Poverty
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All Issues
  Poverty
    Background
    Dangers of Poverty
      Crime
      Malnutrition
      Educational Hurdles
    Social Response
    Candidates' Positions on Poverty
 




Background
Poverty has existed for as long as the very institution of human civilization itself. It seems that throughout history, there has never been a society that was not ultimately stratified into what George Orwell would call the High, the Middle, and the Low. Even in the 21st century, the world's wealthiest economy is no exception to this rule.

In the United States, the federal government began studiously measuring poverty rates in 1959. Generally speaking, “poverty” refers to a financial condition in which an individual or family struggles to pay for even their most basic needs, or is unable to without help. In other words, it is a question of money, so money is used to gauge it. Simply put, income determines whether a person is considered “poor” or not. It can be argued that this is an imperfect standard, as the cost of living varies from market to market within the US, but as general calculus, the system has proven to be effective in tracking fluctuations in the American poverty rate. Today, factoring in average cost of living and the current state of inflation, the federal government sets the poverty threshold at about $12,000 per year for a single person, and about $24,000 for a family of four (two parents and two children). There are separate standards for all other household sizes, all the way up to families of nine people or more, who are considered poor if they collectively earn less than about $45,000 in a year.

In 1959, according to annual income measures, the US poverty rate towered at a staggering 22.5%, the highest it has ever been while tracked (prior to 1959 is anyone's guess, but it was probably worse during the Great Depression and other times of scarcity in American history). The good news is that immediately following '59, poverty went into freefall. It plummeted throughout the 1960's and for the first half of the 1970's, bottoming out at a still tragic but much more manageable 11.2% in 1974. After that, the rate fluctuated, mostly following economic booms and busts. It spiked in the early 1980's and early 1990's, when times were tough, but went back down during the second terms of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and the prosperity over which they governed. The cycle is repeating itself again: poverty rose during the recent recession and peaked at 15.2% in 2010, when that year's census provided the most recent overall figures we have available. This is also the highest the poverty rate has climbed since hitting its floor in 1974.

Poverty is not a racially indiscriminate phenomenon. According to data, people of Black and Hispanic ethnicity are most likely to live in poverty, with rates of 27% and 24% respectively. Asian-Americans have a poverty rate about half those numbers, at 12.3%. White Americans are doing the best of any racial group, with a poverty rate a little under 10%. The numbers break down further from there, with non-working adults and single moms struggling with poverty far more than seniors and married couples.

Dangers of Poverty
Poverty is no mere inconvenience. It has serious deleterious effects reaching far beyond the annoying inability to afford luxuries. Some of these are briefly discussed below.

Crime
Statistically, it seems to be an established fact that poverty breeds crime. Because poorer people often live in desperation, unsure even of their ability to feed themselves and their families, they are more likely than financially stable individuals to resort to criminal behavior, such as robbery and petty theft, to make ends meet. Nonviolent crimes including drug dealing and prostitution also tend to accompany poverty. When poor people conglomerate in low-income neighborhoods whose cheap rent offers the only housing they can afford, the result is whole communities plagued by high crime rates. As a consequence (aside from the obvious danger posed by civilians), police working in these “lawless” areas often fear for their own safety far more than their counterparts serving upscale populations, and are more likely to employ heavy-handed law enforcement tactics to protect themselves.

Malnutrition
Concerned with making every dollar count, poor people tend to habitually consume only the lowest-cost foods available that remain palatable. Typically, this means a diet heavy in fast food, baked goods in packages, and highly sweetened beverages. Food retailers respond to this market imperative, so that drive-thru restaurants and convenience stores are a common sight in low-income neighborhoods, while supermarkets selling fresh meat and produce are often rare. The result is the “food desert” phenomenon, especially prevalent in heavily urban areas, in which healthy food options are all but unavailable because the customer base for them is weak. Consequently, though it appears paradoxical on the surface, the United States has a high rate of obese – but nevertheless malnourished – poor.

Educational Hurdles
Generally seen as one of the surest means of escaping poverty, higher education is often difficult for the poor to obtain. Statistically, college and university tuition has been on the rise for decades, reaching levels that challenge the finances of even the middle class – let alone those in poverty. Student loans are available, but increasingly, the amount of debt necessary to obtain a degree threatens to leave students owing money for much of their working lives, particularly when majors with low demand are pursued. This risks creating “generational poverty”, when children live poor largely because their parents did.

Social Response
A number of public programs – including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women Infants and Children (WIC), and Medicaid – exist to provide food and healthcare to poor people at taxpayer expense. These tend to be highly controversial political issues, with those on the left generally lauding them as compassionate outreaches to the poor, while those on the right often decry them as poverty traps that encourage people to grow comfortable living on government charity without seeking to better themselves.

Private institutions also exist for the benefit of the poor, running soup kitchens, food banks, and homeless shelters to provide free food and housing for those of limited means.

Candidates' Positions on Poverty


Hillary Clinton
 
Jill Stein
 
Donald Trump
 



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