Cases of the Poverty in the United States

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Our group focused on poverty in the United States. Our research question for this topic is “ How can people in poverty escape poverty.” Poverty is defined as the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor ( For my paper I will be researching “The effects of government assistance for people living in poverty in the United States. 

Poverty in the United States is a substantial problem that has been happening for many decades. In his Policy Essay, James Clyburn, representative of South Carolina since 1993, referenced multiple political entities and their personal encounter with poverty, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Clyburn utilized Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 Nobel Prize lecture to emphasize the origin of this problem; “human will” (Clyburn 2.) “The federal government’s measurement of U.S. poverty was developed in the early 1960s by Mollie Orshansky, an economist and statistician at the Social Security Administration” (Fay). Orshansky based her original poverty thresholds on the Department of Agriculture’s economy food plan, which detailed what it considered the least expensive, yet still nutritionally adequate, diet for American families that were experiencing a temporary shortage of funds (Fay). Since then, many attempts have been made to improve, update or even replace Orshansky’s methodology. “The Census Bureau uses several alternative methods to calculate the poverty indices, including the American Community Survey (ACS), which details a substantial increase in the number of Americans in poverty – from 46.2 million in 2010 to 48.5 million in 2011” (Fay). The poverty rate was around 22 per cent in the late 1950s, with just under 40 million people living in poverty. The rate steadily declined, hitting a low of 11.1 percent in 1973 and three times rising to a high of nearly 15 percent–in 1983, 1993 and 2011. Nevertheless, the 2011 poverty rate of 46.2 million Americans is the most ever reported. The poverty rate for people 65 or older has dropped dramatically since the late 1960s. This drop could be attributed to the Medicare Program enacted in 1965, which dramatically reduced the cost of out – of-pocket health care for this age group (Fay). 

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Impoverished families tend to have less schooling, more health problems and less nutritionally adequate food access. They’re also more likely to live in areas of high crime. The more advanced one’s education, the more likely they are to pursue a better economic future. Graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic students are nearly 20 percentage points lower than for other ethnic groups, while their poverty rates are significantly higher than the average. Without the knowledge and skills required for well-remunerated jobs in the modern workplace, each successive generation of undereducated adults merely replaces the one before it without achieving any upward mobility or escape from poverty (Fay). Health is also strongly related to income. Poor people have higher mortality rates, a higher prevalence of acute or chronic diseases and more emotional and behavioral issues. “According to a 2011 report issued by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging: People in the highest income group live an average of 6.5 years longer than those in the lowest income group. The mortality rate for African-American infants is double that of white infants. Poor adults are twice as likely to have diabetes as affluent adults. Poor children are twice as likely to have unhealthy levels of lead in their blood than other children” (Fay). 

For many, the phrase “public benefits” implies money handed out to poor people—but that’s not the case. Recipients who benefit from the nation’s major social insurance programs—Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance—include middle-class and low-income Americans. “In 2010, 39 percent of households had at least one person participating in at least one of these programs. Within the fiscal year 2011 budget, those three programs accounted for an estimated 60 percent of the dollars going out to individuals” (Moses). Within these social insurance programs, most of the participants have paid into them, through payroll taxes taken out of their own paychecks and through contributions paid on their behalf by their employers. Like private life or property insurance, everyone makes regular contributions with the expectation that when a certain event occurs (in the case of public benefits, that event could be retirement, disability, or temporary job loss), they will be protected and able to collect benefits they have paid for. Only about 10 percent of all federal dollars devoted to public benefits programs for low-income Americans are paid in cash. And of that 10 percent, more than two out of every three dollars are for Social Security disability benefits for individuals who have demonstrated to the government that they have a disability that interferes with their ability to work. The remaining cash payments go to needy Americans under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Participation in this program is low due to changes made in the 1990s that promoted work and created a five-year lifetime limit on participation. 

“Many Americans don’t understand the basic facts about public benefits programs because conservatives so effectively peddle their myths. To combat these distortions, progressives not only need to present accurate information about these programs but also must focus more attention on issues that should be at the heart of our national conversation. This will help align good policy decisions with bedrock American values” (Fay). Simply put, elderly and disabled Americans should receive public support from the federal government. Can we agree that in America we should at least be providing these minimal resources for the elderly and disabled? Recent Census data suggest that seniors aren’t living as well as official poverty numbers suggest due to out-of-pocket medical expenses and other factors. Should we be doing even more to assist seniors? The answer is yes. This also means we need to support the social insurance programs such as Social Security and unemployment insurance that have served Americans well for decades. These programs aren’t perfect but that is hardly an argument for destroying them. Experts at CAP and elsewhere argue that we can find progressive ways of reforming Social Security and unemployment insurance so that they better serve participants and the needs of our nation. Similarly, we should be investing more in our children, our youth, and our young workers. 

Works Cited 

1.Allard, Scott W. “The Poverty Industry: The Exploitation of America’s Most Vulnerable Citizens.” Political Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell), vol. 133, no. 1, Spring 2018, pp. 167–168. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/polq.12752. 

2.Poverty in America.” Congressional Digest, vol. 88, no. 7, Sept. 2009, p. 193. EBSCOhost,


4.Wilson, Marcella. “Treating Poverty in America.” Policy & Practice (19426828), vol. 72, no. 2, Apr. 2014, pp. 8–11. EBSCOhost, ue&db=a sn &AN=95396973&site=ehost-live.

5.Writer, AuthorBill FayStaff. “Poverty in the United States.”, www.debt.or g/faqs /americans-in-debt/poverty-united-states/. 

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