Streams

America's Deepening Poverty Problem

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Banksy Boston In 2008, one million more children were living in households in poverty than were in 2000. (flickr: Chris Devers)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Rachel Black, a policy analyst in the Asset Building Program at the New America Foundation, looks at the new Census Bureau report showing a record number of Americans living below the poverty line. 

The unemployment rate is taking its toll, with the number of people living below the poverty line the highest it has been in the more than fifty years. Minorities and the young were hit hardest, and the median income for men is about where it was in 1963 with adjustments for inflation.

Black said much of the dramatic uptick in the people below the poverty line has to do with unemployment and with under employment as people struggle to make ends meet.

If you don’t have a job you also don’t have income.

Sign of the Times

There are more people than ever living below the poverty line, yet in relative percentage terms, that is the same percentage of the population living below the poverty line in 1993—and it is actually a smaller percentage than in the early 1960s.

Black said the fluctuations are due to recessions or growth in the economy, but also in response to policy changes such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Medicare. 

That’s one area in which we‘ve made a significant amount of progress. Poverty isn’t just this monolithic number for a monolithic people.

Poverty in America

The poverty-threshold of $22,000 for a family of four is low, yet relative to extreme poverty in other parts of the world seems arbitrary.  Black said $22,000 is very little when you take into account costs faced by working parents, such as daycare, which can run $16,000 annually. For a single mother of two, for example, that amount is untenable.

So for two kids, paying of safe and reliable daycare so she can work, so she can make the income and wages that she needs to support her family can be a huge challenge.

Black pointed out that even before the recession low-income families were struggling.

People weren’t prepared to lose their jobs. They weren’t prepared to go without income for as long as they have. Even for families higher up the economic ladder, people had too much debt and not enough savings, so this recession has hit everyone hard.

Black said that some 45 million people are currently receiving food stamps, and many more of the people who need food assistance don’t qualify for  the program.

The safety net is incredibly frayed and not meeting the needs of the people who need it… [the food stamps program] requires you to have such low income and such low savings that you really have to be in desperate straits in order to qualify.

She said a better program would allow people to get assistance until they were back on their feet and were allowed to try to sustains savings.  Requiring people to be so poor before qualifying for assistance makes it much harder for people to be able to pull out of poverty. 

The Face of Poverty

The struggle against poverty is not equally distributed. Only 9.9 percent of the white population is living in poverty, while a staggering 27 percent of African-Americans are. One reason for that disparity is the disparity in asset building; minorities in the United States tend to have far lower levels of asset holdings than white people and thus are impacted much more deeply by the recession. African-Americans, particularly, tend to hold wealth in housing rather than stocks, and so have been particularly hurt by the housing market collapse. A full quarter of minority households began the recession with no accumulated wealth at all.

As we’re considering how we get out of this recession, [one lesson] is making sure that people are more resilient and less vulnerable going into the next one, and one way surely to do that is help them to build a pool of resources that they can pull on in case of emergencies.

Guests:

Rachel Black

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Comments [40]

Josh from Brooklyn

Any plans to follow up on the household/foodstamps issue. The guest seemed to be wrong about the inclusion of unrelated roommates' incomes in the caller's household income. If this is indeed the case when applying for foodstamps, it is extremely odd. Unrelated roommates do not count as part of one's household when applying for medicaid or when filing taxes or when applying for financial aid.

Sep. 15 2011 07:13 PM
Arthur from Astoria, NY

This guest's agenda/policy suggestions are irritatingly trite. Basically she's saying "figure out how to save money." Gee, isn't that easy? While I agree that many poor (and middle class) people lack an adequate education in basic finances, there's a larger failure here. We're told to work hard, go to school, buy homes, and lift ourselves into the middle class. But our homes are underwater, the student loans are a huge scam, we're getting gouged by credit card companies, doctors, and banks, and our savings are worthless because the interest rate is so low as to be essentially negative. And the real inflation rate is higher than 3%, when you factor in rising food, gas, medical, education/job training, and other costs. So how the F**K are you supposed to save money in that situation? Never mind the constant fear that comes with being broke all the time. The fact that you'll stay extra hours at work unpaid just to keep your job. Or sacrifice sick days or skip meals or do any of a number of other things that will put your health at risk. If she says the world "resilient" one more time I'm going to put my non-resilient fist through the speaker.

Sep. 14 2011 06:15 PM
Eugenia Renskoff from Brooklyn

Hi, I am one of those people suffering from long term unemployment. I have no health or dental insurance. My infected teeth will have to keep being infected. Unlike the second caller, Mary from Manhattan, I have no friends and/or family to help me out financially and nobody has ever called me for jury duty. Nevertheless her situation is dire. Mine is too. I have looked for work but when they see I am not 20, 30 or 40, it's like I don't exist. Eugenia Renskoff

Sep. 14 2011 02:25 PM

This segment was lousy. We're 9 months into the year. Why aren't stats available for the 1st 3 quarters? GOP fact phobia???

There wasn't any mention of the user fees for Medicare or the freeze on Social Security benefits.

Medicare premiums for Parts B/D take a minimum of $1345/year from the average $12K benefit. Then you have to pay MD visit/procedure costs/hospital/Rx drug deductibles and co-pays.

Also Medicare doesn't cover vision & dental. Vision care helps assure proper medication use/dosage & dental helps prevent blood infection via cavities. Not having this preventive care means many are needlessly vulnerable to illnesses of many types.

Also, no mention of the SocSec CPI measure which does NOT include food, energy & other inflationary items. It doesn't even include the Part D premium/deductible/co-pay increases that have happened under the benefit freeze.

Sep. 14 2011 02:17 PM
RBC from NYC

@Leta Weintraub - That caller is eligible for food stamps, but doesn't mean that he'll get it. Thanks to Giuliani, people eligible for many public assistance programs won't be able to receive those resources. "America's Mayor" installed tons of hurdles in the application process of these programs to make it difficult for a person in need to receive assistance. These hurdles were part of the city's "welfare reform".

Sep. 14 2011 12:14 PM
ann23 from new york

I apologize for many typos (in addition to my natural imperfections - English is my 7th language). I just got so irritated that I forgot to edit.

Sep. 14 2011 12:04 PM

@Susy from Manhattan

Let us guess... quaint, 700 sq ft brownstone, walk-up in the West Village??

Walk-up - to feel all "bohemian"!

Sep. 14 2011 11:53 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@ann23 from new york

Yes, I found her agenda irritating! And particularly suited for those whose trust funds diminished a bit and have many resources at their fingertips. NOT for those sliding down to the bottom or already at the bottom.

Sep. 14 2011 11:49 AM

@ann23 from new york

could not have said it better!!

Sep. 14 2011 11:48 AM
Brenda from NYC

@M.L. - I think I agree with you. But I think 25 is far too young to achieve/surpass one's parents. 25 was and still is; "starting out." I just think it's counter-productive to think of jewelry as a necessity or in some way part of creating a marriage/family.

Sep. 14 2011 11:45 AM
ann23 from new york

How dare you invite this ... to the program without challenging her function, her education, her ethics.
I have an ideal for a project. I would pay Black the salary of Jared, force her to pay for an average student loan (without letting her keep a penny from trusts, rich parents subsidies, rich parents housing etc.)
Babbling for so long without mentioning outsourcing, the labor market, the state of the unions, employees' salaries, CEOs salaries, the lack of health care for most of recent hires, etc., etc. etc- is not only idiotic - it's criminal.
How dares she to babble about "asset management" to people so are so abused.
What exactly is this "New America Foundation?" Old Fascist Foundation?Blaming the victims? Nothing new here.

Sep. 14 2011 11:44 AM

'ol Susy probably has health insurance, too!!

Maybe her kid, if she has one, even has health insurance!!

CLUELESS!!!

Sep. 14 2011 11:42 AM
Tony from Canarsie

Susy from Manhattan -- let them eat cake, or if that's unaffordable, Hostess Ho Ho's?

Sep. 14 2011 11:39 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@dboy

I was thinking the same thing!

I can only assume those whose life is going along swimmingly (always) make remarks like that. Well, once you get kicked in the butt and have trouble getting back up, only then do you understand! I guess a rock bottom has not been hit yet. If she's lucky she'll never have to experience it.

Sep. 14 2011 11:38 AM
leta weintraub from manhattan

Can you find a way to let the young man who said he is not eligible for Food Stamps know that he is. The rule re a FS household is that you can be a person in another's household and if you purchase and prepare your food on your own you can get your own Food Stamp case opened (as long as you are otherwise eligible). He, and the other householder will have to attest to that - but since it is clearly the case. hopefully he will not have a problem. I hope you can get this information to him. It can be verified through any legal entity in NY including the website lawhelp. If you need further information, I can supply it.

Sep. 14 2011 11:38 AM

@Susy from Manhattan

CLUELESS!!

Or a white, upper middle class princess with a trust fund.

Or... both!!

Sep. 14 2011 11:34 AM
M. L. from Westchester Co., NY

@Brenda from NYC: I wouldn't come down too harshly on the 25-year-old caller. Sure, engagement rings might be a recent contrivance, but I think there is this expectation that our lives will be an improvement on our parents'. An acquaintance's father was able to raise his family and own a house on a union job. None of my friends are currently living as comfortably as that. Maybe it's a sign of an economic age having passed.

Sep. 14 2011 11:33 AM
The Truth from Becky

I am not surprised by the sound of despair in all of the whites of all backgrounds calling in...they are ill equipped to deal with poverty. Blacks, Latinos and other minorities are not unfamiliar with this Countries current state of affairs, in fact, there are some communities that cannot even relate to the "new poor" because even they have more than they do, but my heart goes out equally to all...pull yourself up by the bootstraps don't give up, be glad you are this side of the dirt and keep trying!!! Persistence is how you succeed.

Sep. 14 2011 11:31 AM

22K is a JOKE!!

You'd need to live in a tent in the woods!!

Sep. 14 2011 11:30 AM
anne from brooklyn

Brian, you just mentioned that you've thought Medicare should have been extended to people who need it as young as age 55, to help avoid poverty especially for those like the caller who are older unemployed.
I wish people would discuss these ideas from a public policy standpoint as well. Certainly not all, but many older people have sufficient savings that, with a little bit of help such as Medicare, would decide to leave the workforce. This makes more sense for people who have a spouse who works, or other partial income like that.
If even a small number of people in this category left the workforce, that would technically reduce our unemployment statistics and would free up more jobs for younger people - those who are in their 20s , 30s, and 40s and need to be in their prime earning years if they are to build up any savings for retirement and reduce the burden on the state for care in the future.
Although it sounds like a "big government" "entitlement expansion", helping meet people's basic needs can have positive ripple effects throughout the economy that will be enjoyed by many of the people that are currently trying to reduce benefits such as Medicare.

Sep. 14 2011 11:30 AM
desdemona finch from Brooklyn

What bugs me is when people say," You're a white woman you should have no problem getting a job."

Are you serious? I'm a still a woman and we're still more likely to live in poverty than men.

I'm pretty much cobbling together a living working for people for nothing after some pretty extensive experience with a master's degree.

And the hoop-jumping you have to go through to get a lousy job that pays the bare minimum makes me very bitter. It's humiliating. There's a lot of exploitive people out there.

Bank robbery is not something that hasn't crossed my mind. At least I don't have kids.

My heart goes out to those who haven't had the advantages I have. If I'm having a hard time, they are having 100 times the hard time I'm having.

This does not bode well for our nation at all. All that potential going down the drain.

Sep. 14 2011 11:29 AM

@ Diane

You are so spot-on!!

If you're self-employed, you're SCREWED!

Sep. 14 2011 11:29 AM
KM from Manhattan

I as well majored in biology. I had low paying academic research jobs (in early 2000's) for a few years then went back to get my Masters in Public Health. With that degree I learned data analysis skills (SAS programming) / biostatistics and can now get higher pay analytical positions in healthcare and technology. One way bio major can transfer skills into paying job without PhD/MD. Good luck!

Sep. 14 2011 11:28 AM
Eva from Manhattan

I have been feeling so discouraged for so many years regarding my financial situation. My husband and I both have graduate degrees and ok-paying jobs, but our student loans are so high and our credit card debt is so high (we've never had enough to afford the basics) that we are literally drowning! We have two children and it is so difficult to to survive in this city as a middle class parent without any safety nets. We just had to pull our three year old from a preschool he loved because as a publically funded preschool it has lost all its funding and they are forced to raise tuition for so-called "private" families. This means families that do not qualify for assistance through ACS but are forced to seek out public daycare centers because the private ones are too much. Unfortunately it's the middle class parents who get the shaft...the ACS families at the same school will not even notice or see an increase in their tuition. I don't hold a grudge against them, but I feel like we are getting no help at all! Meanwhile housing is either LUXURY or low-income with very few offerings in between.
Just so dismayed and I feel I am never going to pull myself out of this.

Sep. 14 2011 11:27 AM

Household income is also criteria for subsidized/free state-sponsored health insurance!!

YOU NEED TO BE ABSOLUTELY DESTITUTE TO QUALIFY!!!

It's a GREAT Kountry™!!

Sep. 14 2011 11:27 AM

The last discussion is a perfect example of how the working poor and middle class are being drained. The HPV vaccine costs $130.00 for each dose, with 3 doses required in 6 months ($130.00 x 3 = $390.00) plus the cost of a doctor's appointment each time ($75.00 x 3 = $225.00) for a total of $615.00 per individual girl. I understand the many families will get help with these costs through Medicaid, but what about families who are not eligible?. If this vaccine is so essential, why can't the government scrutinize Merck's profit and squeeze them to drop the price? They should buy the vaccine in bulk and offer to administer it free through the school nurses. If they won't and still insist on requiring it then they should think about making it 100% tax deductible.

Sep. 14 2011 11:27 AM
Eva from Manhattan

I have been feeling so discouraged for so many years regarding my financial situation. My husband and I both have graduate degrees and ok-paying jobs, but our student loans are so high and our credit card debt is so high (we've never had enough to afford the basics) that we are literally drowning! We have two children and it is so difficult to to survive in this city as a middle class parent without any safety nets. We just had to pull our three year old from a preschool he loved because as a publically funded preschool it has lost all its funding and they are forced to raise tuition for so-called "private" families. This means families that do not qualify for assistance through ACS but are forced to seek out public daycare centers because the private ones are too much. Unfortunately it's the middle class parents who get the shaft...the ACS families at the same school will not even notice or see an increase in their tuition. I don't hold a grudge against them, but I feel like we are getting no help at all! Meanwhile housing is either LUXURY or low-income with very few offerings in between.
Just so dismayed and I feel I am never going to pull myself out of this.

Sep. 14 2011 11:26 AM
Mike from Tribeca

Please ask your guest about the virtual disappearance of the temp industry in NYC and elsewhere. Used to be one could fall back on temp work to make ends meet. With electronic outsourcing, that's no longer the case.

Sep. 14 2011 11:25 AM
Diane

What concerns me is that there is no help for freelancers or small business owners (think sole proprietors) whose sources of income has dried up.

No unemployment insurance.

No job retraining.

Nothing.

These people (and I am one of them) are left to fend for ourselves.

In New York City, there are many people who fall into this category and who, for many reasons, cannot find other jobs, even low wage jobs.

Sep. 14 2011 11:25 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

And just why is there "just not alot of accumulated assets to fall back on" for blacks and Latinos? Why is the wealth here held disproportionately "in the household"? That question is never answered, as if this condition is somehow inherent.

Sep. 14 2011 11:23 AM
Susy from Manhattan

I'm tired of people complaining about their poverty. I'm tired of people acting victimized by their poverty. Face the facts and do something about it. Even if you only save $1.00 a day... take your own destiny into your hands, train your mind to believe you have a future, be patient, don't lose faith, and go get it.

Sep. 14 2011 11:23 AM
Bobby G from East Village

"Let 'em die." What happened to our country?

Sep. 14 2011 11:21 AM
Jolie Solomon from new jersey

Pls use only my first name

I'm on a downward plunge, but can any of us calling be "poor"?
I'm a stat: lost job due to kid's health crisis, even with insurance the Rx bill is $1200/mo,
can't take one of the full time job offered now because of speed-up on hours, and lost equity in house will be fatal. will sell.
my anger surprises me.

Sep. 14 2011 11:20 AM
Chris from Brooklyn

I'm 25, college educated, and yet working in an unrelated field for $12 an hour (I made $10 part time directly out of high school). I live with my girlfriend and her mother. I've given up on finding an apartment for both of us, and anything for just me will take over half my wages.

Straight out of college, I was unemployed for over a year, and employed at $8.50 an hour (out of sheer desperation and severe need of a schedule) for 8 months or so after that.

I've lost any dream of a career or making a life in this country. I have no savings, no health insurance, no hope. The social contract (work hard, do well in college, have a better life than your parents) is broken. I plan to just get out of the country and drift, or teach in a developing nation.

Sep. 14 2011 11:20 AM
tom from astoria

Im amazed at how the discussion of poverty and jobs is not broadened out to the global picture: it's the responsibility of the press to report on BOTH fronts. How many jobs were created in China versus US last month? How is the poverty index in CHINA going these days? How many US firms created jobs in China and elsewhere last month? The exec's at coprporations have two lists on their desks--cost of manufacturing over here versus over there. THe press should keep up with them and open up the reporting to our global reality. It matters.

Sep. 14 2011 11:19 AM
Brenda from NYC

With all due respect to the 25 year old caller. "Buying an engagement ring" is not only a necessity but it is a relatively recent and contrived convention. Part of the disservice we have provided her generation is giving them an unrealistic sense of entitlement and expectation. Being in my 40s, and being raised by frugal parents who did not indulge, I have far less anxiety about my current financial situation. I feel for our recent college grads.

Sep. 14 2011 11:18 AM
Jack from Brooklyn

$22k for a family of blows me away everytime I hear it. How does a person, let alone a family, live on that amt. Rent alone can take half of that away.

Sep. 14 2011 11:18 AM
M. L. from Westchester Co., NY

I read about this distinction somewhere, I wish I remember who made it originally. But I'd be fooling myself if I said I were "poor," although I'm only working part time with no health insurance or other benefits, living in the basement apartment of a friend's parents' house. More accurately, I'm "broke," as so many of my friends are. Many of us have graduate degrees, but we're in low-paying jobs in publishing or at non-profits. However, we're fortunate to have a safety net in our middle- and upper-middle-class parents, who help us out financially when they can.

Sep. 14 2011 11:17 AM
Joe from Staten Island

I am not living below the 22k family of four poverty line, however I will never be able to provide for my family the way my father did as a NYC cop in the 60's and 70's. I make more than twice he did and I have only on child. Each year it gets worse and worse.
There is no point in leaving NYC becuase my industry (television) is centered here and in other expensive cities.

Sep. 14 2011 11:16 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

We must distinguish between some "poverty level," which is a subjective and relative demarcation line, versus "subsistance level" below which people starve to death, as in present day Somalia.

Sep. 14 2011 11:14 AM

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