This is part of a series of articles by MBA students at California College of the Arts dMBA program. Follow along here.
By Elizabeth Korb
In 2011, roughly 46.2 million or 15 percent of the entire population in the United States was living in poverty, a number unchanged from the 2010 United States Census report. A relatively stable year-over-year poverty rate begs the question if government subsidies such as food stamps, Medicaid, public housing, and Social Security are helping solve poverty or merely perpetuating it. Government subsidies attempt to rectify the lack of material goods of the poor, completely ignoring the sociological and emotional needs that impair the poor from living as functioning consumers.
Traditional definitions of poverty suggest an individual or family is lacking the proper food, shelter, and clothing to survive. However, according to scholar James Q. Wilson, “The poorest Americans today live a better life than all but the richest persons a hundred years ago.” Statistics mined by the Heritage Foundation support Wilson’s quote, showing that roughly 60 percent of poor households have cable or satellite TV, 50 percent have a personal computer, and 53 percent have a video game system.
Where does the money for such “luxuries” come from? Our tax dollars. As a nation ripe with debt, doesn’t it feel irresponsible and inappropriate to be funding habits and lifestyles that most Americans work very hard to obtain?
Indeed, the system is riddled with loopholes beyond the amenities found in homes of the poor throughout the country. The Food Stamps/EBT program is one such program. Families have the freedom to buy cheap, processed food from Jack in the Box or Patron from the local liquor store instead of healthy, nutritious foods from the grocery store. Consequently, we have a generation of children suffering from health issues such as obesity.
These abuses costing taxpayers millions of dollars are meant to help families climb out of the cycle of poverty, not perpetuate it. The last major welfare reform happened during the Clinton era. Isn’t it time to reevaluate the programs? Indeed, in a system where there is little ownership or incentive to get off of the subsidies, is it any wonder poverty is easily transferrable between generations of families?
Certainly there are many reasons why we can’t end poverty. Perhaps, though, the most glaring of issues is that the government programs in place fail to address the deficiencies of the whole person, not merely his financial constraints.
An old Chinese proverb states, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” When our country begins to view poverty as a result of broken relationships between an individual, his community, his family, and himself, the rate of poverty will begin to decline in America.
Certainly there are some bright spots throughout the country. In Chicago, Illinois for example, The Lincoln Park Community Shelter provides homeless adults a safe place to sleep and eat in addition to life skill training that helps to rebuild individuals from the ground up. Additionally, national organizations like Habitat for Humanity require those approved for housing to work alongside volunteers, putting in sweat equity and ownership into the process of becoming a homeowner.
It is our responsibility as taxpayers to partner with these and the many other organizations across the country working to help break the cycle of poverty. The poor may be easily forgotten and far from one’s everyday experience, but certainly the poor are felt in the taxes we pay with each paycheck. We can no longer be so naïve as to believe government subsidies alone will eradicate poverty.