Poverty indeed has many faces. But its indelible mark of pain and misery is unmistakable in the nameless faces and faceless names of those who suffer from it. The destitute who are living on a perilous edge. The lowly who are struggling to hang on amidst hard choices between hunger, housing, health care and education for their families. Yet, our government is still on an ambiguous trail towards resolving the poverty problem. The legislature is still groping in the dark as to how poverty should be measured and determined.
For this reason, I am opposed to the enactment into law of House Resolution 3243, otherwise known as the Poverty Measurement Improvement Act. It does not make any important or meaningful improvement on how poverty and poverty thresholds are to be gauged. Proponents of H. R. 3243 profess that it would improve understanding of the effectiveness of government programs to combat poverty and would more accurately determine the real extent of poverty. They insist that official poverty statistics overestimate poverty. (Ways and Means Republicans, 2007)
Yet it will fail as it fails to address the crux of the matter: What really is poverty and who really are poor in America? H. R. 3243 misses the point completely. What it does certainly is not measuring but underestimating poverty. A new measure should instead be endorsed, one that would more accurately define the poor population. While the proposed bill would now consider previously unaccounted data like non-cash benefits such as medicare, housing assistance, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as forms of income, I do not however agree with its underlying principle.
Proponents assert that to continue to ignore the value of anti-poverty benefits is misleading, and that if introduced to the matrix, the number of people living under the poverty line would decrease. They contend that by counting benefits earned, many people will no longer be considered poor. (Ways and Means Republicans, 2007). I find this idea a little absurd. The poverty line to be determined does not consider the significant factors that should be included in the equation. To reduce the number of people living below this poverty line that is deceptive would delude us that poverty has been and is being alleviated.
H. R. 3243 fails to substantially capture the gamut of the multidimensional qualities of poverty. And this has been one of our biggest problems all along. Our equation is flawed. The equation that H. R. 3243 proposes is still wrong. The proponents claim that ignoring anti-poverty benefits escalates poverty rates, intensifies appeals for additional benefits, multiplies government spending, and increases taxes which all impact ultimately on the people (Ways and Means Republicans, 2007). This circuitous argument is again misleading.
In fact, the cost of providing benefits would be considerably higher if only the government recognizes the true number of people who are poor. Poverty has to be scrutinized on its multifarious dimensions and gauged through a variety of indicators — levels of income and consumption, social indicators, and indicators of vulnerability to risks such as age and gender and of socio-political access across groups and geographical settings (Citro & Michael; 1995, 2). Factoring these aspects in the poverty count, would in fact significantly increase the total number of poor (Willis, 2000).
This complex dynamics includes changing access to employment and increases in non-food items such as housing, education, transportation, and health care, among others (Van Hook, 2003). A case in point: In this era of skyrocketing healthcare and insurance costs, because of differences in health status and insurance coverage, different population groups face significant variations in medical care costs, but the proposed measure would not take account of them (Citro & Michael, 1995).
The average family spent one-third of its budget on food based on the poverty measure developed in 1964, but today, the figure is closer to one-sixth (Catholic Campaign for Human Development). It is proposed that actual costs for food, clothing, and shelter, rather than a budget for food, be used to determine the poverty level (Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP), 2004).
Other factors to be integrated in the proposed poverty matrix should include adjustment of the poverty level for family size and of housing costs based on geographical differences; deduction of mandatory expenses such as taxes, work expenses, child care costs, child support payments, and out-of-pocket medical care costs from family income before comparing income to the poverty level; and the use of Survey of Income and Program Participation as an alternative Census survey (Citro & Michael, 1995; as cited in IRP, 2004)
The IRP underscores some difficulties on how to incorporate the proposed changes. However, as current research trends indicate, there are no limits to technical and scientific knowhow that would preclude us from formulating a blueprint to address those problems. The dilemma that poverty creates amongst millions of Americans should be reason enough to inspire and propel scientific and research efforts. Having examined all sides of this issue I am convinced that H. R. 3243 should not be passed.
It is lame legislation under the pretense of promoting public welfare. It is weak. It is inadequate. It is deceptive. Please stand up for the millions of faceless and nameless Americans who are wallowing in the morass of destitution. Poverty is a call to action. When you join the fight against poverty and misery, these millions of poor Americans will thank you with their votes and ongoing support. While there is no panacea to poverty, we can all work together to alleviate it. It is time we make the necessary changes in our laws to help our countrymen.
Courtney from Study Moose
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