|The true poverty line|
|Thursday, 09 February 2012 13:15|
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, poverty in America has risen to 15.1 percent. That's 46 million of the nation's population earning incomes less than $11,139 annually, or $22,314 for a family of four.
Poverty however is in fact relative. A family of four living on the official poverty line income of $22,314, may not consider themselves poor, despite living in a poverty-stricken community where salary averages below $22,314, if they maintain household expenses under that amount. On the other hand, a middle class family with household income over $49,445 may suffer more if household expenses significantly exceed that income.
In reality, a family of four would be extremely hard pressed to keep basic expenses including rent, food, utilities, clothing and healthcare within a $22,314 limit, as would a family earning close to $50,000 per annum if it acquires too much debt in relation to its earnings. Both families, middle and lower income, are considered at the poverty level if they both have significantly less access to income compared to other members of society. So as persistent unemployment and underemployment depletes the access to income of millions of Americans, the nation's poverty rate is most likely well above the reported 15.1 percent.
And how many Americans living in communities averaging incomes over $49,445 annually told the census taker that their family income was actually less than $22,314 because of under/unemployment? Funny thing about poverty and the middle class is that some middle class individuals are embarrassed to admit to the reality that they are poor.
It is in this true picture of poverty that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a CNN reporter last week that he is "not concerned about the very poor" since "we have a safety net there." He later asserted that "if it [the safety net] needs repair, I'll fix it."
Romney's statement is both true and false. The poor, the very poor, have a safety net including food stamps, subsidized housing and Medicaid, and some unemployed persons have access to unemployment benefits. However this safety net does not diminish the plight of poverty, although last year the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that in the absence of the social safety net, the poverty rate would have risen to 28.6 percent.
Despite this safety net, which is largely dependent on Congress policies regulating the national debt, unemployment and underemployment have forced an increasing number of Americans, including the middle class, into poverty line financial pressures. The seriousness of the poverty situation becomes starker with the national annual median wage stalled at approximately $26,364. Thus if a family of four, including a middle class family, has only its head of household employed and earning $26,364, that family sits on the edge of poverty. This is underscored by reports that the problem of poverty has affected traditional middle-class communities with poverty rates in U.S. suburbs being 53 percent higher in 2011 than in 2000.
Romney may be right saying he is more concerned about the middle class as they lack the same safety nets of those under the poverty line. This view however depends on an idea of class lines that may no longer exist. Because the line between poor and middle class is so blurred, the safety net isn't large enough to hold the rising numbers.
The real problem Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama, and others seeking the U.S. presidency, is that while Americans need jobs, they need incomes above identified poverty line incomes. Americans need incomes that ensure they can meet basic needs – diminishing poverty while reducing massive government expenditures on safety nets.
This is the message voters want to hear. The individual who best articulates this message could be elected in November.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2012 12:41|