Poverty has always been with us from beggars outside the gates of Jerusalem to the mentally ill homeless woman in the park. America is known for our huge difference in culture and class. This is due partly to the dynamics behind the political decisions of this country. The president himself admits that America is more unequal than it’s been since the great depression and many of his own supporters say he has failed. America now has, by many standards, the lowest social mobility of all of the high-end countries, meaning that a child born into poverty is likely to grow up as a poor adult. This is surprising for a country that not only prides itself as being a middle class society, but as the society where anyone can make it and where social mobility is so high. In some places now, it is hard to believe that America is an economic giant. “One in four young children lives in poverty in the richest nation on earth.” (Kindle, 2012) This is a fact that goes unnoticed by most Americans. Poverty in America has become a circular phenomenon and it has been shown to affect certain communities while it breezes by others.
The Poverty Line
“Some 46 million Americans live in poverty. That is the third highest poverty rate among developed nations, ahead only of Turkey and Mexico.” (Kindle, 2012) We might then ask, what is poverty? Where is the poverty line? For 63% of Americans, ages 16 and over, working is a necessity. From working entry level jobs in retail and fast food, jobs in manufacturing and farming, to banking and health care. These similarities, however, end there. This becomes quite apparent especially when it comes to hours worked and their compensation. For example, the average entry level wage in New Mexico is $8.02 an hour or $16,673 a year, before taxes. As opposed to an experienced worker or a college educated one, $22.93 an hour or $47,692 a year. This is lower than the national level of $17,867 annual for an entry level job and $66,248 for the experienced and educated. Unfortunately there are some that work as many hours and are paid less. Since 1938, there has been a federal law requiring employers to pay their employees a minimum wage. It was 25 cents. (Williamson, 1980) In 1938, the gap between nominal wages and real wages was quite wide compared to now where they are fairly close to each other and it is predicted they will mirror each other in the near future. Currently in California, the state minimum is $8.00, which is not a lot considering the rising cost of food, housing, and energy. According to 2008 Federal Poverty Guidelines, a family of 4 making $21,200 before taxes is considered to be poor. (Iceland, 2012) There are social programs that are set up to help people in this predicament; however, it does not help them get out of the circumstance. “The average food stamp benefit is $21 per week.” (Kindle, 2012) This is not nearly enough to support your average American. The aid programs are set up to get the poor by on a day to day basis and are not set up to improve their social mobility. There should be money spent on programs that allow those in poverty to improve their education and careers. What makes people poor? Is it lack of opportunities? Is it lack of education and skills training? Is racism and sexism? There are a wide variety of opinions on why people are poor. There is a sense of ignorance when bringing to attention the issue to those unaffected. Those that are unaffected could help but they do not know which way will help not only with the poor today but to decrease the poverty in the future. What is surprising is that a lack of education opportunities is often mentioned as reasons for poverty. According to the US department of education, 9.3% of the 37 million students ages 16-24 are high school drop outs. This is ironic considering that public high school is available to all. It seems creating jobs is the consensus and it makes sense especially when you look at the unemployment rate....
Bibliography: Iceland, JohnPoverty in America: A Handbook, with a 2012 Preface. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2012.
Ross, Arthur M., and Herbert Hill. Employment, Race, and Poverty. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967. Print.
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