U.S. Poverty: What Policy Options Do We Have?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

When you look at poverty in the United States, you come to find that there is almost an inundation of reports, studies, data sets, and articles on the subject covering a range of topics and time periods. I say almost because the informational and statistical efforts being made are vital, and act as fuel to drive the practical solutions necessary for dealing with our national poverty problem.

How to measure poverty has been considered time and time again. A 2011 report from Kathleen Short of the U.S. Census Bureau, for example, considered income to poverty ratios at state and national levels, discussing the way that poverty is defined and measured, noting that assets are often not measured when considering poverty levels, touching on controversy over whether they need be or would change stats significantly anyhow. Specific effects and causes of behavior on poverty are also studied quite closely. The Department of Commerce released a report on 2007 to 2010 that looked specifically at shared households and how combined families and groups living in greater numbers together either alleviated or worsened the negative effects of the economic recession. Between spring of 2007 and spring of 2010, the number had increased by 11.4 percent, according to the report, authored by Laryssa Mykyta and Suzanne Macartney.

There’s national averages, such as those given by Feeding America, which put 46.5 million individuals in poverty in 2012, as well as state stats, such as a list of the states with the highest percentage of food insecurity — Mississippi taking the top with 20.9 percent, and Arkansas and Texas following close behind with 19.7 and 18.4 percent, respectively. Of course, there are many issues that tie in with poverty that get their own separate attention, unemployment being a major one, but minimum wage and the pay gap for women being two that have taken particular precedence this last year.

What you end up with is a lot of information on poverty with ties to a lot of other issues. So when it comes to finding the right programs and policy initiatives, there are a lot of different directions to approach the issue from. There are some programs that are fairly seasoned at this point, which often leads to arguments over whether they are necessary because of conditions, or unnecessary as they haven’t managed to remove the conditions that require their presence. Included in these more controversial programs would be those like Food Stamps, the National Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), or the more recent the Heat and Eat program.

Programs like the School Lunch programs have been less criticized, likely because their size and scope is more limited, and deals specifically with kids. There have been a number of advisory reports on poverty policy targeting different areas. In 2009, Child Trends and The Wallace Foundation discussed summer learning programs, evaluating which structures were most effective for combating reading and math learning loss over summer breaks so as to effectively decrease the “achievement gap.” The report was in part a response to efforts to this end from formerly Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and found concerning data that suggested that, “Children and youth who would stand to benefit the most from summer learning programs … are the least likely to participate,” illustrating the challenges in finding programming that has the desired effect.

More recently, The Hamilton Project released proposals for poverty alleviating policy on Thursday. The report broke proposals down into four sections dealing with four areas of concern: building skills, improving safety net and work support, supporting disadvantaged youth, and promoting early childhood development. The report is quite specific on policy measures under each, and has the advantage of giving suggestions on a range of age groups, addressing the root of the problem at early ages through a number of other important demographics. This includes low wage workers, those workers with low skill levels and little experience, at risk youth, and those youth who are low income that have just graduated from high school. Proposals for programs included one that would set up federal grants to sates so as to encourage job creation for disadvantaged youth in the summer time.

The goal would be to start small and on condition of success to grow larger. Another rather unique program suggestion from James P. Ziliak would modify an existing program and offer “child-care credits” to low wage workers. The program would change the Child and Dependent Care Credit from a nonrefundable credit to a refundable one with criteria filtering for child age and the licensing of the childcare used. In total, the report had fourteen suggested programs. The programs are suggested using information discussed in the 2011 report from K. Short regarding the “more comprehensive Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM)” and taking into account the many sides to the issue. “Poverty is a complex, multifaceted problem,” reads the introduction. “It means a commitment to addressing the causes and consequences of poverty throughout the life course.”

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