Povery Rate Plunges, but….
Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, was quick to hail the findings as “good news for Rhode Island families.”
….but not others:
Still, Kate Brewster, executive director of the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College, called the Rhode Island numbers “unacceptably high” and said they “don’t tell the whole story.”
“The reality is that the federal definition of poverty is an inadequate measure of the number of Rhode Islanders who are unable to meet their basic needs,” Brewster said. She said the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Rhode Island — $965 a month — would eat up nearly 60 percent of the income of a family of four living at the poverty level — $20,650 for a family of that size.
And neither could miss the chance to, well, advocate:
Advocates used the data to bolster their calls to beef up state assistance programs for low-income residents.
“Rhode Island is clearly making progress,” said Burke Bryant of Kids Count. “We must continue to invest in quality childcare, early education and affordable health care for low-income families.”
Burke Bryant and Brewster praised Governor Carcieri and the General Assembly for increasing financing of adult-education and job-training programs, but criticized cuts to the childcare assistance program for low-income working parents. “Government work-support programs are a lifeline to making ends meet,” Brewster said.
Cold, hard reality, enter Stage Right:
Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal echoed their support for adult education, but warned that the state’s bleak fiscal prognosis may preclude expanding social-service programs, or even avoiding further cuts. With a projected deficit in the neighborhood of $300 million if the state does not cut spending or raise taxes, the governor has already begun talks with his department heads about how to close that gap.
“Unfortunately, the state is facing yet another very difficult budget year,” Neal said. “Our primary challenge is to find ways to reduce state spending while continuing to protect our most vulnerable citizens.”
OK, no surprises. But Robert Rector at Heritage has studied the data and reminds us that “poverty” is a little different in the U.S. of A. then the rest of the world:
For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 37 million persons classified as “poor” by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity. Most of America’s “poor” live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or well-off just a few generations ago. Today, the expenditures per person of the lowest-income one-fifth (or quintile) of households equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.
The typical American defined as “poor” by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.
With regards to children, Rector concludes:
The main causes of child poverty in the United States are low levels of parental work, high numbers of single-parent families, and low skill levels of incoming immigrants. By increasing work and marriage, reducing illegal immigration, and by improving the skill level of future legal immigrants, our nation can, over time, virtually eliminate remaining child poverty.
Additionally, Rector doesn’t think welfare reform has gone far enough and notes that there are no work requirements for recipients of food stamps and public housing and that “the welfare system continues to encourage idle dependence rather than work and to reward single parenthood while penalizing marriage.”
Brewster et al would have us continue to raise the amount we spend on child-care assistance programs because, they say, that is the only way that single-parents can afford to go to work. Perhaps. But for families with two parents another solution is the one followed by my parents and, I’m sure, millions of others: work more, and work in different shifts so that one parent is always home with the kids. That’s nothing new, folks. But it’s hard, which I fully recognize.
And that’s what makes falling back on the government such and easy, and insidious, “temporary solution.” It de-motivates and fosters an unhealthy reliability that leaves people in the lurch when programs they depend on get cut, whether because of a politician’s whim or for because of government fiscal problems.