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Please begin with an informative title:

Yes there has been a lot of economic growth, but only in the top 1% of the people.  

In 2011, the income gap between rich and poor people grew to the widest in more than 40 years, and the poverty rate remained at almost a two-decade high.   And now, there are 46.2 million people in poverty.  This number is the highest in 53 years since the Census Bureau has been collecting the statistic.

But the current political discourse in the country is not where it is supposed to be.  Cutting the poverty rate starts in investing in education.  We need to get people out of the low-paying jobs-- it is the biggest factor in poverty.  Modern education and skill development is a strategy that works well for people to attain higher paying, and self-fulfilling jobs.

My name is Don, and this is my second Diary, my first one was in 2008.

Intro

You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

During the worst economic collapse of the United States, which was the Great Depression, severe economic collapse reverberated around the world.  It started with the stock market crash of 1929, and lasted for almost two decades.  This was the longest, most severe and widespread economic depression that The United States and the world, have ever experienced.  The devastation was not only concentrated on the poor population, but severely affected the rich population as well.  

But out of this economic catastrophe, a sweeping social change was introduced and implemented.  The New Deal.  The new social programs implemented by The United States Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt were wide ranging as they were revolutionary.  Social Security and unemployment insurance were among the most important and highly recognized outcome of The New Deal.  Social Security provides the retirement age population with financial security for their twilight years.  Unemployment insurance provides financial assistance to workers who are temporarily unemployed due to no fault of their own.  Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was also implemented, this program provided financial assistance to children of single parents or whose families had low or no income.  

All of a sudden, the dialogue in the nation changed to being a provider for those in need.  The interest of the working class was put on the front burner.  Help for the needy and the vulnerable was available.  The social discourse changed so much that, all of a sudden, it was possible for the government to think about people’s care from birth to death.  

Two generations later, the social, cultural, economic, and political climate changed almost completely in the opposite direction.  People are now more culturally divided-- from values, moral issues, political views, and especially on people’s idea of taking care of each other.  

The death of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)

In 1935, as part of The New Deal programs, United States Department of Health and Human Services provided assistance to families, single parents with children and very low income.  The original purpose of AFDC was to allow mothers to stay home with their children.  After many years of redefining the program, chipping away little by little, it finally met its demise in 1996.  The Republican controlled Congress, together with President Bill Clinton, replaced AFDC with TANF or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.  

It is untrue that preference for living on welfare keeps TANF recipients out of the workforce. TANF was the successor to the AFDC program.  This new program provides financial assistance to impoverished families with dependent children.  But this program was designed with a 60-month limit.  While providing temporary cash, the ultimate goal was to get people off the program through employment.  Ultimately, it was aimed to reduce poverty and at the same time reducing dependency on the program.   Below are some of the key reasons impoverished families do not actually prefer living on welfare such as TANF.

Very Strict eligibility requirements for TANF

In many states, TANF’s eligibility is very challenging.  In order to participate in the program, multiple documentations, required number of visits, very limited time-limit set, and participation in a strenuous job search program have discouraged many families from assistance.  In 2005, the US Congress enacted the Deficit Reduction Act (DRA), which not only raised the effective work participation rate, it also increased the work requirements of the participants.  This act also severely limited the activities, which could be counted as “work”, and set a prescribed number of hours that must be spent doing “work”.  

Some States have an extremely short time limit for TANF

Some states have opted for a far shorter time limit than the federal limit of 60 months.  The top 5 states that have the shortest are the following:

    Connecticut        21 months
    Arkansas            24 months
    Idaho            24 months
    Indiana            24 months
    Utah                36 months

Some states have opted to be flexible on granting extensions to families that are suffering from undue financial hardship beyond their control.  And some states have also granted extension for families that have made “good faith” in efforts to keep their eligibility with the TANF work participation program, but are still in dire need of assistance.  However, 20 states have imposed a definite 60-month time limit with no exemption whatsoever.

Extremely low assistance to families with no income

One argument against “welfare” programs such as TANF is that they create an entitlement class of people who rely on the government to provide living assistance while the people in the program actually own cellphones, laptops, flat-screen televisions.  There was one time when Fox News channel presented a program as criticism to the people on welfare, reacting with outrage that the poor people actually owned refrigerators.  But in reality, TANF financial assistance is extremely low.  

The 10 States enumerated below, provide the lowest financial assistance for a single parent, family of 3 earning no income.

State            Amount of financial assistance per month, by TANF

Alabama        $ 164
Mississippi        $ 170
Tennessee        $ 185
Louisiana        $ 190
Texas        $ 201
South Carolina    $ 203
Arkansas        $ 204
Kentucy        $ 262
North Carolina    $ 272
Georgia        $ 293

Ineffective employment program

The main goal of the TANF program is keep the participants off the program, and to graduate towards employment.  However, most participants have low skills and low education; therefore they are kept in low paying jobs that barely let recipients keep food on the table.  And these jobs do not provide enough money to pay for child-care, transportation to work, and for cases of medical emergencies. Furthermore, low-paying jobs poorly provide vacation, sick, parental leave that allows workers to care for their sick children or newborns.  And when families get pushed out or exit the program, there is no guarantee that they have found or will find employment.

With these hindrances alone, it is very difficult to agree that TANF recipients prefer to live on welfare.  Social Welfare recipients in The United States are unfairly clobbered with rhetoric that label them as a moocher class and falsely describe them as living comfortably with government assistance.  The very poor in the society are, in fact, often neglected and most of them have nowhere to go.

The changing shape of American economy and poverty

After the Great Depression and the sweeping implementation of The New Deal, the US economy grew at an average of 3.8% from 1946 to 1973, while real median household income surged 74% (or 2.1% a year).  The economy since 1973, however, has been characterized by both slower growth (averaging 2.7%), and nearly stagnant living standards, with household incomes increasing by 10%, or only 0.3% annually.   However, in 2011, the income gap between rich and poor people grew to the widest in more than 40 years, and the poverty rate remained at almost a two-decade high.   And now, there are 46.2 million people in poverty.  This number is the highest in 53 years since the Census Bureau has been collecting the statistic.

There have been multiplicity of changes ever since the implementation of The New Deal in the 1930’s.  Forty years ago, there was a profound cultural revolution that happened in the 1960’s.  And the poor of today are not the same as the poor that we saw in newspaper articles or history books during the era of the Great Depression.  The most iconic image of that era was the photo shot in black and white by photographer Dorothea Lang.  The photo was of a migrant woman, with her two children huddled against her.  The woman in the photograph was Florence Owens Thompson, a destitute pea picker in California.  

Today, the poor present a different picture.  A few months ago, I read an old article in The Chicago Sun Times by woman named Vicky Jones.  The title of her article is “I’m on food stamps, don’t hate me for it”.  Vicki is a single mother who is struggling to make ends meet.  When the economy crashed in 2008, Vicki was studying to become a chiropractor.  Her husband then (now ex-husband) was laid off from his job, they lost their house, had to declare bankruptcy and their marriage fell apart.  Vicki is also more than $100,000.00 in debt from student loans.  In her article, she wrote “I use self-checkout at the grocery store so I don’t have to face judgment from the cashiers. I read countless posts on Facebook and receive political emails telling me that being on food stamps makes me a degenerate, someone who is dependent and useless. I hear about how I should be kicked off of food stamps so I won’t be so lazy and will get a job.”  Vicky said about her lifestyle “I live on $60 a week. This pays for my gas for my car to commute and for any personal items not covered by food stamps. Silly frivolous things like soap, shampoo, toilet paper, dish soap and, at times, a cup of coffee from the bookstore. I don’t have cable, a telephone, Netflix, a DVR or a gaming system.”  Vicki said that this was not supposed to be her life story.  But Vicki’s story is common among the new poor of our century.

Why are we not winning the war on poverty?

The poverty rate in the United States has increased in the past 40 years.  In 1973, it was at 11.1%.  10 years later in 1983, it grew to 15.2.  There was a spurt of prosperity in 2000, and the poverty level went back down to 11.3.  But in 2009, it shot back up to 14.3%, and in 2010 the poverty level was back to 15.1%.  We ask ourselves why is there a huge number of poor people in the country?  There are programs such as TANF, food stamps, Earned Income Credit, and others that are targeted to combat poverty in our nation.  The problem lies in the fact that there is an enormous number of people who work at low-paying jobs, and the near disappearance of welfare programs.  A perfect example was the replacement of Aid to families with Dependent Children with TANF.  This largely contributed to extra hardship among single parents with dependent children.  Before TANF, more than two-thirds of children of poor families received welfare.  After TANF was put in place, only 27% of children of the poor received welfare.  

What extent is the number of poor people a good measure of society’s commitment to social welfare?

In the history of the United States, the years 1973 and 2000 have the lowest poverty rate at 11%.  But that doesn’t mean that we should stop at 11% poverty rate.  Think tanks and welfare institutions always set a goal to cut the poverty rate in half, regardless of what year and what level poverty was at that moment.  

But the current political discourse in the country is not where it is supposed to be.  Cutting the poverty rate starts in investing in education.  We need to get people out of the low-paying jobs-- it is the biggest factor in poverty.  Modern education and skill development is a strategy that works well for people to attain higher paying, and self-fulfilling jobs.  

Yes there has been a lot of economic growth, but only in the top 1% of the people.  Income inequality today is at an all time high.  There is a lot of talk among politicians wanting to cut social welfare and Medicare.  The people on welfare programs are falsely described as the source of the nation’s economic problems.  But it is time for the top 1% of the people to pay their fair share in economic rebuilding.  Economic growth should not concentrate growth in wealth for only the highest income earners.  In order for us to attain a goal of reaching the lowest poverty level, we must level the playing field.  Make the very rich among us, pay their fare share in revenue for the country.  Healthcare and social safety net must be provided for every citizen.  

Changes must be made to the current TANF program

1.    Parents with very young children, and children who are disabled or sick should be relieved of strict work requirements.
2.    Parents who are recipients of TANF should continue receiving the benefits while they are participating in education, and while training for employment.  
3.    Parents and young adults must be allowed to pursue a 2-year course, or a 4-year degree course without being ejected from the TANF program even if the 60-month time limit has reached.
4.    Families under TANF should receive assistance to keep a home by providing low cost housing aid.
5.    Childcare, education, and nutrition must be included in the benefits for TANF recipients.

Overall, there should be a system to check the efficiency and effectiveness of TANF as a provider of social welfare.  By providing help for the destitute and impoverished in society, we assist them in becoming active participants and contributors to society.  All people in this country want that dignity.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to donsnyc on Fri Aug 23, 2013 at 06:26 AM PDT.

Also republished by Hunger in America.

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