Poverty in the USA - Article Example

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Poverty Discuss various ways of measuring poverty, giving illustrations of how the differing conceptions apply to real life situations. Include the USA government definition, as well as other conceptions, including a discussion of which definition gives the most accurate measure and why
Defining and measuring poverty is a troublesome task due to the fact that there are many variables to be taken into account. Some degree of ambiguity and statistical data are necessary in order to provide a definition and a measure that can be applied effectively by policy makers (Think Quest, 2006). So there are statistical and social definitions of poverty, as well as a mixture of both methods. Social definition includes the concept of empowerment and human development (Think Quest, 2006). In other words, “...objective measures of poverty present numerous problems in terms of identifying the poor, but succeed in providing the aggregate statistics policy makers desire” (Maxwell, 1999, p. 3).
Most of the time emphasis is made on defining and measuring poverty thresholds and poverty lines, but some researchers argue that policy makers should define and measure poverty in terms of “self-sufficiency” (Mutari, 2001) or the level of income that a person or a family really needs to live a life free of worries about economical and human development issues.
In the United States poverty began to be measured in the 1950s based on a survey that showed that families spent about one-third of their incomes on food. Mollie Orshansky, an economist from the Social Security Administration, set the poverty threshold at three times the cost of an economy food plan defined by the Department of Agriculture (University of Michigan, 2001). The thresholds are updated yearly and vary according to the size and age composition of a family (US Census Bureau, 2009).
Frank provides the federal poverty thresholds as of 2004 as follows:
“Household Size Federal Poverty Threshold
1 person $ 9,310
2 people 12,490
3 people 15,670
4 people 18,850
5 or more Add $3,180 per person” (Frank, 2006).
Frank states that “using these income levels, the Census Bureau reported that 12.7% percent of U.S. residents and 17.8% of U.S. children lived in poverty in 2004. Black Americans experience poverty at nearly double these rates: 24.9% of all Blacks and 33.3% of Black children live in households with incomes below the poverty line” (Frank, 2006).
Most of the researchers and experts agree that the poverty line is “far too low for a household to survive on in most parts of the United States” (Frank, 2006). Researchers Pearce and Brooks found that “a single parent living in the Bronx with two children, one in school and one in daycare, would need a gross income of $3,684 per month (or $44,208 per year) to meet their basic needs. Even working full time, the parent would have to earn $20.93 per hour –much more than the typical entry-level wage for someone without specialized skills.” (Mutari, 2001).
Mutari states that “When we look at other benchmarks, these problems are even more glaring. Consider the example of a single-parent family with two children, living in the borough of Queens (...). To be truly self-sufficient, the family would need a gross annual income of $46,836. But the federal poverty line for this family is only $14,150. And welfare benefits under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, combined with food stamps, do not even bring this family up to the federally defined poverty line! The total welfare grant package in New York City is less than one-fourth of the self-sufficiency standard.” (Mutari, 2001). This is the main reason why the poverty line is calculated as too low by the Government. Another critique of the government’s definition of poverty is the fact that it does not reflect an adequate response to human development standards as set by the United Nations Development Program.
But the United Nations calculates poverty according to a different criterion, that is, the Human Poverty Index (HPI), developed by the United Nations Developing Program (UNDP). “The HPI includes measures of low life expectancy, illiteracy, and lack of access to health services, drinking water, and adequate nutrition. All these are human conditions associated with poverty. Human poverty and income poverty sometimes coincide, but not always” (University of Michigan, 2001).
Lately, there have been efforts to redefine poverty in the United States according to a new methodologies (The American Prospect, 2009; Harms, 1995). At the World Summit on Social Development in 1995, overall poverty was defined as “lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic needs; increased morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments and social discrimination and exclusion. It is also characterised by lack of participation in decision-making and in civil, social and cultural life. It occurs in all countries: as mass poverty in many developing countries, pockets of poverty amid wealth in developed countries, loss of livelihoods as a result of economic recession, sudden poverty as a result of disaster or conflict, the poverty of low-wage workers, and the utter destitution of people who fall outside family supports systems, social institutions and safety nets.” (Gordon, 2005).
The United Nations definition of poverty takes into consideration the concept of human development (, 2009) as follows:
“Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and cloth a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living on marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation.” (Gordon, 2005).
Asset poverty is defined as “a net worth insufficient to cover minimal living expenses for three months; and insufficient liquid wealth to cover these expenses. Liquid wealth is cash and other easily monetized assets.” (Doyle, 2003). It should be included in the definition and measurement of poverty (Doyle, 2003), as well as the component of consumer debt according to Pressman and Scott (2007). When asset poverty is not taken into account it has some negative consequences since there are many cases of real emergencies when liquid wealth is necessary. That happens when someone loses a job or gets sick. So asset poverty is a very important concept to be considered when calculating the poverty line.
Poverty is unethical. In a world with plenty of economic resources it is unethical that great masses of people live in poverty. There should be much more equity in the distribution of economic resources.
Poverty can be considered a serious violation of human rights taking into account that there is no wealth limit for the wealthy and the great amount of money spent on military defense (Ackerman, 1999). It can also be said that great masses of people are living as modern slaves.
Works Cited.
Ackerman, Seth. (1999, Jan-Feb). The Ever-Present Yet Nonexistent Poor. For Heritages Poverty Expert, Numbers Mean What He Says They Mean. 27 September 2009. .
Doyle, Rodger. (2003). By the Numbers. Defining Poverty. Official poverty statistics may be misleading. 27 September 2009. Scientific American, p. 31. Vol. 288, No. 4. PDF.
Frank, Ellen. (2006, Jan-Feb). Dear Dr. Dollar: Poverty. Dollars & Sense. 27 September 2009. .
Gordon, David. (2005, Dec. 12-14). Indicators of Poverty and Hunger. University of Bristol. United Nations. 27 September 2009. .
Harms, William. (1995, May 11). Poverty definition flawed, more accurate measure needed. University of Chicago Chronicle. Vol. 14, No. 17. 27 September 2009. .
Maxwell, Simon. (1999, Feb). Poverty Briefing. The meaning and measurement of poverty. Overseas Development Institute (ODI). 27 September 2009. .
Mutari, Ellen. (2001, Jul-Aug). Self-sufficiency: an elusive goal. Dollars & Sense, pp. 41-42. 27 September 2009. PDF. (2009, Aug). Poverty Definition briefing. 27 September 2009. .
Pressman, Steven, & Scott, Robert. (2007, Jul-Aug). Three Million Americans Are Debt Poor. Dollars & Sense. 27 September 2009. .
The American Prospect. (2009, Sept 16). Mis-Measuring Poverty. 27 September 2009. .
Think Quest. (2006). A dollar a day. Finding solutions for poverty. 27 September 2009. .
University of Michigan. (2001). Development and Poverty. 27 September 2009. .
US Census Bureau. (2009, Sept. 10). Poverty. 27 September 2009. . Read More
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