After a recent nationwide analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau, it was estimated that there are more than 40 million poor Americans in the United States.
The government does try to help these struggling individuals through government assistance programs, but it has a billion dollar price tag attached. Government assisted programs like welfare, food stamps, and unemployment insurance all make it so citizens in need are helped, but it also tends to create a sense of government dependency for those who are on these programs.
This raises the question, are government assistance programs helping end poverty? In order to help end government dependency and in turn help end poverty, Americans are starting to believe that promoting more self-reliance to U.S. citizens is important to improving the poverty numbers. In addition to promoting more self-reliance, people also believe that the best way to help end poverty in the U.S. is not only to improve our economy, but to take the necessary steps to create and keep jobs in the United States. However, the first step to helping improve poverty starts with differentiating the government’s idea of poverty from the averages citizens’ idea of poverty.
For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: “An inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter” (Rector et al.). In a recent poll, Americans were asked to describe what being poor entails. The majority of people who took part in the survey focused on homelessness, hunger, not being able to eat properly, and not being able to meet the basic needs of their families.
If poverty means lacking nutritious food, adequate warm housing, and clothing for a family, relatively few of the 40 million people identified as being in poverty by the Census Bureau could be characterized as poor (Rector). When you compare the majority idea of poverty from the eyes of U.S. citizens to that of the governments, it is determined that the government’s idea of the average “poor” person has a much higher living standard than the public imagine.
The typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a washer and dryer, and a microwave. In addition, they have two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo (Rector et al). Generally, these people considered poor do not have hungry family members in their household and they have sufficient funds to meet the essential needs of their family. While the average “poor” person’s life is not extravagant, the living conditions of people defined as “poor” by the government bear little resemblance to the notions of poverty held by the general public. Clearly there is a disconnection between the government and its citizens. Critics believe that if the government can agree with the large majority of citizens who believe that poverty means the inability to provide, then they will get on the right track to fixing the U.S. poverty issues. However, even if government officials and U.S. citizens find a common ground on the meaning of poverty; will the broken government assistance programs, intended to help the poor, help end poverty?
The numbers compiled by United States Census Bureau between 1960 and 2012 paints a clear picture of how government assistance programs are not only broken, but they are not helping end poverty. In the 1960s, the United States spent just over $2 billion on food assistance programs; by 2008 that number was $63 billion. Today, the U.S. government operates over 70 welfare programs that span 13 government departments and spending on these programs have only grown over the decades. Last year, the government spent roughly $900 billion total welfare programs. And the government is projected to spend $10.3 trillion on welfare over the next 10 years (Sheffield). Yet despite all of the spending, poverty rates remain virtually unchanged since the 1960s. Analysis of the United States poverty problem clearly shows that poverty is here to stay, but that does not mean nothing can be done to lessen the number of millions living in poverty.
While campaigning in 2008, Barack Obama told a small business owner his plan was to “spread the wealth around” in order to help those in need. Essentially, his idea was to tax the higher earners in the U.S. in order to help struggling citizens. His comment was criticized heavily, especially by writer Arthur Brooks. In a 2010 article, brooks wrote, “in 2009, thirty-eight percent of Americans were expected to have had zero or negative federal individual income tax liability. After President Obama’s budget, stimulus, and other tax changes, this proportion will increase to nearly 46 percent in 2011” (Brooks). That means the other 54 percent of Americans will be paying additional taxes to take care of the other 46 percent not paying theirs. Brooks closes his article by expressing his belief that in order to truly help end poverty, it starts with creating jobs and improving the United States economy.
Due to companies not hiring because of rough economic times, there has been an increase in poverty numbers due to the lack of available jobs. One of the many reasons as to why they economy is bad and poverty numbers are increasing is the fact that the U.S. government is over taxing small and large businesses. As a result, companies are being driven out of the United States and into more tax friendly countries such as Mexico and Canada. With companies leaving the U.S., they are taking American jobs with them. If American citizens do not have jobs, they cannot spend money to stimulate our economy, due to the lack of income. It is a popular belief that if the government were to ease up on taxing businesses, not only will it make American and foreign companies want to stay in the U.S., but it will provide jobs to American citizens who are struggling from poverty. Lowering taxes and loosening regulations on businesses would go a long way toward encouraging businesses to expand and hire more people. In addition to lessening regulations, in order to potentially provide more jobs, promoting self-reliance is also important because it will help citizens be more self-reliant, rather than dependent on the government for aid.
Self-Reliance, by definition, is “reliance on one’s own efforts and abilities.” In other words, self-reliance means depending on nobody but yourself to accomplish what needs done. In a quote by Rachel Sheffield, an author for Nationalreview.com, she says, “Since its founding, the United States has achieved its independence and prosperity from a citizenry that has prided itself on self-reliance, instead of government handouts and it must continue to do so”(Sheffield). Sheffield feels that the government’s role is not to enable its citizens but to empower them to provide for themselves and their families, no matter the situation.
In closing, government assistance programs such as welfare were created to aid only those living in poverty and those needing temporary assistance. So, when looking at statistics that show that the participation rates for these programs have been on an upward trend and climbing for over 40 years now; it answers the question, are government assistance programs helping end poverty with a no. In the end, promoting self-reliance and improving our economy with not completely end poverty, but it is a great start to getting the country moving in the right direction to help fix it.
Bishaw, Alemayehu. “Poverty: 2010 and 2011 American Community Survey Briefs.” Census. U.S. Census, Sept. 2012. Web. Dec. 2012.
Brooks, Arthur C. “Spreading The Wealth’ Isn’t Fair.” WSJ. WSJ, 14 Apr. 2010. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.
DeNavas-Walt, Carmen, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica C. Smith. “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011 Current Population Reports.” Census. U.S. Census, Sept. 2012. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.
“More Misleading Numbers on Poverty.” The Foundry Conservative Policy News Blog from The Heritage Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.
Rector, Robert, and Sheffield, Rachel. Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America’s Poor. Heritage.org, 13 Sept. 2011. Web. 5 Dec. 2012.
Sheffield, Rachel. “Welfare Reform: Self Reliance, Not Government Handouts.” The Foundry Conservative Policy News Blog from The Heritage Foundation. N.p., 18 Mar. 2011. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.
YEN, HOPE. “Revised Govt Formula Shows New Poverty High: 49.1M.” Yahoo! News. Yahoo!, 07 Nov. 2011. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.