Friday, September 23, 2011

Thinking About Poverty, Part 3

This is Part 3 in a two part series on Poverty. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 there. This part? It's the Outrage Part.

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

~ T. S. Eliot in Burnt Norton, from The Four Quartets

On September 13, 2011 Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders gave a speech in the US Senate about Poverty. I encourage all my readers to please take the 8 minutes of time to listen to his speech.

A response salvo was fired off to the National Review on September 21st by that hail fellow, well met Senator from Kentucky, (I can feel Comtesse Glam cringing...) Rand Paul. It took a full week to reply to Senator Sanders because Senator Paul was pouring over facts and statistics trying to controvert Senator Sanders's statements. In contrast to Senator Sanders quoting those boring old statistics and facts and saying where he got them from, Senator Paul has given us broad statements of what I like to call, in Colbertian fashion, "truthy facts". Poverty, Mr. Paul assures us, is not a death sentence, and isn't really all that bad even! :)

"While we all hope to lessen the sting of poverty, we need to put poverty in America into context... Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation has profiled the typical poor household in America. The average poor household has a car, air conditioning, two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and an Xbox. Its home is in good repair and bigger than the average (non-poor) European home. They report that in the past year they were not hungry, were able to obtain medical care as necessary, and could afford all essential needs."

I find it very strange that the US Senator from Kentucky is relying on the Heritage Foundation for specifics rather than sourcing his own facts and statistics from his facts and statistics obsessed government, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, I went to Heritage Foundation's Poverty and Inequality page and looked for information about where they got their figures. Emblazoned on the page is:

"Poor persons in the United States have far higher living standards than the public imagines.  Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry, and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs. While this individual's life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians. 
The major causes of child poverty in the United States in any year will be the absence of married fathers in the home and low levels of parental work."

Okay, I'm not even going to touch the fact that the low levels of parental work are responsible for poverty (did they just say these kids' parents are lazy?) But you know, I could not find a source for this information. But I did find an article by Rector, claiming his stats are from a government survey (implying they were from the Census) in 2005, which was NOT a US Census year and which, oh, let me remember, was yes, before the economy really began to tank. There was no further information about where to get these facts and verify the information on their statistical accuracy. Hmmmm.

Well, Senator Paul and Mr. Rector, luckily for you I am the very soul of data on the issue of poverty at present. Especially child poverty, but in the course of looking for data on poverty faced by children, I have come across more than a few sources of information on the population as a whole. I'm sorry to say that unfortunately, some of them are promoted, funded or tallied by our US Government. I know that source may not be good enough for you. 

But first let's start with some child statistics culled from that highly suspect organization the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Here are some screen captures from their site, Kids Count, which used data from the 2010 United States Census and various other clearly named sources:

Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (March supplement).1990-2006 data: The Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville, analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (March supplement). 2007-2011 data: Population Reference Bureau, analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (March supplement).

Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (March supplement).Population Reference Bureau, analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey (March supplement).
Mortgage Bankers Association, National Delinquency Survey, 2007 to 2009; U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2007 to 2009
Population Reference Bureau analysis of Current Population Survey (CPS) Basic Monthly data 2007 - 2010
Population Reference Bureau analysis of Current Population Survey (CPS) Basic Monthly data 2007 - 2010

Why, all those kids aren't really under duress! Oh, no! And they have excellent healthcare, happy families and X-Boxes. Well, maybe they have no place to plug the X-Box in, if Mommy and Daddy's house was foreclosed on. But other than that, they are all fine! (Isn't it ironic that that children without healthcare stat is in part thanks to an Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville study? No, really?!)

I'm sure you remember the food insecurity issue for children from Parts 1 & 2 of my blog article on poverty but just in case you didn't, let's recap. 22% of all children in the US live in poverty, 42% live in low income households, the USDA provides 31 million free school lunches to children who qualify and there's the sliver that falls through the gap- children whose households make between 185% and 199% of the Federal Poverty Level Income but are still considered low income. And the total number of children in food insecure homes in the most recent year tracked (2009) was 23.2 according to the US Government's Child Stats site.

Hmmmm. I wonder who else might be food insecure, besides all those chickadees? Well, provides some broad information on their homelessness portal, that applies not just to the homeless. For instance, there is the Food Hardship in America report for 2010, prepared by the Food Research Action Center. This report, listed by a US government agency blatantly states: 

"The national data show that the struggle of tens of millions of American households to afford adequate food did not, by and large, get easier in 2010. While the nation’s Great Recession technically ended in mid-2009 (measured by growth in the Gross Domestic Product), it has not yet ended for most of the nation’s households. For them, 2010 was the third year of a recession that continues to have severe adverse impact on their well-being."

Or how about this featured report, Food Insecurity Among Older Adults, prepared by the AARP. (Those damn lazy elderly/retirees! They are just dragging us down!) Some of their findings, and by the way, AARP offers up plenty of information about how their methods, how data was collected and what statistics were used to calculate their findings:

Our key findings on the trends and distribution of food insecurity are:
  • Across all categories and older adult age groups, food insecurity increased substantially after 2007. The increases were most pronounced among 40-49 year olds, followed by 50-59 year olds, and then those 60 and older. Food insecurity for 40-49 year olds increased to an astounding 68 percent between 2007-2009 compared to 38 percent for 50-59 year olds, and 25 percent among those over 60. Rates of very low food security rates among adults in their 50s had comparable increases to those in their 40s (69 percent versus 71 percent). 
  • The increasing trend in food insecurity implies that by 2009, among adults age 50 and older, 15.6 million persons faced the threat of hunger (i.e. were marginally food insecure), 8.8 million faced the risk of hunger (i.e. were food insecure), and 3.5 million faced hunger (i.e. were low food secure). This is an increase of 66%, 79%, and 132%, respectively, from the levels of food insecurity in 2001 among this population. 
  • The levels of food insecurity among the poor and near poor are two to three times higher in any given year than for the general population of those over age 50. However, there is not nearly as dramatic an increase in food insecurity after 2007 among the poor and near poor in comparison to those higher in the income distribution. Thus, the recessionary increase in adult food insecurity was most pronounced among those with higher incomes.

Yes, indeed, I just do not know where Senator Sanders got this idea that things were bad in this country. Things are just fine here, Senator Paul. Everyone is just fine.

Oh, and Senator Paul also makes the claim:

"Over 30 percent of those living below the poverty smoke, compared with 19 percent of the rest of the population. Obesity rates are significantly higher among the poor than the general population..."

It seems as if the Senator has never reflected on the fact that the nicotine in cigarette smoke is well known for its appetite suppressant effects and that obesity rates are higher among the American poor because their diet is skewed toward cheap, high fat and high sugar foods that they can afford to eat, when they can eat. Food insecurity is directly tied to obesity (btw, that latter link was to the most current article I found on the topic on that cheesy and unreliable National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine PubMed search engine) and it is also clearly tied to diabetes, as detailed in a recent report title "The Inextricable Connection Between Food Insecurity and Diabetes" by the California Pan-Ethic Health Network, which receives the bulk of its funding from the highly questionable California Department of Public Health.

Oh, and one final comment, about the Poverty and Inequity page over at Heritage Foundation. They have a couple of links there that are interesting, namely:

Maybe it's just me but the idea that the number of Americans who pay taxes continues to shrink might possibly have something to do with the fact that so many Americans are living in frigging poverty! It seems to me some of those poor people might need to depend on government assistance. But shucks, that's just my take.

Anyway, I'm done here. For now.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

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