The Nation of Plenty?
By Charlotte Dyer
The United States of America: the land of opportunities, equality, hope, protection, security and wealth. While these words may have once been an incentive to buy into the ‘American dream’, the current economic and political climate has many re-evaluating this once promising perspective. According to the U.S. Census Bureau from data released on September 2011, the American poverty rate has increased to 15.1% (46.2 million); the highest level it has been since 1993 (Smith, 2010). Of particular concern is the growing rate of America’s new working poor. This year, the U.S. Government announced that 7.2% (10.5 million) of American’s in the labour force earn so little that they are living in poverty; the highest level in more than two decades (Smiley & West, 2012). One may question that living in a developed country and being employed would surely exclude one from poverty. However the current American situation illustrates how far from the truth this statement is.
So how did one of the world’s most powerful and dominant countries end up with so many of it’s own living in poverty and hardship? The most obvious conclusion would be that the nation is still reeling from the effects of the most current recession, with poverty levels increasing as a result. However, evidence suggests that it is not so much the lack of jobs that are available as a result of the recession, but the type of jobs that are on offer. Low-wage jobs in low-paying industries such as retail and temporary work have dominated the employment market, with more than 40% of the jobs added to the economy between 2008 and 2010 fitting this profile. Future projections also look bleak; six out of 10 jobs projected to see the highest growth rates by 2020, are predicted to be low-wage jobs (Moore, 2012). With increased food and housing prices, rising inflation rates and the decreasing number of individual’s with social security, American’s are facing a serious financial situation. Oxford Academy Production recently published a YouTube clip titled ‘Living on the Edge: Poverty in America’. The video gives an insight into the lives of America’s working poor and highlights extensively the factors that contribute to these individual’s living in worsening conditions (Appendix 1).
Take Linda Criswell for example. She works at a kindergarten, has full time employment, but has no benefits and has not had a raise in several years. At the end of the month after taxes, she brings homes $1,030, barely enough to cover her expenses. She can’t afford to fresh fruit or low-fat meet, and only purchases food that she knows will last several days. However, can Linda be considered as living in poverty? She still has the ability to fulfil her basic needs, yet at the same time, she still hitches a ride with her daughter to save gas and buys toilet paper for her birthday. The issue of how poverty in America is defined is thus a controversial topic with many having an opinion as to how it should be defined. Currently, the Census Bureau determines the poverty threshold, which is based on income, family size and composition. However for administrative purposes, government officials use the poverty guidelines, which were developed by in the 1960’s by Mollie Orshansky. In these guidelines, the benchmark of poverty is the ability to afford food. The government uses this to set maximum incomes in relation to benefits such as food stamps and housing subsidises (WiseGeek, 2012). While some believed that poverty was being understated, other critics believed that the poverty definition employed in the U.S. was inconsistent with how it was defined by its own citizens and the rest of the world. They believed that these measures overstated the level of national poverty, with those being considered ‘statistically’ impoverished and below the poverty line, still having the ability to meet their basic everyday needs. As a result of the increasing debate over the methods being implemented to measure poverty, the US government put forth the “supplemental poverty measure” in an effort to give a more accurate picture of poverty (Moore, 2012). This new measure now takes into consideration the buying power that state assistance adds to budgets and subtracts other necessary costs such as housing and transportation, that the former formula ignores.
However, will adjusting the measure of poverty actually affect how those in difficult conditions live? Will the working class still remain vulnerable to job loss, low wages and other stressors? While defining who is poor and who is in poverty is of importance, the main issue is what is America going to do in order to decrease the increasing number of households falling below this poverty line? With Barack Obama back in power for the next four years, the policies and strategies that he and his Democratic team implement will have a determining effect on combating growing poverty levels.
Can the Nation of Plenty return to its glory day?
Moore, J. (2012, October 17). Below the line: Poverty in America. Retrieved November 10, 2012, from The Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-Issues/2012/1007/Below-the-line-Poverty-in-America/%28page%29/2
Smiley, T., & West, C. (2012, May). America’s New Working Poor. Retrieved November 11, 2012, from Salon: http://www.salon.com/2012/05/01/working_in_poverty/
Smith, D. (2010, September 17). Poverty rate hits 15-year high. Retrieved November 12, 2012, from Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/09/17/us-usa-economy-poverty-idUSTRE68F4K520100917
WiseGeek. (2012). What is the Poverty Level in the United States? Retrieved November 11, 2012, from WiseGeek: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-poverty-level-in-the-united-states.htm
Appendix 1: Living on the Edge: Poverty in America