Tuesday, September 13, 2005

More On Poverty in America

I posted an interesting graph (linked in the header to this piece) about poverty levels in America over the past 40 years or so. Hurricane Katrina, and the awful images of poor people sitting on roofs, begging to be rescued, drove home for many Americans the awful truth of the present administration: ain't nothing compassionate OR conservative about Bush.

From today's L.A. Times:

The poverty level today is within a range common over the last 35 years, Census Bureau figures show, but recent trends are moving in the wrong direction. In the last 35 years, the poverty rate has twice peaked at about 15% — during the economic slowdowns at the beginning of Ronald Reagan's presidential term and the end of George H.W. Bush's.

As the economy expanded through Clinton's two terms, the number of Americans in poverty dropped by nearly 8 million, and the poverty rate fell to just above 11% by 2000. Those were the sharpest reductions since the 1960s.

Since George W. Bush took office, the share and the number of Americans in poverty have increased for four consecutive years. The overall poverty rate remains lower than during most of Clinton's presidency. But at the same time, 5.4 million more Americans are living below the poverty line today than when Bush took office, and the poverty rate has climbed back to 12.7%.

In all, the Census Bureau says, nearly 37 million Americans now live in poverty, which it describes as an annual income of less than $19,157 for a family of four.

Republicans generally blame the economic slowdown Bush inherited from Clinton and the aftershocks of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks for that disappointing record. Democrats say the numbers show that Bush has not fulfilled his promises, especially from the 2000 campaign, to focus on the poor with a "compassionate conservative" agenda.

Policy analysts in both parties generally agree that the health of the economy is the biggest factor affecting the poor.

In their policies aimed directly at the needy, the two parties offer a mix of convergence and contrast.

Clinton bequeathed the Democrats an agenda centered on demanding and rewarding work. He supported time limits for welfare recipients — but also championed policies meant to bolster the working poor, such as increasing the minimum wage and expanding the earned-income tax credit.

Most Democratic ideas for tackling poverty now follow those tracks. Edwards — who stressed poverty with his "two Americas" theme during his vice presidential bid — has campaigned across the country this year for state ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage. Now, he is urging a modern equivalent of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration to employ low-income New Orleans residents to rebuild the city.

While supporting welfare reform, Bush has highlighted other initiatives: subsidies to help more low-income families purchase homes, tax cuts for the working poor, education reforms targeting inner-city schools and, above all, efforts to encourage greater cooperation between government and religiously based charities that aim to not only provide aid but also change behavior. At the same time, the president has sought budget reductions in several traditional anti-poverty programs, such as Medicaid, housing vouchers and community development block grants.

Meanwhile, some conservatives say the aftermath of Katrina may set in a motion a giant social policy experiment by dispersing families from poor neighborhoods in New Orleans to new opportunities in distant communities. That may test the theory that poverty persists partly because much of it is concentrated in neighborhoods with few role models or stable families.

"My hope is we will look at that experience and the ones who broke out of poverty by having to move and say that is another avenue out of poverty and learn from it," said Douglas J. Besharov, a social policy expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

In other words, the Democrats want to fix the problem, Republicans hope it goes away.

Nice. Really fucking nice.
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