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A Closer Look at Extreme Poverty in America

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Poverty

  Photo credit: Paul Downey 

Poverty is mentioned so often in the media that people don't understand the true severity of the situation. How many actually know what it’s like to be in constant survival mode? When I first started reading the article, “Kathryn Edin reveals the lives of people who live on $2 a day” by Dale Keiger in the Winter 2015 of The John Hopkins University Magazine I expected a predictable story about abuse, work ethic, and depression. What I ended up reading was a tale about horrible cycles that never seem to end.

A sociologist and author, Edin delves into the experiences of people facing the insurmountable challenge of living cashless in America. While reading the story of Ashley, the young mother of a newborn, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. How could anybody possibly live on less than $2 a day? Don't they receive any assistance? The answer to those questions are simple, even if the reasons behind them aren’t: They can't and they don't.

According to the article, there are about 1.5 million families just like Ashley’s. Most of them have fallen into extreme poverty and can’t claw their way out. They are living a cyclical existence, unable to find work because they can’t afford the clothing, bus fare, and phone going through a hiring process requires and unable to afford those items because they can’t find work. The situation is so precarious that not even finding a job is a certain solution. The service jobs they are most likely to be hired for simply do not provide the stability needed to consistently afford essential items such as food, shelter, and proper clothing, in part due to variable hours, the lack of sick days, and other factors.

Edin’s research analyzes this vulnerable segment of the population in a variety of cities, including Cleveland, Chicago, and Johnson City, Tennessee, combining data with information gathered from subjects she has actually spoken with in order to learn about their lives. Although she discusses how they’ve reached their current state of poverty, I feel one important factor in the article was not mentioned, and that is education. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which is referenced in the article, did increase employment, and it is important to explore why some people are employed or underemployed to consider how policy may address these problems.

The role of policy is mentioned, as well as some of the attitudes surrounding government assistance. I noticed that far too many people featured in the article were living without adequate assistance -- even when available -- due to their pride. To me, cash assistance doesn’t have to be seen as a handout. It can be utilized responsibly to improve lives and provide much needed support. While further examination of cultural views of welfare policies would be beneficial, Edin's research is essential reading in order to understand a section of the American population that is too often ignored.

 

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Guest Monday, 25 September 2017