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The Face of American Poverty Essay

Poverty is a social ill that is affecting most developing countries in the world, if not all. This is evidenced by the people’s lack of access to basic commodities such as food, clothing and shelter due to insufficiency of foods to purchase these needs. More often than not, this kind of situation is associated to third world countries like the Philippines and Vietnam and less identified with industrialized countries because people in the latter have more access to a better life and an abundance of job opportunities.

United States is a country that could be least likely identified with poverty, however, statistics revealed there are millions of people in America who are living a poor life. This hidden problem of America was magnified to the whole world when hurricane Katrina destroyed properties in southern United States, specially New Orleans. A BusinessWeek article (Farell 2005) reported that the disaster reminded every American of the big class divide in the country.

The whites who had more means were able to find a safer place to stay as the disaster hit their homes while the blakcs who have just enough or not even, were left on their rooftops crying for help. They barely had enough to save themselves from the brutal effects of the hurricane. Based on the latest statistics that the bureau released (Current Population Report 20), America, an industrialized country and one of the most powerful countries in the world houses 36. 5 million people, 24. 3 percent of which are Blacks, 10. 3 percent are Asians and 8. percent are non-Hispanic whites. Poverty in the United States is measured by the Bureau of Census using the money income earned by the family members. If the total income of the family is below the family’s threshold, every individual in the family is considered as among those people suffering in poverty. There are 48 possible poverty thresholds that may be assigned to each family. These thresholds vary according to family size and ages of the members of the family. The thresholds are annually updated in consideration of the inflation and other factors.

These thresholds in a way reflect the family needs and serve as statistical yardsticks; however, these statistics alone do not provide a comprehensive description of what a family needs to live decently. The measurement, which the bureau uses, was derived from the Office of Management and Budget’s Statistical Policy Directive 14. The thresholds that are being utilized to measure poverty were formulated in 1963 by the U. S. Department of Agriculture food budgets initially for families who are under economic stress (U. S. Bureau of Census 20) According to the Current Population Report of the U. S. Bureau of Census (20), Table 3, People and Families in Poverty by Selected Characteristics: 2005 and 2006, South America has the highest number of people who are living in poverty, it reaches about 14 million and constitutes almost 14 percent of poor Americans. The other regions only registered an average of 11 percent each of the table listing the American people who are living in poverty. Aside from this, the statistics also show that majority of the Americans who are poor are native born. Those who are foreign born and naturalized citizens only comprised a small percentage of Americans living poverty.

The bulk of these poor people range from the age bracket of 18 to 64 years old–the working age. However, the poverty that America defines is a lot different from the definition of poverty in developing countries. As indicated in the research, Understanding Poverty in America, by Robert Rector and Johnson Johnson (n. pag. ), the poor in America are better off compared to those who are considered poor in developing countries. The research revealed that a poor American has a car, a house in good repair and has air-conditioning, clothes washer and cable television among others.

According to Results. org (n. pag. ), the face of a poor person in America is a single parent working full time but still has no sufficient funds to pay for their food needs, rent, medical bills and car costs for travel. Results. org (n. pag. ) also revealed that an American who experiences hunger is in a better state than those who are in really poor countries because unlike the latter who really have nothing, Americans still have food to eat the only problem is that the food that they eat is not sufficient to meet a nutritious diet.

According to the organization report (n. pag. ), the face of hunger in America is a malnourished child whose parents are not earning enough to purchase healthy and nutritious food and sometimes has to skip meals. The research conducted by Rector and Johnson (n. pag. ) showed that one of the problems of poor Americans is malnutrition, however, this malnourishment that poor Americans face is not under nutrition but obesity. Their findings show that most of the adult Americans are obese because their diets compose mostly of foods that are high in fat.

They consume this kind of food more often due to lack of money to purchase food that could provide a better diet. Based on the findings of Rector and Johnson (n. pag. ), poverty is caused by two main factors: the absence of the father in the house and the fact that parents only spend less time at work. The research show that poor families are only supported by 800 work hours per year or 16 hours per week on the average. If the parents spend longer hours at work, then they could earn more and there is a greater possibility that the family would not fall among the list of poor families.

In addition to this, the researchers also found out that the absence of a father in the house is also a great factor in the rise of poverty in the United States. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies are becoming more prevalent in the American society and this causes a surge in the number of single parents that are supporting their children. More often than not, the income that these single parents are generating is not enough to sustain their family’s needs thus; they fall within the poverty line. If there were two parents that are earning for the family then there would be more funds to buy the family the needs.

Aside from these factors, Isabel Sawhill (n. pag. ) also cited other reasons for the emergence of poverty in the United States. One the reasons that she gave is the lack of employment opportunities among the poor people. This unemployment is actually caused by several reasons such as the mismatch between the required skills of employers and those that are offered by employees. Another reason is the fact that American workers need to compete with cheaper foreign labor. Their competition forces the need for Americans to accept lower wages in order to earn a living and supply the needs of their family.

If they do not lower their salary expectations then it is more likely that foreign labor will prevail and complete the job. Another factor that affects unemployment in the United States is racial discrimination. There are employers who prefer to accept white Americans for better paying jobs as compared to the Blacks, Hispanics or Asians. Some American corporations continue to underestimate the capabilities of colored Americans and perceive that the whites are still superior and perform better than any other race. This type of discrimination is one of the reasons why America remains to be a divided nation.

Moreover, the geographical location also plays as a factor because there are states that offer more job opportunities compared to other states which only offer a few. More often than not, those states which have more resources geographically and industrially offer more job opportunities as compared to those states which only have a few resources to develop and few corporations to run. Based on the data released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (n. pag. ), the region which has the highest unemployment rate are Midwest and West regions registering 5. percent each while the region which has the lowest unemployment rate is Southern United States at 4. 7 percent. Among the states, Texas has the highest employment rate followed by Nevada and Minnesota. In addition to the causes of poverty, researchers (Sawhill n. pag. ) are also blaming the income policy transfers of the government such as the food stamps, Medicaid, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for the prevalence of poverty in the United States.

The food stamp program aims to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in the country by providing qualified low-income families with food stamps that can be utilized to purchase food items to complete a nutritious diet. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the average benefit that can be derived from the program per individual is $1 per meal. In order to qualify, a household should have a gross income that falls below 130 percent of the poverty line and do not own assets that are more than $2,000 in value (results. org n. pag. ).

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children aims to provide pregnant women who have low incomes, new mothers, infants and children that are facing nutritional risks with healthy food, education on nutrition and health care access. Unlike the food stamp program, which provides monetary assistance to families, this government program gives food packages to the concerned individuals to meet their dietary needs (results. org n. pag. ). The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families is the welfare program replacement of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

This program was created to fight the dependency of the recipient families to the welfare programs of the government. Unlike the other welfare programs which only require that the family’s income fall within the poverty line, this type of government program requires the recipients to work before receiving any assistance and limits the period wherein they can receive assistance from the welfare program. This policy of the government somehow lessens the sense of dependency to welfare programs by the recipients and gives them motivation to work and lift their families out of the poverty line.

It has been observed by researchers (Sawhill n. pag. ) that recipients of welfare assistance from the government become so dependent that they no longer have the drive to work harder or worse, no dot exert any effort to support their needs. This kind of dependency was staged in the movie, Million Dollar Baby. In this movie, the mother of Maggie Fitzgerald, the female boxer played by Hillary Swank, got mad when Maggie bought her a house because this would drive them out of the welfare system. Owning the property will force them to find a job that will support their daily needs and take them out of their comfort zone.

The family does not want this to happen because they have become so dependent with the welfare system that they cannot seem to live without it anymore. This is the kind of dependency that the government is trying to avoid because not only does this foster indolence it also takes away from the government funds that could be used for other projects that would better benefit the community. It would be better to teach a person how to fish and find provision for his personal needs rather than simply providing the fish to a person who never dare to exert an effort.

Having too many children is also a factor in the surge of poverty in the United States because the more children there are, the more dependents the parents have and the more mouths to feed. If a family has fewer children then it would be easier for the family to get by because there are only a few needs to provide for and compete over the family income. There are various ways wherein sociologists try to explain poverty and one of them is using the structural approach which is influenced by Marxists and Functionalists perspectives (School-Portal n. pag. ).

In the Marxist perspective, it can be gleaned that poverty is the direct result of the capitalist system. Through capitalism, people are forced to enter into a competition to survive and this competition is affected primarily by education and skills that an individual possesses. People try to attain higher education and learn new skills to have a better standing in a capitalistic world and a better fare at the competition. Employers prefer to hire an applicant who attained a higher level of learning and who has better skills compared to ordinary individuals, as this will foster better company performance and more earnings.

Employees work hard to receive higher and more promising salaries. The discrepancy in earnings, ownership of properties and the creation of the social strata causes poverty exist. If people are not driven by competition and the dire to strive for more as compared to the others, there would be no discrepancy and all will just be equal—no rich and no poor. However, this will also advocate laziness among the people and lack of improvement in one’s way of living. With regard to the functionalist perspective, everything is seen to be working for the whole and everything has a purpose.

In consideration of this ideology, poverty is seen both in the positive and negative light. In its negative aspect, poverty is seen as a warning, something that people should avoid due to its adverse effects such as lack of sufficient food to eat, absence of enough funds to purchase basic needs and wants. On the contrary, poverty is also seen in the positive side, a feel good factor. When one sees he is faring better than the others, it creates a sense of thinking that all the efforts that he has exerted are all worth it.

It somehow creates an appreciation of the hardships that he had to go through to achieve the position he is occupying. Another approach that sociologists utilize to explain poverty is the cultural approach. This type of explanation was elaborated by sociologist, Oscar Lewis. According to Lewis, poverty is transferred from generation to generation because the values of the parents toward poverty are passed on to their children. Lewis explained that people experience poverty because of the different cultural values that they have developed through time.

These values include resignation and fatalism. People who are resigned feel that there is nothing much that they can do about their situation so they no longer bother to change it or even exert the slightest effort to lift their families out of the impoverished state their they are in. People, who adhere to fatalism, perceive that they are meant to be poor so there is no reason of fighting it. They believe that suffering an impecunious life is their purpose in this world and no matter what they do they will not be able to escape it.

Trying to pull one’s self out of the hole of poverty will only be a futile undertaking. These kinds of ideologies of the parents foster somehow affects how their children see poverty. Without even realizing it, these principles that they adhere to, is already burying their children to the pit of poverty even at a tender age. Once the minds of their children are shaped with these principles, they will carry this one as they age and like their parents, will be left suffering an impoverished life.

The cultural explanation of poverty explains why there are many who continue to depend on the welfare system even if they have the capacity to get out of it. They have been so used to thinking that they are poor and cannot do anything about it that is why they no longer strive to make their lives more bearable. What these people fail to realize are the benefits that can be gained from getting out of the cage of the government welfare system. They has lost their sense of achievement and being able to contribute something fruitful to the country rather than just waiting for the assistance that the government will provide.


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