So. Poverty’s still a thing.

A New Deal

Demonstration of the unemployed, Kansas. Via the incredible Yale database of Depression era photos.

Forgive the weak headline. I know this happened roughly a million years ago in the Internet Matrix, but due to the exigency of earning a living I’ve been slow-digesting last month’s Census data on income and poverty. Several weeks later and I feel confident in stating that, yes, poverty’s still a thing.

Why write about it all? Because even outside the window of daily click relevance the topic of poverty is unfortunately never irrelevant. So for my part, at least, it makes sense to bookmark analysis from folks like Stephen Pimpare, an author and university professor whose work on the subject is fairly well-known. When I couldn’t spend more than a few minutes on the Census numbers he provided an easily digested analysis (on Twitter, of course, because the future). You could navigate to the Storified version of this too but I’ve also embedded his thoughts after my two cents below.

(Note: SPM refers to the Supplemental Poverty Measure. It’s an alternative measurement that the Census folks have been developing for years to better account for costs and government benefits. Dylan Matthews has a good explanation here. In short: the Official Measure is garbage, go with the SPM.)

There are two matters worth reiterating because, again, it’s never irrelevant:

  1. Poverty is a mainstream American experience. Last year there were over 48 million people with annual incomes below $25,000 for a family of four. From 2009 to 2012 over a third of Americans lived under the poverty line for two months or longer.
  2. Welfare works. Social Security is the behemoth that uplifts some 20+ million elderly, while refundable tax credits (i.e., just cutting checks), and food assistance have enormous positive influence over the lived experience of millions more.

These are two rather simple observations that are either not particularly well-accepted or vehemently disputed because reasons. Of course this makes it easy for someone like myself to conclude that we’re not doing enough to reduce poverty through the means we know works best. Yet the former is something to emphasize when speaking about poverty as it actually exists in the United States, while the latter should be a salve to those wasting time having an existential crises on what to do about it. Poverty isn’t a unique or rare circumstance, and we know how to fix it. We just need to do more of it. Now about that basic income guarantee…


One response to “So. Poverty’s still a thing.

  1. Pingback: We suck at deciding who deserves help, so maybe just help everyone | Punditocracy·

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