Poverty, like gender, is a social construct. There is no observable natural phenomenon called ‘poverty’. This isn’t to say that many, if not most, people in the world live in dire economic circumstances. But just as you can ‘define deviancy down’, you can define poverty up. Very few, if any people in the Western world live in true no-social-safety-net poverty.
The current definition of ‘poverty’ in the US is a gross income of $11,770 annually for an individual, and $24,250 annually for the statistical standard family of four. These incomes translate to an hourly wage of $5.89/hr and $12.12/hr respectively for a standard 2000 hrs of annual work. At these income levels, food and medical care are essentially free, while housing, especially for families, is heavily subsidized, so the actual annual compensation is considerably higher than the official rate. Compared to large portions of the globe, there really isn’t any poverty in the US as most of the world understands it.
Looking over the comments by the participants on the poverty panel, one might be forgiven the impression that ‘poverty’ was an unaddressed problem in society.
Barack Obama: “And right now, they don’t have those things, and those things have been stripped away. You look at state budgets, you look at city budgets, and you look at federal budgets, and we don’t make those same common investments that we used to. And it’s had an impact. And we shouldn’t pretend that somehow we have been making those same investments. We haven’t been.”
The first major Federal government intervention in the financial life of the individual occurred during the New Deal of the Great Depression. Prior to the mid 1930’s, there was no real government safety net for the individual, so if you didn’t have a strong family or church, you were on your own. Federal entitlement spending hovered around 2% of GDP until 1940, and rose slowly until the mid 60’s.
In 1964-65 Lyndon Johnson initiated the Great Society, a series of Federal social programs designed to transfer wealth from those with money to those without. Entitlement spending skyrocketed, and for the most part, hasn’t slowed much. Overall social spending has followed a steady growth rate the last half century. From around 2% GDP spending on all entitlement programs, the US now spends 6.8% GDP on pensions, 7.5% GDP on healthcare, and 2.6% GDP on welfare. That’s 16.9% of GDP spent on what are essentially anti-poverty programs.
The only Federal program that’s seen anything like a cut is education. Between 1953 and 1976 Federal spending on education rose from 2.7% GDP to 5.7% GDP. Education spending declined until 1984, rose until 2010, in the intervening five years has declined sharply, and is currently about 5% GDP.
One can truthfully say that some Federal social spending has declined, but to assert that ‘we don’t make the investments we used to’ is blatantly false.
One of the overarching themes of Progressivism is that people aren’t in control of their own destiny. If you’re situation is suboptimal, it’s because someone took something away from you, or did something to you. The individual is powerless, and must depend on the beneficence of the powerful in order to live. This is in direct contradiction to the founding principles of the United States, which was predicated on the premise that the individual was sovereign to the State, and that people should be allowed to find their own way within a liberally permissive societal framework.
There are valid historical reasons why some peoples and areas have been historically impoverished. Societal discrimination has at various times and places formed Polish, Irish, Italian, Asian, and Hispanic ghettos, just as Black ghettos existed and exist. With few exceptions, these and other ethnic groups followed the American blueprint of immigrate, educate, assimilate, and usually within three generations the grandchildren of illiterate, ignorant immigrants were fully integrated into American society. The American Dream is the idea of social mobility based on individual effort.
But Progressives are about things rather than ideas. That’s why you get quotes like:
“What portion of our collective wealth and budget are we willing to invest in those things that allow a poor kid — whether in a rural town, or in Appalachia, or in the inner city — to access what they need both in terms of mentors and social networks, as well as decent books and computers and so forth, in order for them to succeed?”
In other words, let’s throw money at the problem. No rhetoric on individual effort, personal responsibility, and high societal expectations. Progressives like to use other people’s money to shower things on others, and then wonder why the recipient’s lives aren’t materially improved. If people are encouraged to sit around and wait for others to provide for them like over-age children, they’re never going to be anything but poor.
And that’s really what Progressives want: power over others. As long as significant percentages of the population can be kept poor and on the reservation, but made to feel like someone is doing something for them, then Progressives have a base. The minute people start thinking for themselves and making an effort to improve their lives, is the minute Progressives lose power. And they must have power above all else. As long as Progressive ideology is encouraged, we’re always going to have generational poverty.
Something Wrong with this Picture
Above is an image taken during the ‘kayaktivist’ protest of an oil rig docked in Seattle to have some work done before it heads off to the Arctic to drill for oil. The protesters are all very proud of themselves for demonstrating against what they see as an environmental injury, and I don’t doubt their sincerity. But there’s something wrong here. Can you spot it?
That’s right! All of their craft are made of plastic or fiberglass, both of which require oil as a feedstock. The paddles don’t appear to be made of carved wood, and I’m guessing they didn’t tote those boats to the water on their bicycles, either. There is something insanely stupid and childish about protesting the infrastructure that makes your life possible.