Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Americans Living on Less Than $2 a Day?

Every once in awhile, I will run across a news or opinion piece that is so over-the-top and intellectually dishonest that I can't believe a major news outlet would dare to print it.

One such case was a recent CBS News article titled: "The Surging Ranks of America's Ultrapoor" written by freelancer Aimee Picchi, who has a history of writing about income inequality in the U.S.

In her opening sentence to this article, she states:
By one dismal measure, America is joining the likes of Third World countries.
Then, goes on to say:
The number of U.S. residents who are struggling to survive on just $2 a day has more than doubled since 1996, placing 1.5 million households and 3 million children in this desperate economic situation.
Then, there was this:
While it may be the norm to see families in developing countries such as Bangladesh and Ethiopia struggle to survive on such meager income, the growing ranks of America's ultrapoor may be shocking, given that the U.S. is considered one of the most developed capitalist countries in the world.
So, in just three statements, the reader is led to believe that the ultrapoor is such a big problem in this country that we have joined the ranks of Bangladesh and Ethiopia.  This is why, along with other facts, that this article is so intellectually dishonest and so over-the-top.  While it may be true that we do have 4-1/2 million adults and children who are living on under $2 a day, it is only 1.3% of our 324 million population.  According to the World Bank, 76.5% of the people of Bangladesh live under $2 a day.  For Ethiopia, it's 72.2%.

But, understand this.  The whole point of the article is to blame this under $2 condition in America on the 1996 reform of welfare and the creation of something called the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, otherwise known as TANF.  That is why, up front, she claims the under $2 population has doubled since 1996; directly because of TANF giving such meager income to the ultrapoor.  To that point, she makes this statement:
Once a family qualifies for TANF, they can receive benefits ranging from about $300 a month for a family of three in Texas to as much as $780 per month in New York. That's hardly living in the lap of luxury, but it would lift those families out of dire need.
However, to simply focus on TANF is both dishonest and totally ignores reality.  Besides TANF, the poor in this country are also eligible for dozens of other assistance programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, housing, child care, and  energy and utility. They also get a free telephone or at least a free cellphone.  All of which add up to a helluva lot more than $2 a day.  Just the free cellphone, alone, cost more than that.

She even takes aim at Wal-Mart for the "under $2" growth in this country.  So, we are supposed to believe that Wal-Mart is hiring and uniforming bunches of people to work less 2 hours a week. That's what you get when you divide the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 into the $14 dollars a week that would qualify someone to be living on less than $2 a day.

What this author, and the study that she outlines in her article fail to inform the reader is that the primary reason for the ultrapoor is homelessness.  For example, she claims 3 million children are ultrapoor.  That's very close to the latest study that found that 2.5 million children are homeless.  The problem with homelessness and TANF and other welfare programs is that they can't be served by those programs.  Without an address, they can't even request that a welfare check be sent to them.

The bottom line is that this author is throwing out a bunch of real, but deceptive, facts in order to convince the uniformed reader that we have a broken welfare system.  The reality is that we don't.  The problem is that we have no good way of rectifying the homeless situation in this country.  Money is available to do so, but the system can't accommodate the homeless other than with food banks and other charitable activities.


The surging ranks of America's ultrapoor: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-surging-ranks-of-americas-ultrapoor/

World Bank:  Poverty headcount ratio at $2 a day (PPP) (% of population): http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.2DAY

Info: U.S. Welfare Programs: http://www.welfareinfo.org/programs/

Number Of Homeless Children In America Surges To All Time High: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/17/child-homelessless-us_n_6169994.html

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