The issue of children living in poverty in the United States is a complex and controversial issue. Despite the United States having the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, the United States has the highest number of children living at or below the national poverty level (CIA, World Factbook, 2007). The current federal poverty level is $20,650 a year for a family of four. The government believes that a family of four needs twice this amount, $41,300 a year, to meet basic needs. Families with incomes 100 to 200% below $41,300 a year are considered low income families. Using that figure, statistics show that over 28 million children live in low income families. That figure represents 39% of all children in the United States.
The current method used by the United States to measure poverty levels was developed more than 40 years ago. The system was developed based on the presumption that families 40 years ago spent one-third of their income on food. This method causes a problem today because food now comprises far less than a third of the average family’s expenses. Another problem with this method is that poverty levels are measured on a national standard with no regard for the variation in the cost of living from state to state and between urban and rural areas. In addition, pre-tax income is considered and governmental benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and child care assistance are not considered (NCCP, 2007). Deputy Director of the National Center for Children in Poverty, Nancy K. Cauthen questions the method used to compile this data. Cauthen believes the government’s current method of measuring poverty is inadequate and that there are alternative ways to measure poverty levels (NCCP, 2007).
The National Academy of Sciences released a report in 1995 recommending several new methods to determine poverty levels (NCCP, 2007). Some of those methods included: • Vary the poverty threshold by region, adjusting for regional variation in housing costs. • Create a method that more accurately reflects current family expenses. • Use post-tax income
• Include government assistance as a part of a family’s resources. To date none of these changes have been implemented. Regardless of the method used to measure poverty levels, there is no denying that far too many children live in poverty in the United States. The children are the innocent parties in these situations. Before the problem can be rectified, we must first address and determine the cause or causes behind the problem. To determine the exact cause of poverty has proved to be nearly impossible because each family’s circumstances are different, but some possible causes have been identified.
Research shows that most people favored individualistic reasons such as lack of effort, improper money management skills, or loose morals (Chafel, 1997). These people lean towards the symbolic-interaction theoretical approach to this problem meaning poverty was attributed more to the individual than to societal factors. Using this approach one would believe that anyone who works hard can get ahead. However, statistics do not support some of these beliefs. Statistics show that 56% of children have at least one parent who works full-time year round, 25% have at least one parent who works part-time or full-time, part year, and 19% do not have an employed parent (NCCP, 2007). In addition to those figures, statistics also show that 52% of children live with a single parent and 48% live with married parents. These numbers show that while the effort of the individual has some effect on his or her standard of living, it is not always the sole factor. Some have favored structural reasons such as low wages and exploitation by the rich. These people’s beliefs support the social-conflict theoretical approach that society operates on a system of social inequality. When asked, 83% of people believed that children of the rich have...
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