|Theresa Riley: Last month’s numbers from the U.S. Census showed poverty numbers holding steady from 2010 to 2011. That’s not exactly good news since poverty levels are the worst they’ve been in 50 years. What should people be paying attention to in these numbers?
Greg Kaufmann: I think the biggest takeaways from the recent numbers are that only the top quintile saw its income rise in 2011; the bottom four-fifths all saw a decline. Also, only the bottom and the top saw growth in the number of full-time, year-round workers — which speaks to the proliferation of low-wage jobs and difficulty reaching the middle class. In short, I think the numbers speak to the fact that we need to stop looking at poverty as a separate phenomenon from the rest of the economy — an economy with a proliferation of low-wage jobs and a weak and inequitable recovery. Finally, the number of people living below twice the poverty line — less than about $36,000 for a family of three — rose from 103 million to 106 million Americans. That’s a better representation of who is struggling in this economy than the 46 million people below the poverty line. Even at two times the poverty level people are making impossible choices between food, housing and healthcare — and forget about savings for college, for example.
Riley: What are some common misconceptions about poverty in America?
Kaufmann: That poor people don’t work and don’t want to work. That most people on assistance are African American (most are white). That we waged a war on poverty and poverty won (poverty would be twice as high as it is today — nearly 30 percent — if it weren’t for government assistance). That the solution to families headed by single mothers is marriage. And, generally, there is a lack of recognition that most people who turn to welfare are either working low-wage jobs, are temporarily unemployed, or they need safe, affordable childcare in order to work and it’s not available.
Riley: Besides the financial crisis, are there other systemic problems that are factors in the high rate of poverty?
Kaufmann: The proliferation of low-wage jobs is a huge problem. I think the fact that TANF (cash assistance) is administered differently by 50 states and we have no uniform minimum benefit or eligibility standards increases poverty, and also deep poverty. Prior to welfare reform for every 100 families with children in poverty 68 received cash assistance. Now it’s just 27, and the benefit averages about 30 percent of the poverty line. I think the lack of affordable childcare — federal assistance for childcare currently reaches about one in seven of those who are eligible — is a huge problem for workers and also in terms of improving outcomes for children in poverty.
Riley: Why aren’t people outraged by these numbers? What do you think it will take to capture the public’s attention?
Kaufmann: You got me. I thought the recession would make people more sensitive to how easy it is to fall into poverty. I don’t think that’s happened — in fact, it seems like it’s probably increased the scapegoating. I’ve always believed it will take presidential leadership to a) educate people about poverty; and b) take aggressive action to eradicate poverty. But these days I’m thinking it’s more about us educating, agitating, organizing, and pushing — not waiting on a president. To that end, I want to do a much better job finding out and reporting on what’s happening at the community-level.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2007—The unique weirdness of the AG nomination:
|How completely through the looking glass is this "administration?" The nomination now pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee for Attorney General serves to crystallize the issue by shattering all meaning behind two comfortable platitudes that used to function to satisfy all onlookers that all was right in Heaven.
First, there was the assurance from the nominee and his supporters that he'd respect the "rule of law." That used to be a fine phrase to toss out there without having to worry about it meaning too much one way or the other, until we learned that everything we once thought was a "law" was now a "hypothetical."
And now Senator Russ Feingold is testing the limits of the remaining currency of another shopworn but previously serviceable platitude -- the old throwaway explanation for a bad vote on a nominee:
He may be the best nominee we can get from this administration in this respect.Senator, I'm afraid I'm going to have to challenge you on that. This "administration" has taken us well past the point where stock phrasing will be sufficient.
Today's Kagro in the Morning show had a great extended segment today with Greg Dworkin & Tim Lange (aka Meteor Blades) on the air together for most of our first hour! We talked last minute polling, gut/narrative vs. data, more Nate Silver, the breakthrough Business Week "It's Global Warming, Stupid" cover, the October jobs numbers, and much more. Don't forget to vote for us as Best New Show in the Stitcher Awards! Vote 1x/day through Nov. 5!