The story below appeared in the “One Step Away” magazine, which is a greater philadelphia’s first newspaper produced by those without homes for those with homes. The story was featured April 2013 under heading “Our Voice – What we want people who have roofs over their heads to hear from us”
Philadelphia has the highest rate of deep poverty – people with incomes below half of the poverty line- of any big city in the country, according to a study by The Philadelphia Inquirer and Temple University sociologist David Elesh. Inquirer reporter Alfred Lubrano’s story was chilling; he described people going without food, living without running water or electricity, juggling a number of awful paying jobs that simply don’t make ends meet. The impact on children of families living in deep poverty is an absolute crisis in our city.
Philadelphia has the highest povery rate (28.4 percent) of America’s big cities. Almost 13 percent of Philadelphians are living in “deep poverty”. That’s more than 200,000 of our neighbors and fellow citizens who earn less tha $5,700 per year (individuals) or less than $11,700 for a family of four.
While people who qualify as poor can and often do lift themselves out of poverty, this pernicious state of “deep poverty” is statistically inescapable. Judith Levine, a Temple sociologist, told the Inquirer: “Poverty becomes a long-term experience, and it’s very different, especially for children”. We are dooming thousands of children to a lifetime of sever poverty, with unimaginable long-term consequences.
So, Let’s talk solutions.
Government programs have been wildly successful in fighting poverty. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported last year that pover rates without government income assistance of any sort would have been nearly twice as high as they actually were: 28.6 percent rather than 15.5 percent. That’s the impact of publich programs such as General Assistance, unemployment insurance, SNAP benefits (food stamps), Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, veteran’s benefits, public assistance (most importantly including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and housing assistance. These programs work.
You know what’s weird? These are the very programs we’ve spent the last few years cutting. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has personally been slashing this stuff as fast as he can. And in a stunning upset, when you cut anti-poverty programs, you get more poverty. It’s science…..
An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Anti Poverty Programs in the United States by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the combination of the means-tested and social insurance transfers had a major impact on povery, reducing deep poverty, poverty, and near-poverty rates by about 14 percentage points. SSI, TANF, food stamps, Earned Income Tax Credit, and housing assistance programs all have significant impacts.
The rise of the EITC and decline of Aid to Families with Dependent Children/TANF and food stamps for the very poor is a regressive combination. The report found a notable shift in expenditures toward the elderly and disabled and away from people who are just plain poor. In 1984, programs reduced poverty much more among single parent families and the nonemployed than they did 20 years later, a direct result of this kind of shift in government policy
Look, cash assistance to the poor, specifically nonworkers, can feel kind of unseemly. The system has always preferred “in kind transfers”, things such as food, medical care, housing. These things help people survive, but don’t move them. They don’t lift people out of poverty.
Conservative economist Milton Friedman consistently supported a “negative income tax”, endorsing the kinds of cash transfers we’ve consistently moved away from. Bolsa Familia in Brazil and Oportunidades in Mexico, which are essentially cash grants to the poor, have been wildly successful in eliminating poverty in those countries. We just don’t have the political will for that sort of thing here.
In the end, then, America sufferes from a kind of deliberate malpractice – we know what works, we’ve seen it work, we’re just deciding not to do so much of it, anymore.
Let’s restore the safety net, invest in people, and knock Philly off the top spot of this really awful list.