America: Land of the Poor
Americans are being willfully impoverished by their government sworn to represent them responsibly.
by Stephen Lendman
Years ago, who could have imagined the appalling growing poverty level in the world's richest country?
Various reports confirm it, including a new one by the University of Michigan's National Poverty Center (NPC), titled "Extreme Poverty in the United States, 1996 to 2011".
NPC promotes multidisciplinary research on poverty and policy. It mentors and trains poverty researchers. It analyzes causes and consequences, and addresses pressing policy questions at both federal and state levels.
How is poverty calculated, it asked? The Census Bureau issues annual thresholds. They represent minimal income levels required to support various family sizes.
Its methodology dates from the mid-1960s and hasn't changed. Inflation's taken into account annually. Families are judged poor based on pretax income. Non-cash benefits aren't counted, such as Medicaid and food stamps.
In 2010, singles under 65 with incomes of $11,344 or less were designated poor. For those over 65, it was $10,458.
For single parents with one child, it's $15,030. With two children, it's $17,568. For two adults with no children, it's $14,602. With one child, it's $17,552. With two children, it's $22,113. With three children, it's $26,023.
Adjusted for inflation, current thresholds are slightly higher, but bear no relation to reality. Individuals and families need double or more these levels to avoid poverty. Moreover, jerry-rigged inflation numbers further distort cost of living effects on all households.
The Department of Health and Human Services has its own federal aid eligibility guidelines. They differ slightly from Census numbers, and reflect marginally higher Alaska and Hawaii thresholds.
NPC's H. Luke Shaefer and Harvard Kennedy School's Kathryn Edin studied how Clinton's 1996 welfare reform affected millions of poor Americans.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation ("welfare reform") Act (PRWORA) changed eligibility rules. From 1935 until then, needy households got welfare payments through Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). It protected states by sharing caseload costs during hard times.
Thereafter, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) set five year time limits. It gave states fixed block grants to administer at their own discretion. As a result, America's most needy face huge risks during economic downturns when reduced federal aid exacerbates dire conditions.