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Poverty in this nation is a universal term. Its grasp reaches men and women, young and old, black and white. It affects people in all states, all countries, and of all nationalities. Why, then, is such a universal term so commonly misunderstood? How can a concept that affects so many, be supported by so few? In the United States nearly 40 million people are considered to be living in the condition of poverty. At the same time, so many more privileged people are growing up in America with the misconception that poverty is a disease only to be cured by the individuals affected by it. The study of sociology, however, teaches us otherwise. The poor people in this country are not poor by choice. Most of them have been deprived of many of the opportunities that the non-poor have received. There are many arguments about how to get rid of poverty. It is my opinion that poverty will never be completely removed from any country. Our best hope is to use all resources to reduce poverty to a minimum level.
In order to find solutions to poverty in America, we must first define what poverty is, who are most affected, and what factors cause it. The American Heritage Dictionary defines poverty as the state of being poor; lacking the means of providing material needs or comforts. This basic definition, however, fails to define exactly who in a society is considered to be living in poverty. In the United States, poverty is concretely defined in dollar figures by the Social Security Administration. By determining the amount of money needed to survive on food, and then multiplying that number by three, the Social Security Administration sets the poverty line. For example, if the SSA decided that the amount of money needed to sustain a survivable diet during a year was $4,000, then it would set the poverty line at $12,000. Thus, any individuals whose income was less than this amount for a year would be considered to be living in poverty. The poverty line is essential for determining who receives welfare benefits in this country. Poverty does not seem to be an evenly distributed social problem. In America, African Americans and Latinos have, by far, the largest poverty rate. Even more discriminatory is the status of women among those living in poverty. Many factors such as poor wages for women and the increase of single-woman parented families have caused an increase in the percentage of women among the poor. Also in a high percentage are children. The elderly, however, fill a much smaller percentage as they receive such benefits as social security.
Many people believe that poverty is caused by a personal choice. This, however, is a common misconception. Rather than something that a person chooses, it seems as if poverty is more of a lifestyle that one is born into. When a person is brought into this world they are given certain privileges based on their status in society. A child that is born to a middle class white family with two parents will most likely live a fairly privileged childhood. The child will receive adequate financial support from its parents. Just as important, this child will be given educational opportunities which most poor children are not afforded. On the other hand, a child who is brought into the world as the third child of a poor, African American, single mother, has the cards all stacked against it. Statistically, this child will be deprived of the opportunities that were given to the middle class child. The hardships of living in a centralized urban area with a low-income support system do nothing but handicap the child. Although this child will still be able to attend public schools, he is still more likely to be unsuccessful in the educational situation due to many of the hardships of the childs life. There is a much smaller chance that this child will be able to continue its education beyond high school and into college, thus enabling him to earn more money in the future. As you can see, poverty is a continuous cycle that is hard to escape. Poverty stretches from generation to generation. Because of this fact, it becomes increasingly necessary for American society to develop solutions to this poverty problem.
The text lists several possible theories toward the possibility of eliminating poverty. There are, in fact, innumerable factors that lead to the rise and fall of poverty in this country. In Media Images of the Poor, Heather Bullock argues that the poor are often times invisible in our society. She believes that a social problem of the magnitude of poverty must be discussed publicly on a regular basis. Her focus is on the status of poverty in the media. In her study, she found that between 1981 and 1986 an average of 32 stories per year were focused on poverty. For such a wide scale problem in our society, this is not ample coverage. Bullock contests that more media coverage of poverty in our society would lead to a better understanding of the problem by the general public. Thus, a higher level of support for federal welfare programs could arise (Bullock, 232-233). I have often times found this to be true. When watching newscasts and programs such as Dateline, we rarely see stories discusses larger national issues like poverty. News on television seems more focused on crime, scandals, and sports. Perhaps, as Bullock states, an increase in media coverage of poverty and social welfare could aid in the process.
Perhaps the single most important factor in the decrease of poverty in our country is the social welfare programs. Although it is impossible to eliminate poverty from our society, social welfare programs, if implemented properly, could vastly reduce the level of poverty. Currently, a large amount of those under the poverty line are unemployed persons and those persons who receive too little compensation for their work. One way to eliminate these numbers would be to increase the minimum wage. Far too many people in this country are trying to support children on minimum wage. Unfortunately, that cannot be successfully done. In Rights and Wrongs of Welfare Reform: A Feminist Approach, Diana Pierce states that many people trying to get out of welfare and enter the workforce and stopped due to severe problems
including low wages, inadequate child care, and a lack of health care benefits (Pierce, 135). Pierce makes a valid argument. Until the private sector is able to provide ample compensation and benefits, single parents will not want to leave the welfare program. Lack of sufficient day care also prevents these people from going to work. This situation is in need of reform. In fact, welfare reform legislation is needed nation wide to help solve the problem of poverty. Evidence that such reform would help can be seen in Jean Oggins study Welfare Reform Sanctions and Financial Strain in a Food-Pantry Sample. Her study mentions instances such as that in Broome County, New York, where welfare reform legislation led to a 20-25% increase in the number of county welfare recipients that are employed over each of the next few years (Oggins, 105). This shows that reform of the social welfare programs does indeed help in the reduction of the poverty level.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percent of Americans under the poverty level has steadily dropped from 15.1 percent in 1993 to 11.8 percent in 1999 (U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, Series P60-210, Table B-1). The attention paid to the problems of poverty in our society and reform of the social welfare legislation in many states led to this decrease. Continued attention to these issues should only reduce the poverty level further. Unfortunately, I believe that the government is beginning to lose public interest in such programs as they are not discussed as much lately in politics. When searching for information on welfare reform and poverty on the internet, I encountered several pages which had recently been removed from the servers. In my opinion, this shows that social welfare and poverty are not currently near the top of legislators priorities. Ignoring the problem could lead to a rise in the level once again.
Unfortunately, not all people believe this way. Many people say that poor people are poor because they dont try to work. They believe that many of the poor just take advantage of the welfare system and look at it as free money. One ignorant view of some better off people is that I had to work hard for my money, they should have to as well. Some people believe that social welfare should be eliminated all together. These beliefs are known as blaming the victim. Many of these people dont think about the disadvantages that people living in poverty have, particularly with educational opportunities.
It is my belief that the best way to reduce the level of poverty in this nation is to increase the political support for social welfare. Many people below the poverty level just need a bit of financial help to get them started in the right direction. In my opinion, welfare money can assist them with this. Proper welfare laws that require recipients to seek employment within a certain time period seem to be most effective in the reduction of poor people in this country.
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