We need to support anti-poverty measures that work

September 17, 2013

The U.S. Census Bureau’s release of 2012 poverty data tells us once again that millions of Americans in our wealthy nation continue to struggle at the economic margins, with no signs of progress. The nation’s just-released official poverty rate in 2012 was 15.0 percent, which represents 46.5 million people living at or below the poverty line. This marks the second consecutive year that neither the official poverty rate, wages, nor the number of people in poverty was statistically different from the previous year’s estimates.

Have we become so used to these annual reports that we no longer pay much attention? I hope not.

Research by the University of Michigan’s H. Luke Shaefer and Harvard’s Kathryn Edin shows a sharp rise in the number of people living on less than two dollars per person per day — a World Bank standard used to document global poverty. But in this case, these people live in the U.S. For some of our fellow citizens, two dollars is expected to buy, well, everything.

How is it that in the wealthiest country in the world, people can fall so far? And does it mean we are fighting the War on Poverty with a losing strategy?

People in poverty in the U.S. fit many descriptions, and to lump them together would indeed be a losing strategy. Thirteen percent are seniors who depend on Social Security and SSI. About 10 percent are people with disabilities who are unable to work, and their children. Some 61 percent are in working families.

Among these working families are the “near poor,” living in urban environments where the cost of living is high and wages are low. One in four jobs pays wages below the poverty level so it shouldn’t be a surprise that about 7 in 10 children in poverty live in working families. There are also those having great difficulty finding work, particularly during the recession and its aftermath. (In my experience, most people who are out of work desperately do want a job.)

Then there is the lack of affordable healthcare, with real-life consequences. Like Margaret Kistler, who became poor when she lost her job in Cincinnati during the 2008 recession. No job meant no health insurance, and she couldn’t afford COBRA. When she finally got so sick that she had to go to the emergency room, she was terminally ill. Margaret died last year at age 56 of colon cancer. Had the expansion of Medicaid in the Affordable Care Act been fully implemented in 2010, Margaret could have received screening, treatment, and been a contributing member of society today rather than a tragic burden on our healthcare system and a heartbreaking death for her family and friends. For me, the expansion of healthcare is a pro-life issue. But it is also good economics.

Hard to believe that in all this hardship there is some good news. But there is.

In 2011, government benefits lifted 40 million people out of these different kinds of poverty. While Social Security has the largest impact, means-tested programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and SSI raised almost 20 million Americans, including 8.5 million children, out of poverty.

Every day across the country, as important as reducing poverty, I see assistance programs also helping to stabilize families and provide pathways to opportunity. We are not losing the War on Poverty, but don’t take it just from me:

Studies have found that the EITC and Child Tax Credit increase employment rates of parents, reduce child poverty, and have a positive impact on children’s school performance, which is a key factor in future economic success.

• Researchers were able to compare outcomes for poor babies in the 1960s and 1970s who were fortunate enough to live in counties served by the food stamp program to poor babies who lived in counties that did not yet have the program. Babies in counties served by food stamps were healthier as adults and were more likely to finish high school.

Too often, today’s official poverty rate is compared to that in the late 1960s and 1970s, leading some to the erroneous conclusion that the War on Poverty is failing. This comparison relies on a flawed poverty measure and overlooks the strong antipoverty impacts of current programs. An apples-to-apples comparison that included these benefits would tell a more favorable story.

Food assistance, for example, has worked just as it was designed. As the economy continues to recover and more people find jobs, the Congressional Budget Office projects the number of people receiving SNAP will decline as will the cost of the program. The growth in SNAP is not a scandal or evidence that the program has run amok, but the consequence of a weak economy and a national commitment to take care of those struggling at the margins of our society. That is a commitment I believe the public shares and that the nation should be proud of.

This is why many of us were outraged when some House Republicans announced just before the August recess that they planned to double their proposed funding cuts to SNAP, dropping up to 4 million more poor people from the program. Often overlooked, households receiving this benefit are working families and a very large share, more than 8 in 10, worked in the year before or the year after receiving SNAP.

We won’t address poverty problems by ignoring the successes of today’s safety net or cutting needed funding, but neither is today’s safety net adequate. In the run-up to the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s War on Poverty next year, we cannot ignore the data and the research — and the daily experiences of millions of Americans — that tell the same story: Programs like SNAP, EITC, the Child Tax Credit, Medicaid, CHIP, housing assistance and child care assistance do a tremendous amount of good. By adequately funding these programs we reduce poverty and help families make ends meet. We provide healthcare that saves lives; support working parents; reduce hunger and improve health; stabilize children’s lives and improve school performance. In short, we make our nation better.

In a pluralistic society I know that not all share my faith mandate. But we do share the Constitution. In that context, We the People must continue to combine public and private efforts to lighten the yoke of poverty and provide a true path to prosperity. We the People must responsibly raise revenue to pay for vital programs. We the People need a renewed commitment to reduce poverty and promote opportunity. That is the faithful and patriotic way forward.

PHOTO: Angel Guevara, 2, lies in the bedroom of the apartment their family is being evicted from, in Los Angeles, June 11, 2009. The apartment building tenants were paying their rent, but had their trash services cut off and are now being evicted after the owner failed to pay the mortgage. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson 


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The Plutocracy has ruled this country through its cohorts, the Members of Congress for decades. Why rock the boat? The 99%, the Pee-Ons, are of no consequence any more. “I am my brother’s keeper” is an old, dead mantra. The Constitution of the people, by the people and for the people is ancient and irrelevant in today’s world of crony capitalism. Now, it’s hiding funds in foreign banks, safe from taxation that is the order of the day. “…promote the general welfare…” Ha!

Our people-focused Congress recently tried to cut SNAP.

“Let them eat cake!”

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

This is the United States of Corporate America. It has no “feelings” and no moral obligation to “We the People”. It does only one thing, increase profit at any cost. People are just a global resource to meet that end. The old US government is now just a joint venture subsidiary of the USCA.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Sister Campbell’s causes give her first hand perspective of how unfair life can be, but she clearly lacks understanding that if you give humans the option to live without working they will embrace it to the exclusion of almost everything else. Government programs actually create and perpetuate poverty as a “way of life”.

Programs like SNAP, EITC, the Child Tax Credit, Medicaid, CHIP, housing assistance child care assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and SSI are direct subsidies of the creation of those 8.5 million children they “lift out of poverty”. By adequately funding these programs we encourage more and more children to be born into poverty.

The very idea that America should roll out the welcome wagon to the dregs of every society from south of the Rio Grande who ignore American Immigration Law and swarm over our border to become squatters is repugnant to Taxpayers. These hoards offer only urine, feces and more of themselves yet once “in the U.S.” they walk in protest demanding more an more of hard working American taxpayers yet they do not learn our language, subscribe to our values or adopt our culture.

They are as locusts on limited resources and a drag on the ability of Americans to better their own lives. “How is it that in the wealthiest country in the world, people can fall so far?” Wrong question, Sister.

The correct question is “How is it that with all the wealth of America in public education and social programs that so many choose, by their values and priorities, to sentence themselves to a life “on the bottom” of the economic pile? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if a family has limited finances each additional child means each present has less. They should limit the size of their families; but do not, expecting “society” to cover the bills they run up but can not or will not pay.

Why is it unreasonable to expect people (and their children) to be financially responsible for the choices they make? In the Bible God’s wrath over the “sins of the fathers” extended to the children and their children’s children.

“In my experience, most people who are out of work desperately do want a job.” There are many with unrealistic expectations of the work place who will not take a job unless it pays more than the program benefits they will lose.

The good sister would have us continue to increase the number and value of such benefits. Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer of the “poor” with little knowledge, experience, or skill (who, in America DRIVE!) have any hope of a “job offer” that will pay more than “Uncle Sugar” hands out to the lazy and able-bodied?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

“Why is it unreasonable to expect people (and their children) to be financially responsible for the choices they make? In the Bible God’s wrath over the “sins of the fathers” extended to the children and their children’s children.”

What would you have those children do? Beg in the streets? Starve?

The best investment society can make is one that will give these children every chance to flourish in the face of their circumstances. Children who aren’t hungry or sick feel well enough to study, which is exactly what will allow them to become productive members of our society. Eliminating these vital social programs is not the answer, now or in the future. Reforming and expanding them as necessary to obtain the best return on each dollar spent is the morally and economically correct thing to do.

Posted by wilsedw | Report as abusive

“The connection between the oversupply of labour and plummeting living standards for the poor is one of the more robust generalisations in history.” Peter Turchin, Return of the oppressed, aeon magazine.
and congress wants to import more labor

Posted by ErikKengaard | Report as abusive


“Children who aren’t hungry or sick feel well enough to study, which is exactly what will allow them to become productive members of our society.” Were that the truth we would not have generation after generation of poor whites, hispanics and blacks of ever-increasing number in poverty today disrupting our schools.

These programs have NEVER provided the “way out of poverty” their architects and supporters continue to promise. You think with your heart and not your head if you honestly believe that they do.

“Reforming and expanding them as necessary to obtain the best return on each dollar spent is the morally and economically correct thing to do.” Please.

Just because you delude yourself is no reason to believe others so gullible. You advocate throwing good money after bad.

Society has been “going down the wrong road” and failing expensively and spectacularly for many, many years. Precisely WHY would you have us go NOWHERE faster and faster? Is it that your eyes can not or will not see?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Noble as it is, feeding the poor treats the symptom and not the cause of the disease. Look to the economic policies of QE, fractional lending and offshoring for the real culprits.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive


What documentation do you have of your statement.

My documentation states that lowered taxes of the wealthy and business have lowered infrastructure building and maintenance, reduced job training and education, and reduce the quality of life of Americans.

Also low wages below a standard of living keep people in poverty. That in fact, the work requirement does not necessarily get these people out of poverty. What we have now is the working poor who receive benefits. This has now become welfare and entitlement for businesses to pay low wages.

My e-mail is flash1005@verizon.com

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive

America’s slow descent into poverty is rooted in a fundamental economic relationship that eludes economists who steadfastly refuse to even consider the economic implications of never-ending population growth. As the world population continues to grow at a rate of 70 million people per year, the inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption makes rising unemployment and poverty inescapable. America ranks among a handful of third world countries as contributing the most to this out-of-control population growth.

This same economic relationship also makes free trade with badly overpopulated nations tantamount to economic suicide. America has, in effect, engaged in an unemployment-sharing program with badly overpopulated nations like China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, India and whole host of others.

Government anti-poverty programs are powerless to reverse the effects of this relationship. Until our leaders start taking advice from open-minded economists willing to consider the full gamut of consequences of population growth, beyond the obvious things like the strain on resources and stress on the environment, matters will only grow worse.

Pete Murphy
Author, “Five Short Blasts”

Posted by Pete_Murphy | Report as abusive

Come on, people! Too many of you are expecting rational thinking from a nun. If she were rational would she subscribe to bronze-age desert myths.

Posted by JRTerrance | Report as abusive

Back when Johnson began The War on Poverty, scientists thought they would be able to mass produce robots, able to function like humans, within a 10 year period. This is because their knowledge about the human body was ridiculously simplistic. Up until this time, doctors had been prescribing cigarettes for sore throats and coughs, for example. EVERYTHING that was known about vision, in any medical journal in the world, fit on only ONE page.

Many of our social institutions and responses (our schools, welfare, and so on) have not produced expected results because we did not understand cognition; and we and underestimated the complexity of human development, relationships, and culture.

You might already know that there are literal biological neural pathways that are formed when we learn something new (a physical representation of thought) –as well as physical connections between the thoughts (our cognitive architecture –or operating system). These pathways and connections are created AFTER we are born, as each individual (using their own unique genetic attributes) attempts to thrive and survive in whatever environment they find themselves. We literally construct our own brains (our ability to perceive and process information) in response to our surroundings and experiences. The brain will have grown to 90% of adult weight by age 3, and have attained about 95% of peak volume by age 6 –and will maintain many unique properties until approximately age 24. Whether we know it or not, we create the “software” a person will use to comprehend and respond to reality. If the software is not loaded properly, a person will not be able to decode inputs with acuity.

Failure to provide specific experiences during critical windows of development can have long lasting effects for both physical and mental health (including the ways our genes are expressed) and effect the inhibition of primitive reflexes and the maturation of the limbic and vestibular systems (both essential to learning, memory and cognition, as well as emotional regulation).

Lack of real world interactions and opportunities to explore/experiment can also mean a lack of implicit and procedural knowledge (i.e. “common sense”, understanding cause and effect, organization skills, ability to correctly predict outcomes, the internalization of academic concepts inherent in the activities such as thrust or trajectory when throwing a ball; the development of effective management and use of time, energy and resources, and so on). Texture, weight, dimensions, smells, and other sensory information provide necessary cues for increased memory retrieval, and our muscles “remember” their activities (called “embodied cognition). We also require interdisciplinary experiences to connect the applicability of information to solving holistic (rather than linear) problems. Effectiveness in communication requires practice and interactions with others of varying attributes (age, ability, backgrounds) and so on.

Those who claim that meeting a child’s needs during childhood *cause* poverty are sadly misinformed about physiology, organic chemistry, and human development. ]

From the perspective of financial losses, it is estimated that high school dropouts cost our country between $320 billion and $350 billion annually in lost wages, taxable income, health costs, welfare, and incarceration costs. Nobel Prize economist Jack Heckman has developed an equation showing that education and early intervention provides almost “10 cents per year on every initial dollar invested”.

We have made more technological advances, and learned more in the last 20 years, than the accumulation of all knowledge learned by humans throughout their existence on this planet. To continue poorly designed programs and parroting slogans about “bootstraps” “nanny state” and “government dependence as a way of life” would be as silly as sending missions into space using the same understanding and technology as we did during the Johnson administration.

Simone Campbell has done her homework. It would be good if others stopped buying into simple catchphrases, and did the same.

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/index .php/resources/reports_and_working_paper s/working_papers/wp10/

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resou rces/multimedia/videos/theory_of_change/

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/index .php/resources/reports_and_working_paper s/working_papers/wp11/

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/index .php/resources/reports_and_working_paper s/working_papers/wp6/

Posted by TWells | Report as abusive


Obviously you don’t understand that the signs “Do not feed the pigeons” are both necessary and humane, given nature’s customary penalty for exceeding the natural food supply of hunger, illness and starvation to restore the necessary long term balance. Anyone in favor of covering every open space on earth with pigeons? I thought not.

If YOU choose to rush forward to feed the pigeons, please do so with YOUR money. And do the rest of us the courtesy of not expecting OUR assets appropriated to support the predictable results of YOUR thinking with your heart instead of your head. The extra pigeons resulting from YOUR actions are not OUR responsibility nor is their suffering. That responsibility is YOURS and YOURS alone.

With a world population of SEVEN BILLION and exploding, I see no benefit to ANYONE of covering every unoccupied space on earth with human protoplasm. Given finite natural resources, choices must be made.

Is man to live a life of reasonable effort, achievement, comfort and contentment in such numbers as prove sustainable for the foreseeable future. Are civillized societies of today to degenerate into an “every person for themselves” struggle with the sole goal to survive long enough to reproduce (like other animals)?

Our government is appropriating assets of the productive to expand the number of the unproductive. It is “feeding the pigeons” and “we, the people” have no effective voice to stop it.

If man sentences himself to mere reproduction without progress or meaning, he will confirm without doubt that intelligent life has NOT evolved on planet Earth.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Unfortunately, two things need to be corrected (as much as I wish for what is mentioned here to also be current and true statements)
1) we are no longer the wealthiest nor most powerful country in the world (AKA #1)
2) There is abuse in the current systems we provide to aid those in need by those who have become dependent and this needs to be restructured if we wish to make corrected statement #1 into a past-reality sometime in the future

Considering these two main truths, the most basic reality hitting every American’s wallet right now, whether they have lots of money or not a dime to your name, is the uncertainty of our economy. With the present statement of our own leader, in which he warns of a government “shut down” and so many cut throat decisions being taken to sustain basic levels of security, we can not turn a blind eye to where abuse exists.

What kind of abuse? We have all seen it, there is an extent of people who abuse food stamps and government programs. They become co-dependent and instruct their own family members to do the same, creating a never ending cycle. Though shameful, it is a reality that any part time office clerk or ivory tower manager can see when they go to the supermarket counting their pennies to buy a gallon of milk as they see before them a mother of 4 taking a full cart of groceries sponsored by whom? Their taxes, increased substantially over the years and now part of a paycheck that many could loose thanks to a health program that we can not afford.

How do we know we can’t afford it? Consult audit teams and accountants of every size of company in the US right now. They are considering paying the penalty for not being able to afford Obamacare instead of supporting the initiative. Why? Because it’s what they can actually afford, and Its an expense that will be covered by firing another good employee or temporary worker just to pay it. So we increase the co-dependency of a program we can not afford, increase the amount of people who need to rely on government aid and we create a cycle that bankrupts cities…like Detroit. They wake to increasing violence that has ranked them one of the top 10 most dangerous cities in the world, with rising poverty and abandoned housing at record numbers Im not sure America has ever truly seen.

But should you fear the reality of living in a third world country in the near future? of course, that is a more realistic outcome than the fact that we are rich, wealthy and powerful. The almighty society that was able to afford government programs, is no longer ours. Even the wealthiest economies have announced the restructuring or increasingly diminishing aid to its poor.

So instead of feeding the problem, facing the fact that this doesn’t work is the responsible way to approach it. For instance, the money we scale back on can be used to restructure our farm bills to provide farmers the incentive to produce once again, bringing back the basic foundation of all types of economies…the ability of a country to feed it’s people. Rural towns would be able to blossom by sustaining the needs of industrial communities. Economic programs for the needy shouldn’t be a source to support underage procreation or reluctance to seek further education on the basis of free aid, there needs to be an educated program to instruct our youth of what their actions can cause. And the overall basic needs of the people, truly instituted by our founding principles…to educate our country and its right to be protected, this needs to be prioritized.

The investment we need should be geared towards the true pillars of our society. Our teachers, those who are seeking jobs and are barely finding a part time job to eat. Students in serious debt, holding a college degree in engineering while our very infrastructure is crumbling beneath us. Our law enforcement’s job security, men and women who are risking their lives to keep us safe and yet sometimes don’t have enough money to pay rent in the very communities they take an oath to protect. IGNORING THEM, is the most desensitized movement I have ever seen from a country that claims to be #1…and it hurts, because its my own. If you want to turn a blind eye to the importance of their jobs, don’t close your eyes…take a vacation to the country right beneath us, you will be so blown away by how they are surviving (not living, surviving) that the last thing that will cross your mind is “can we afford to give everyone health care”. Its a beautiful gesture, what country wouldn’t want to be able to afford to keep it’s people healthy…unfortunately our reality is another and we just cant.

Going back to these people, those teachers, engineers, police officers, firefighters, etc…they shouldn’t be paying increased taxes or the risk of losing their jobs for a convicted felon living on food stamps or a woman who has no self-respect with 4+ children. These people use those tax dollars to go on vacation, something the very people who work to obtain can’t afford. There needs to be a change, these people, our poor, need to be re-educated and placed in jobs that help their communities so they can value the effects of their actions.

Want a program that works? Instead of giving people aid (free food, phones, housing etc), tell them that they get food, housing and educational credit for volunteering at homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, providing basic aid to the ill who can’t leave their homes or for cleaning their communities. Then and only then do you actually contribute, because you instruct upon people who have extended their hand for years to live off programs that were supposed to be temporary aid (some of which were intended only for widows of veterans), a simple instruction, to better themselves and in return their country.

Posted by mf_gh_12 | Report as abusive


Well said!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive