Tag Archives: Poverty

At the Heart of Most of Our Problems



This is not merely an interesting stat. This is the cause of many of our most serious economic and social problems. This is the answer to the questions “Why is there poverty?” “Why do millions of children go to bed hungry?” Why are 2 million people homeless in America?” Why do families break up?” “Why do governments serve the few at the disadvantage of the many?” “Why do low income children have a higher mortality rate than rich people over the age of 60?”. . . . 


Poverty Doesn’t Just Happen

Economic inequality is the cause of poverty. We will never overcome poverty until we take on its root cause in inequality. Peter Marcuse discusses structural issues in the economy which tend to institutionalize poverty:

Exploitation at the work place. Keeping the pay for workers as low as possible is an inherent part of running a business and making a profit: the lower wages are, the higher profits are. Employers are “job creators” only against their will; the fewer workers they need use to produce a different product or service, the better off the employer is. The high pay for business executives and dividends to shareholders are directly at the expense of the workers in their businesses. .

Exploitation at the consumption end. Increasing the demand for ever more consumers goods, of course necessarily paid for out of wages, increases the profits of the producers of those goods and the wealth of the owners of the firms that produce them. Inducing demand artificially, through advertising and the wide array of cultural patterns of the kinds long documented by sociologists and economists, supports the consumption exploitation of poor (as well as middle class) consumers, to the benefit of the rich.

Exploitation at the financial end. Where, after all, do extraordinary profits of hedge fund managers and bankers come from? Ultimately, of course, from the prices paid by the purchasers of the goods and services they are financing. Their interest and dividend incomes and high salaries are really based on the profits of those making their money from more direct exploitation of the poor.

Exploitation of the benefits of land ownership, an obvious and pervasive monopoly, paid, as economists put it, by rent not for anything that the recipient of rent payments has produced or done, but solely extracted by him through the possession of something in limited supply for which there is demand. Property owners and developers are among the richest of the rich (think Donald Trump), in large part because they are able to benefit from the speculative increases in the pries of land which they own.  Ultimately, those benefits are paid for in the prices consumers pay and the rents that tenants pay, a regressively distributive system enriching land owners at the expense of all others.

All four of these forms of exploitation are among the primary causes of poverty and, centrally, inequality.

Digging deeper into what a war on poverty ought to be about would lead to examining, not only how the poor might be directly helped, but also how the rich might be constrained in those actions that keep the poor in poverty. Digging deeper into how inequality might be reduced would lead not only to measuring the extent to which it is reflected in income inequality and be ameliorated by boosting the incomes at the bottom rungs of the ladder of opportunity but would lead also to the same concern for limiting the way the rich get to the top of the ladder to begin with.

The dispute between Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio over the financing of pre-kindergarten for poor children is a vivid example of the difference, Cuomo’s insistence on paying out of general funds, does help to alleviate poverty, but it also avoids de Blasio’s proposal for  paying through a dedicated tax on incomes over %$500,000 addresses inequality directly. Thus Cuomo may alleviate poverty but de Blasio aims further directly to reduce inequality, looking both at the top and the bottom of the ladder. Reducing poverty is much less controversial than reducing inequality, which confronts more basic vested interests.

Readers can take a look at Marcuse’s analysis at pmarcuse.wordpress.com

A Modest Proposal


I’ve heard some Tea Partisans say that they shouldn’t have to pay taxes to help poor people. If we really declared War on Poverty we could treat poor Americans as prisoners of that war. We currently spend MORE per capita on prisoners of war than poor Americans.

Republicans’ Christmas War on the Poor

In 1965, President Lyndon B Johnson and a bipartisan majority of Congress declared WAR ON POVERTY and enacted what became the second act of the New Deal providing Food Stamps, Medical Assistance, Housing Subsidies, Legal Services, Job Corps and various other programs. In 2013, the 113th Congress under the stewardship of John Boner and other denizens of denial such as Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul have moved in a different direction: the REPUBLICANS in CONGRESS have declared War on the Poor.

Paul Ryan said he read it in a book somewhere by Ayn Rand that Medicare and Social Security should be slashed (he never followed up on Ayn’s life to discover that the Queen of Mean actually was dependent on Social Security AND Medicare in her declining years).

Rand Paul, also relying on an Ivory Tower “study”, says that everyone knows the best way to end unemployment is to end Unemployment Compensation. You know that does make perverse sense: when the unemployed and their families die of starvation and the elements, they won’t be counted as an unemployment statistic any longer.

Republican Congress-critters aim to dump 1.3 million OFF of Unemployment Comp this Christmas season. Merry Christmas! This achievement is added to other such objectives as kicking 2.8 million off food assistance, dumping 57,000 kids out of Headstart, dropping Seniors’ 18 million meals-on-wheels, ending heating aid for 300,000 and eliminating housing assistance for 140,000 poor families.

Here’s a helpful suggestion for Republicans, howabout tattooing numbers on the soon-to-be starving, homeless and freezing so that we track the Republicans’ accomplishments as they die off. It worked for Adolf and Heinrich.

Didja Know?

Of the world’s developed nations, the UNITED STATES has a HIGHER poverty rate than any other nation other than Romania. Only Romania is competitive with US in the number of its people who are poor.

Way to go USA!

The Republicans in Congress are working hard to move us up to NUMBER ONE in poverty.

A Pic Is Worth a 1000 Words


Click to Enlarge

Poverty — It’s Not ‘Them’, It’s ‘Us’

Census figures provide an official measure of poverty, but they’re only a temporary snapshot that doesn’t capture the makeup of those who cycle in and out of poverty at different points in their lives. They may be suburbanites, for example, or the working poor or the laid off.

In 2011 that snapshot showed 12.6 percent of adults in their prime working-age years of 25-60 lived in poverty. But measured in terms of a person’s lifetime risk, a much higher number — 4 in 10 adults — falls into poverty for at least a year of their lives.

The risks of poverty also have been increasing in recent decades, particularly among people ages 35-55, coinciding with widening income inequality. For instance, people ages 35-45 had a 17 percent risk of encountering poverty during the 1969-1989 time period; that risk increased to 23 percent during the 1989-2009 period. For those ages 45-55, the risk of poverty jumped from 11.8 percent to 17.7 percent.

Higher recent rates of unemployment mean the lifetime risk of experiencing economic insecurity now runs even higher: 79 percent, or 4 in 5 adults, by the time they turn 60.

By race, nonwhites still have a higher risk of being economically insecure, at 90 percent. But compared with the official poverty rate, some of the biggest jumps under the newer measure are among whites, with more than 76 percent enduring periods of joblessness, life on welfare or near-poverty.

By 2030, based on the current trend of widening income inequality, close to 85 percent of all working-age adults in the U.S. will experience bouts of economic insecurity.

“Poverty is no longer an issue of ‘them’, it’s an issue of ‘us’,” says Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who calculated the numbers. “Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need.”

SOURCE: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (July 28, 2013)