My Nursing Education

Where compassion, faith, and reason coexist

Poverty – Compassion and Justice

In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson declared an unconditional War on Poverty.  At that time the rate of poverty was around 19% and declining.  The population of the U.S. was much smaller and even though the percentage of Americans in poverty (15%) is smaller than it was in 1964 (19%) the actual number of people in poverty is larger.  Today the poverty rate is around 15-16% (between 45-50 million people).  Unfortunately, while 24% of our population is children, 36% of those is poverty are children.

Much of the legislation was meant to help people who are in poverty survive.  Food stamps, Medicaid, and WIC are some well-known examples.  These programs ensure people have life-sustaining food and medical care.  Other programs like Head Start and Job Corps are focused on helping those in poverty with education ranging from pre-school to getting a GED and job skills.  This was the approach for over 30 years until Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996.  The PRWORA was a shift to workforce development and replaced Aid for Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), which encourages work within two years.  It is believed that the push to change from AFDC to TANF was due to a shift from predominately widows to single mothers.  Consequently, support declined.  Many critics of this shift claimed it was racist, misogynistic, and anti-immigrant.  Critics also said the PRWORA would not help to move people out of poverty.  The first substantial addition since 1996 has been the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which unlike the move to TANF avoided the moral judgments on why one was in poverty or needed assistance.

Despite the critics of social welfare programs and the political vitriol that has become the norm, it is clear that as a country we have tried many approaches from educational programs, to community development and economic development, to health care, and housing and food assistance. A list of social programs available in the U.S. and the funding by state and federal governments was presented by the Heritage Foundation in Congressional testimony and shows the amount we are spending to address poverty and the causes of poverty.  The welfare spending in 2011 was $927 billion and yet we are clearly losing the war on poverty that gives them a reasonable opportunity to escape poverty.

What have we done?

We have programs that essentially cover the bottom two rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but may not cover all of those in need.  As a country, we have tried to address physiological and safety needs and we still have unacceptable levels of poverty.  We have even begun to address love and belonging through programs on marriage, fatherhood, and mentoring and still, we have poverty.

Where do we go from here?

There is no doubt that we must continue to meet the physiological and safety needs of people, but if we ever hope to win the War on Poverty then we must move beyond the current approach and the expectation that it is the government’s responsibility to fix it.  We must fix it as a community committed to economic justice, a government that supports effective programs, and as academic communities dedicated to finding the root causes of poverty.  Sometimes it is good to step out of the box, break it down, throw it in the recycling bin.  The recycled pieces may be useful, but the original safety net is failing. It is time to trade in the War on Poverty for Compassionate and Just Approaches to Those in Poverty.

Worth Reading:

  1. Catholic Social Teaching on Poverty, and Option for the Poor, and the Common Good
  2. Out of Poverty Caucus
  3. GAO, The Distribution of Federal Economic Development Grants to Communities with High Rates of Poverty and Unemployment, GAO-12-938R (Washington, DC: September14, 2012).  Available at http://www.gao.gov/assets/650/648367.pdf
  4. GAO,Economic Development Programs: Efficiency and Effectiveness of Fragmented Economic Development Programs Are Unclear, GAO-11-477R (Washington, DC: May19, 2011).  Available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11477r.pdf
  5. GAO, Poverty in America: Economic Research Shows Adverse Impacts on Health Status and Other Social Conditions as Well as Economic Growth Rate, GAO-07-344 (Washington, DC: January 24, 2007).  Available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07344.pdf
  6. US Census Bureau: Poverty

Get Involved and Learn About Poverty:

  1. Poverty USA We Can End It
  2. Economic Justice
  3. The Catholic Worker Community
  4. The Power to End Hunger Results

Recommend a link to get involved in poverty and I will add it

Poverty Guidelines:

2013 POVERTY GUIDELINES FOR THE 48 CONTIGUOUS STATES
AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Persons in family/household

Poverty guideline

For families/households with more than 8 persons, add $4,020 for each additional person.

1

$11,490

2

15,510

3

19,530

4

23,550

5

27,570

6

31,590

7

35,610

8

39,630

2013 POVERTY GUIDELINES FOR ALASKA

Persons in family/household

Poverty guideline

For families/households with more than 8 persons, add $5,030 for each additional person.

1

$14,350

2

19,380

3

24,410

4

29,440

5

34,470

6

39,500

7

44,530

8

49,560

2013 POVERTY GUIDELINES FOR HAWAII

Persons in family/household

Poverty guideline

For families/households with more than 8 persons, add $4,620 for each additional person.

1

$13,230

2

17,850

3

22,470

4

27,090

5

31,710

6

36,330

7

40,950

8

45,570

SOURCE:  Federal Register, Vol. 78, No. 16, January 24, 2013, pp. 5182-5183

Image By Bladesmulti – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28979016

 

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