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November 8, 2012 7:51 PM   Subscribe

The poor in America: In need of help Some 15% of Americans (around 46.2m people) live below the poverty line, as Ms Hamilton does. You have to go back to the early 1960s—before Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programmes—to find a significantly higher rate. Many more, like Ms Dunham, have incomes above the poverty line but nevertheless cannot meet their families’ basic monthly needs, and there are signs that their number is growing. Once upon a time the fates of these people weighed heavily on American politicians. Ronald Reagan boasted about helping the poor by freeing them from having to pay federal income tax. Jack Kemp, Bob Dole’s running-mate in 1996, sought to spearhead a “new war on poverty.” George W. Bush called “deep, persistent poverty…unworthy of our nation’s promise”. No longer. Budgets are tight and the safety net is expensive. Mitt Romney famously said he was not “concerned about the very poor” because they have a safety net to take care of them. Mr Obama’s second-term plan mentioned poverty once, and on the trail he spoke gingerly of “those aspiring to the middle class”. “Poor” is a four-letter word.
posted by infini (23 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
So... if it is true that 22% if Americans are illiterate, then seven percent of the population cannot read but lives above the poverty line?

That may be an interesting segment of society.
posted by mr. digits at 8:03 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


mr. digits: "So... if it is true that 22% if Americans are illiterate, then seven percent of the population cannot read but lives above the poverty line?"

I don't see why it can't be more. I'd be surprised if all of the 15% who live in poverty are illiterate.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:05 PM on November 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Granted this was in the totally awesome Reagan years, but my parents were both college educated and we lived below the poverty line, and then when they divorced and my mom went back to school for further education, things got super interesting.

Long story short, it's no fun being the only nerd in the trailer park.
posted by padraigin at 8:08 PM on November 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


Famous right-leaning magazine shames Democratic administration for refusing to even acknowledge the existence of the ever growing population of poor. This says it all about the pathetic state of the Democratic Party.

Good article except the weird propaganda for the traditional heterosexual family unit in the middle.
posted by latkes at 8:43 PM on November 8, 2012


The only place I heard poverty mentioned on TV as something that should be a campaign issue during the presidential campaign was on Al Jazeera. That, right there, gave them some credibility in my eyes.
posted by bswinburn at 9:00 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Poor is a four letter word? So is work.
posted by three blind mice at 9:08 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Famous right-leaning magazine shames Democratic administration for refusing to even acknowledge the existence of the ever growing population of poor. This says it all about the pathetic state of the Democratic Party.

Both parties focused on supporting and expanding the middle class because that's what swing voters wanted to hear about.

So anti-poverty programmes both cushioned the recession’s impact on the bottom 20% of American earners and helped prop up consumer spending. Redistribution may be a dirty word in American politics, but without it the recession would have been far more painful, not just for the poor, but for America’s economy generally.

Yet these programmes remain deeply unpopular with many in Congress. House Republicans have sought cuts to food stamps, and overwhelmingly supported a budget proposed by Paul Ryan that would have left anti-poverty programmes to bear the brunt of deep cuts to federal spending. None supported the president’s health-care reform, which was designed to make life easier for people like Ms Dunham and her family by offering Medicaid to people with earnings that exceed the poverty line by as much as a third (though the Supreme Court ruled that states can opt out of the Medicaid expansion, and indeed South Carolina’s governor has already vowed to do so).


The Democrats have done a lot to support medicaid, unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc, as the article points out. They can't campaign on this because it would give an opening to the right to attack them as the "welfare/food stamp Party creating dependency rather than jobs," or something. I've often heard right-wingers bring up the fact that more people are on food stamps now than ever before, but certainly not to compliment Democrats. For Obama to campaign on his expansion of these programs and the increasing poverty in the US, would be to campaign on the bad state of the economy, which would probably not be very smart.

I think the Democrats have done a lot to help the poor in the last four years. The next four years may be a different story, as they have to deal with the deficit. You could shame the dems for not doing enough for the economy, perhaps, but in my mind it is the Republicans and especially Libertarians who deserve shame for abandoning the poor, not the Democrats.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:26 PM on November 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


Mitt Romney famously said he was not “concerned about the very poor” because they have a safety net to take care of them.

Every time I see this comment by Mitt Romney mentioned I think about the really poor and it invokes a New Yorker type cartoon in my imagination. There are trapeze artists flying through the air, but one of them is on the ground, staggering to reach up and grab the net. The caption reads "If it wasn't for this safety net I don't know if I would be able to pull myself back up!"

It lacks poignancy, but the gist is that the really poor are already below the safety net/the safety net didn't work. They've hit the ground...

How do you get that point across to a guy like Mitt?
posted by RoseyD at 9:32 PM on November 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


I have a questions about the maps in the article: there is a band of persistently poor counties in a sort of arc across the South and up the Mississippi. Watching election returns I noticed that same band of counties showing up as a blue line in predominantly red states. Does it represent a geographic feature (like a farming area for a particular crop?) that would explain the apparent disparity in income and voting preference with the surrounding areas? I don't know the South at all so apologies if this is a dumb question!
posted by fshgrl at 11:12 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's the ancient shoreline of the North America Continents in the Cretaceous.

The resulting organic sediment turned into chalk, which manifests itself today as a particularly bountiful stretch of land. Therefore during slavery more slaves were needed to harvest the land. It was known as the Black Belt, although I'm not sure if that was due to the soil, the slaves, or both.

So now it has a higher than usual population of African Americans. Who vote for Democrats.

More detailed information here.
posted by tychotesla at 11:39 PM on November 8, 2012 [18 favorites]


So... if it is true that 22% if Americans are illiterate, then seven percent of the population cannot read but lives above the poverty line?

That may be an interesting segment of society.


I think you're entering the territory of the NHL: Eddie Shack, Jacques Demers, ...
posted by mazola at 11:41 PM on November 8, 2012


Thank you tychotesla!
posted by fshgrl at 12:01 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I think the Democrats have done a lot to help the poor in the last four years.

Some concrete examples would be appreciated...

Mr. Obama was the first to talk about cuts to Medicare and Social Security - and continues to keep the offer open as an option to avoid the "automatic" cuts in Defense that will happen from the last budget deal. We've seen about as much talk about poverty from the Democrats in this election as we have about climate change or the rule of law - which is to say, none at all.

The last four years have really sucked if you were a poor person, and I think the next four years will be even worse. As usual, all we'll be able to say is that we're doing better than if the Republicans had won.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:58 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It lacks poignancy, but the gist is that the really poor are already below the safety net/the safety net didn't work. They've hit the ground...How do you get that point across to a guy like Mitt?
Throw him out of a window?
posted by fullerine at 2:53 AM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


It lacks poignancy, but the gist is that the really poor are already below the safety net/the safety net didn't work. They've hit the ground...How do you get that point across to a guy like Mitt?

This will never happen, but my first thought would be to seize all of his assets, freeze his many, many offshore accounts, deny him any help whatsoever from friends/associates, and force him to provide food, clothing, housing and health care for himself and his family via Wal-Mart clerk-level employment. For a year. Or two. Maybe four.
posted by KHAAAN! at 3:44 AM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Throw him out of a window?
Thus began the Defenestration of Mitt.
posted by deathpanels at 6:03 AM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the lack of focus on poverty in this election and the previous election can be seen as a result of the way campaigning has changed, not as a reflection of the recession, as Romney's comments implied. There's too much money in elections to pretend that either candidate is doing it for the poor. I would guess that voter turnout for the bottom 15% of income earners is extremely low, and elections are too expensive to waste campaign money on fringe issues that don't matter to voters. Hence the focus on the "middle class" – people who have some access to education or health care, who mostly want "good jobs" to come back so they can resume their culturally entrenched lifestyles of buying cars and raising kids in suburban neighborhoods. Middle-class Americans vote according to cultural war, so that's what campaigns focus on – abortion, contraception, religion, etc. How many Obama supporters do you know who, on election night, were mostly afraid of a GOP president who would enact conservative social policy?
posted by deathpanels at 6:13 AM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


padraigin writes "Long story short, it's no fun being the only nerd in the trailer park."

It's pretty well no fun being the only nerd anywhere.
posted by Mitheral at 6:15 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


as they have to deal with the deficit.

They really don't.
posted by ndfine at 6:16 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some concrete examples would be appreciated...

Promise Neighborhoods, Choice Neighborhoods, HUD's Sustainable Communities Initiative, Social Innovation Fund, Healthy Foods Financing Initiative. All of these are very small scale relative to the need but they represent new initiatives trying new things and an actual engagement with the needs of low income people & places. ARRA had a ton of money directed towards low income people - increased the EITC, added the Making Work Pay credit, sent extra $$ to HUD and DOL for rental assistance, homelessness prevention, job training, etc.

During the Bush years each budget cycle saw a frantic attempt by advocates to fight back against staggering cuts or outright zeroing out of huge programs like CDBG or Section 8. Since 2008 there have still been proposed cuts some years but nothing like the all-out assaults of the previous administration. It is absolutely far far less than is needed but it's not like the administration isn't trying at all.

There are also things that are framed as bolstering the middle class that will benefit poor people as well. The CFPB is addressing predatory lending practices that advocates for low-income people were yelling about for years. Elizabeth Warren, for all her dreaminess, has never had a rhetorical focus on poverty. She saw the same issues as ones that were threatening the middle class, and it was that framing that allowed for the creation of the CFPB. It's messed up, but in the US we are way more successful with policies like Social Security and Medicare that are framed as benefiting everyone but are set up to generate some distributive justice.
posted by yarrow at 8:38 AM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


To build on the excellent list yarrow provided...

A number of ARRA programs-- like the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program were specifically aimed at helping the very poor, and I know that program assisted a number of households in my community that would have been absolutely screwed otherwise. ARRA funds also bolstered emergency food and shelter programs nationwide, helping to keep the precarious safety net together. It's a tremendous shame that ARRA programs couldn't be renewed with after the Congressional mid-term shift, but the fact remains that the current administration enacted programs that did provide some help to those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Not enough help, but some, and extremely meaningful for those that were assisted.
posted by Kpele at 9:22 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


KHAAAN!, isn't your suggestion just an Eddie Murphy movie (albeit a pretty awesome one)?
posted by wenestvedt at 11:43 AM on November 9, 2012


Middle-class Americans vote according to cultural war, so that's what campaigns focus on – abortion, contraception, religion, etc.

I'm not sure this is entirely correct. Based on my experience (admittedly within rural poor areas), I actually think the poor are more likely to be invested in those "moral war" issues, while the middle class is more about the economy. Obama lost amongst middle class suburban voters.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:08 AM on November 10, 2012


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