Poverty is a real and controversial issue as it occurs in the United States. We might take an analytical view of the problem by crunching numbers. For instance, the official poverty levels determined by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department are the accepted measure of poverty in America.
According to the department’s guidelines for a single person living in the lower 48 states, an income of $11,770 or below is a qualifier. In Alaska the boundary is $14,720, and in Hawaii it’s $13,550.
Even within the 48 Contiguous States, these amounts can mean different levels of impoverishment. A thousand dollars per month is going to have greater buying power in South Dakota than in California. Even within South Dakota, that thousand dollars will go further in Murdo than it will in Rapid City.
The thousand dollars per month might go further or not depending upon the resourcefulness or needs of the recipient. Can the person survive by severely cutting back their heating budget? Does the person have to make a choice between rent and medical needs? This is a subjective way of looking at individual poverty. The fact remains that a great deal of anguish happens to a person if their income hovers near or below the official guidelines.
There are some wealthy pundits who like to justify income inequality by saying something like, “Most of Americas ‘poor’ live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable just a few generations ago.” Some commentators may use a benchmark such as motor vehicle ownership. “Some 30-percent of poor people own two or more cars.” In response, one might ask are these two or more cars brand new Cadillacs or are they rusty beaters that barely run?
A person may choose to judge poverty by unemployment rates. South Dakota looks good on paper with a 3.1 percentage unemployment rate while California has a more troubling 6.2 percentage rate. All these figures do is measure how much of a population share is liable to suffer impoverishment. All of these figures represent millions of individual human beings who could not find work in 2015.
The United States Census Bureau reported in 2014 that over 48,000,000 U.S. citizens scrape by on incomes below the poverty line. A large share of those people subsist on incomes of under half of the poverty thresholds.
It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the living conditions of a single-parent with one child bringing in $5,000 per year in Los Angeles County, California. How about a single-parent with one child trying to pay for heat and groceries in Pine Ridge, South Dakota? For some arbitrary reason or another, many of these people do not qualify for government assistance.
A study by University of Michigan Sociology Professor H. Luke Shaefer and John Hopkins University Professor of Sociology Kathryn Edin found that about 1,500,000 American families were earning $2 or less cash income per person each day.
The categorical break down shows the typical American living in deep poverty is young, born in the USA, and living in a family unit. Approximately 11-percent of blacks and hispanics live in deep poverty and about 5-percent are whites. Single mother families and single individuals are most prone to falling into deep poverty.
Children are statistically one of the largest groups of people who subsist in deep poverty. They number approximately 7,100,000 kids–ten percent of them are younger than six-years-old.
There are some federal and state programs that can help people living in poverty with rent subsidies, vouchers, or food stamps. The fact remains that those programs are currently in high demand with over-enrollment problems.
Furthermore most people who live below the guidelines cannot afford basic health care. The average monthly premium for family health insurance runs around $1,400. If you are taking in less than a thousand dollars per month, family health insurance is simply out of reach.
Poverty greatly affects American society as a whole. People who live in poverty cannot contribute to the economy beyond the most basic necessities. The further impoverished a person is, means upward mobility is much more difficult. Some individuals are so strapped that they must engage in “creative borrowing” or participate in illegal activity just to get by.
Now that we are more fully aware of poverty in America, what can be done to help the people it afflicts? We are left to answer this question with the help of each of our own consciences.