of the political spectrum warning against any drift to the “socialism” of our European neighbors, the evidence appears to suggest that- with roughly 12% of the American population living in poverty and less inequality in other rich countries- all levels of American government aren’t spending enough on programs to fully or adequately address the needs of the poor and help them rise out of their plight.

The celebrated Welfare-to-Work legislation of the 1990s (The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act) certainly had the result of reducing caseloads by instituting work requirements and aid deadlines. Those outcomes appear to be a success. However it is hard to tell how many of the poor were truly raised out of poverty through this initiative as opposed to the fact that general economic conditions of the time raised all boats. The economy may always fluctuate but at low tide the most vulnerable members of society need a job market that offers lower-skilled job options, and preferably universal halth-care and child-care assistance even more than their more comfortable fellow citizens. There is no evidence to suggest that Welfare-to-Work programs offer this type of safety net. Put more cynically, the caseloads might look lower but are we do anything meaningful to address inequality and the vicious cycle of poverty?

Substituting a Living Wage as opposed to the Minimum Wage has promise to better address the modicum of income necessary to provide a worker (and his/her family) with basic needs in areas such as these: housing, food, utilities, transportation, health care, and recreation. Rates can be tied to whatever specified level or reasonable quality of life that can be agreed upon.

In addition to advancing towards a living wage for a more equitable society, we must increase the social compact in our country. Let’s fund better quality occupational and social training programs at all levels of government. Real assistance can be the necessary step in putting the poor on a path for meaningful participation in society and self-sufficiency. As the old saying goes “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” Allocating more, not less, capital (social and monetary) can and does eliminate problems before they become larger, intractable, and costly.

Government projects- such as improvements to our crumbling infrastructure- are undoubtedly expensive. However, they achieve an objective social goal (i.e. better roads, ports, parks, etc.) while also providing immediate and long term benefits. In the short-run they provide jobs. Those workers turnaround and buy goods and services. The future holds that better infrastructure encourages additional economic incentive.

Let’s work toward real and lasting efforts to reduce poverty in America!

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