Why Housing Affordability Needs To Be Reevaluated

Traditionally, academics and policymakers have determined whether an individual or family can afford to live somewhere by simply dividing their housing costs by their income. If at least 30 percent of a person’s or family’s income goes to housing and related expenses like utilities, then their household is said to be “cost burdened.” The ratio is not determined by economic or social analysis; rather, it is simply the number Congress chose in 1981, which has not been changed nor updated since. Although this approach is easy to understand, it falls short of accurately reflecting the financial burdens people actually experience. This is a problem because many federal housing programs rely on this 30 percent measure to determine rent.

Measuring Housing Affordability

This ratio-based approach breaks down for Americans with extremely low incomes. If wages decline, a middle-class family could potentially downsize its home or related expenses. When people live below the poverty line, however, they must spend above a minimum just to reside in a home that meets the local building codes and meets basic human needs.

“Shelter poverty” analysis provides an alternative to the traditional approach. Shelter poverty is a concept that was first developed by Michael Stone, a professor of community planning, in the 1970s. In this analysis, instead of comparing housing costs to income, housing costs are evaluated in the broader context of the household’s other basic needs, including food, clothing, and transportation. If housing costs are high enough that household’s residents cannot cover these basics from their income, then they are said to be experiencing shelter poverty. The challenge for this method lies in determining how much money must be spent to meet other needs, especially because the federal government no longer publishes such estimates for non-housing necessities.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard, created by University of Washington senior lecturer Diana Pearce in the 1990s, addresses this issue by compiling estimates of basic expenditures from various public and private sources, based on the county of residence, the number of persons in the household, and the age(s) of any children present. This information can be combined with anonymized responses to the American Community Survey, a nationally representative survey conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau. The combined data make it possible to determine whether each household in the sample is experiencing shelter poverty. This method also helps determine if, and by how much, households fall short in covering their expenses. That is called the “affordability gap.” Using estimates developed in this way, analysts can extrapolate out to the general U.S. population.

Housing Affordability in Ohio and South Carolina

A shelter poverty analysis was conducted for Ohio renters who responded to the American Community Survey, and for sampled South Carolina renters and homeowners (including both mortgage holders and those who own a home free and clear). In both states, the shelter poverty method generates substantially different results than a basic cost burden analysis. Although overall rates of economic distress are generally similar using the two different measures, the total affordability gap using the shelter poverty measure is substantially larger. Among Ohio renters, it would take over $3 billion annually to address cost burdens using the 30 percent metric, but nearly $15 billion per year to mitigate shelter poverty entirely. The disparity is somewhat narrower in South Carolina, but a similar gap exists.

There are differences in the areas of need as well. In both Ohio and South Carolina, the prevalence of a cost burden measured by the ratio system is higher than the burden of shelter poverty in suburban areas with the highest median household incomes. In economically distressed urban and rural areas in both states, far more households experience shelter poverty than excessive ratio cost burdens. In other words, it appears that current standards of housing affordability overstate the needs of families who are most able to pay and understate burdens for those least able to do so.

Improving Housing Affordability

Overall, experts may not be accurately describing the magnitude and nature of housing affordability challenges in the United States. Those experiencing shelter poverty are found in nearly every community nationwide. In South Carolina, which is not by national standards a particularly expensive state to live in, households experiencing shelter poverty (nearly one-third of all individuals and families statewide) have an average affordability gap of $14,330 per year, or about $275 per week.

Meanwhile, the geographic distribution of shelter poverty suggests that the 30 percent measure distorts the landscape of housing affordability. That distortion happens because there are households that choose to spend more than 30 percent of their income voluntarily and are thus inappropriately categorized as cost burdened. Meanwhile, others spend less than 30 percent on housing costs but still find they do not have enough to make ends meet. Taken together, failure to consider these issues leads decision-makers to understate the level of economic inequality among U.S. households.

It is worth noting that affordability gaps are not only measures of deprivation experienced by less fortunate Americans. These gaps also reflect economic activity that is lost due to the inability of many households to meet basic needs. Ohio renters have about $15 billion less to spend each year as consumers in the state’s economy because they lack access to affordable housing.

Although housing costs have become more politically salient in recent years, the scope and scale of the problem have not been fully articulated. Housing is the single largest expense for most individuals and families, and it is typically regulated at the county and municipal level through zoning codes and related ordinances. Local policymakers must consider whether their policies are harming the welfare of residents and businesses alike by artificially restricting housing supply or preventing construction of subsidized housing.

All Americans have a stake in better measurements of housing affordability – and better solutions to the shortfalls many people face in this vital area. A shortage of affordable homes can have numerous downstream effects. Employers may face high rates of labor turnover if employees cannot find places to live in the vicinity. Longer commuting distances increase the amount of traffic and contribute to urban sprawl, which has a variety of negative environmental, social, and economic consequences.

To find solutions, local officials must engage with homeowners, renters, business owners, and nonprofit groups, as well as housing policy experts in the public and private sectors. To ensure communities across the country have a path toward a prosperous and sustainable future, everyone must be able to find a suitably located and affordable place to call home.

Opinions expressed in this brief are those of the author alone, not the State of South Carolina or any other entity.

Read more in Bryan P. Grady, “Shelter Poverty in Ohio: An Alternative Analysis of Rental Housing Affordability,” Housing Policy Debate 29, no. 6 (November 2019): 977-989.

Report: Home Health Aides Scraping By on Low Wages During Pandemic

On Equal Pay Day, the Rutgers Center for Women and Work highlights the growing number of home health aides in New Jersey and the economic challenges they face

New Jersey’s home health aides are caring for seniors and people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, while earning an average salary of just $25,000 per year, according to a report released today by the Center for Women and Work at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. Since home health aides and other domestic workers are predominantly women, their low wages help to explain why the gender wage gap persists in New Jersey and across the U.S.

“With all of the attention rightly focused on our incredible doctors, nurses, and first responders, it’s easy to forget about the thousands of home health aides who are caring for vulnerable New Jerseyans every day,” said Debra Lancaster, executive director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. “We’ve seen a growing demand for their services over the last 20 years. Yet, they remain among the lowest-paid workers in our state.”

Home health aides check vital signs and assist their clients with bathing, dressing, meals, medications, and other daily activities, while providing companionship and emotional support. Some aides live with their clients 24/7. Others work for home health agencies and visit multiple clients daily. The Rutgers Center for Women and Work’s analysis of federal data finds:

  • New Jersey has about 36,000 home health aides. That’s more than almost every other state.
  • 95 percent are women; 51 percent are immigrants; and 69 percent are Black, Hispanic, or Asian.
  • The number of home health aides in New Jersey is on the rise due to an aging population.
  • Despite the important services they provide, home health aides are low-wage workers.
  • The average home health aide in New Jersey earns between $23,380 and $25,330.

The Center for Women and Work made the announcement on Equal Pay Day, the symbolic date on which women’s earnings catch-up to men’s earnings from the previous year. New Jersey ranks at or near the bottom of all states on pay equity for women of color. Latina women in New Jersey earn 42 cents and black women earn 56 cents for every dollar a white man earns, according to data from the National Women’s Law Center.

“The low wages paid to home health aides and other domestic workers are a major reason why we still have a wage gap in 2020,” said Yana Rodgers, economist and faculty director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. “It’s not always a function of overt discrimination. In many cases, the problem is that jobs thought of as ‘women’s work’ do not pay as much as ‘men’s work.’ Until that changes, the wage gap is not going away.”

About the School

The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) is the world’s leading source of expertise on managing and representing workers, designing effective organizations, and building strong employment relationships. SMLR’s Center for Women and Work engages in research, education, and programming that promotes economic and social equity for women workers, their families and communities.

Hardship During the Great Recession Linked with Lasting Mental Health Declines

People who suffered a financial, housing-related, or job-related hardship as a result of the Great Recession were more likely to show increases in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and problematic drug use, research shows. The research findings, published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal declines in mental health that were still evident several years after the official end of the recession, but were obscured when examining trends in population-level data (e.g., the number of people overall with each mental health outcome).

“Our study provides a new perspective on the impact of The Great Recession, showing that population-level analyses likely miss important patterns in the data,” says lead researcher Miriam K. Forbes, who began the research at the University of Minnesota and now works at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. “By looking at individuals’ mental health and experiences of the recession, we could see a different picture.”

“Individuals who experienced even a single recession impact still had higher odds of nearly all of the adverse mental health outcomes we examined – including clinically significant symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, panic, and problems with drug use – three years after the recession,” Forbes explains. “And these odds were higher still in specific sociodemographic groups who suffered marked losses during the recession or without a strong safety net.”

Forbes and University of Minnesota colleague Robert F. Krueger examined data collected as part of the longitudinal Midlife in the United States study of adults aged 25 to 75. To investigate the impacts of the Great Recession, which officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, the researchers focused on data collected in the 2003-2004 wave, three years before the recession began, and the 2012-2013 wave, three years after the recession ended.

Forbes and Krueger examined participants’ symptoms of depression, anxiety, and panic disorder and their symptoms of problematic alcohol and drug use. In the 2012-2013 wave, participants also reported whether they had experienced a variety of recession-related impacts, including financial impacts (e.g., missed mortgage or credit card payments, declared bankruptcy), job-related impacts (e.g, took on an additional job, lost a job), and housing impacts (e.g., moved in with family/friends, threatened with foreclosure).

As observed in previous studies, the prevalence of each mental-health outcome in the full sample remained stable or decreased slightly from 2003-2004 to 2012-2013. But when the researchers looked at mental-health outcomes in relation to the hardships individuals experienced as a result of the Great Recession, the analyses told a different story. Specifically, each hardship experienced was associated with an increased likelihood of having symptoms of depression, generalized anxiety, panic, or problems with drug use. This pattern held even when Forbes and Krueger accounted for participants’ previous symptoms and their sociodemographic characteristics.

The researchers also found that individuals who did not have a college education were more likely to show increased anxiety in relation to job-related hardships. And people not living with a spouse or partner were more likely to have problems with drug use associated with housing-related hardships. These associations may reflect the relative lack of safety net available to people in the job market who have fewer qualifications, or who rely on a single income.

The analyses also showed that people with greater financial advantage were particularly affected by some hardships. Compared with their less-advantaged peers, participants who were well off were more likely to have anxiety symptoms associated with housing-related hardships and were also more likely to have drug use problems associated with financial hardships. These associations may reflect that fact that experiences such as “moving in with friends or family to save money” or “selling possessions to make ends meet” likely signal a substantial loss of assets and a considerable level of hardship for people who were previously living comfortably.

The researchers note that the observational nature of the MIDUS data does not allow them to conclude that recession hardships caused an increase in participants’ symptoms. However, the findings do reveal the limited perspective afforded by aggregate-level analyses – understanding people’s actual lived experiences requires analyses that examine individual-level outcomes and changes over time.

The Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 resulted in huge losses to employment, earnings, assets, and income in the United States and this research shows that those losses were associated with lasting negative mental health outcomes for many individuals.

“These findings suggest the adverse effects of the Great Recession on individuals’ mental health likely compounded and prolonged its economic costs, highlighting that government-funded mental health support following financial recessions may not only ease individuals’ burdens, but could be a sound financial investment that may act to stimulate faster economic recovery following future recessions,” says Forbes.

“These findings may be particularly pertinent given some indications that the next period of economic contraction might begin as early as 2020,” she adds.

Why There Are Better Alternatives Than Punitive Policies Targeting Homeless People

Homelessness is a pressing problem in many U.S. cities. In response, many local governments have enacted controversial measures such as restrictions on public health services or prohibitions on eating, sleeping, sitting or storing property in public spaces. Sometimes called “nuisance” or “quality of life” measures, such steps seem designed to reduce the visibility of unsheltered individuals and families; and they can be used to forcibly remove unsheltered people from parks, sidewalks, and streets.

Unfortunately, such policies do not offer meaningful solutions to homelessness, and they can actually make the problem worse – by exacerbating instabilities for those without permanent shelter. They also cause distress, stigmatize the homeless, and risk violating civil rights. Consequently, federal agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Interagency Council on Homelessness have criticized laws that criminalize “acts of living.”

How City Ordinances Targeting the Homeless Prove Counterproductive

City ordinances targeting the homeless are counterproductive in several ways:

  • By increasing financial insecurity. Economic need is a well-recognized cause of homelessness, and official citations or fines can exacerbate financial instability among those without permanent housing. What is more, when city officials enforce anti-homeless ordinances by confiscating property, already struggling households must expend scarce resources to replace food, clothing, medicines, work supplies or household goods.

  • By limiting access to jobs, services, and social support. Citations may lead to warrants or create criminal records, prompting cycles of criminalization. Moreover, studies have documented that these citations and fines can hinder access to employment and social services. Restrictions on activity in public spaces, especially in downtown areas, can prevent access to services, employment or educational opportunities. And when anti-homeless policies involve forced relocations, they can disrupt social support networks.

  • By promoting stigmatization and threatening civil liberties. Quality of life laws are often motivated by negative stereotypes and have been found to promote public stigmatization of unsheltered families. They can also heighten mistrust of public officials and service providers by people in need of their support. And in some of these laws have been found to violate constitutionally protected rights – which can lead to costly legal fees and court settlements for municipalities and their taxpayers.

The Example of Anti-Homeless Ordinances in Honolulu

The crisis of homelessness and the damaging impacts of punitive ordinances have been especially visible in Honolulu. In 2015, the state of Hawaii had the highest rate of homelessness in the United States, and Honolulu had one of the highest numbers of homeless people among in small cities. Honolulu has also become notorious for criminalizing actions including legal bans against sitting or lying on sidewalks in several districts and restrictions on storing property in spaces or living in parks. Enforcement of these city ordinances has resulted in “sweeps” or “raids” of homeless encampments in Honolulu.

Officials, business owners and members of the public are understandably concerned about ways in which visible homeless encampments could harm the city’s image, undercutting tourism, real-estate, and other commercial enterprises. But many people are unaware of the public and private costs inflicted by anti-homeless ordinances. A recent study found that the enforcement of Honolulu’s sidewalk property and nuisance ordinances, as well as sit-lie bans, has caused stress, and trauma. Respondents impacted by city ordinances and raids reported feeling violated, hurt, and ashamed — and “less than human.”

Homeless households also reported the loss of medicines, food, work supplies, children’s school materials, and official identification documents like state IDs or licenses. Such losses can create obstacles to accessing services, health care, nutritional assistance, work or income support, and employment. In Honolulu, homeless individuals have often lost their possessions or were forced either to pay up to $250 to retrieve property from a distant location or to go through a difficult and often logistically impossible waiver process.

City enforcement actions have required households to move, relocate, or lose the belongings they depend upon for basic survival. Relocation is especially burdensome for parents with children, persons with physical or mental disabilities, the sick and the elderly. Seizure of property can be traumatic, which is concerning since past experience with physical or domestic abuse is one risk factor for homelessness.

Better Solutions

Research finds that Housing First policies provide an effective solution to chronic homelessness. Such strategies couple intensive support services and outreach to homeless people with the provision of stable housing. Honolulu has made wise investments in Housing First, with positive results. However, Honolulu’s raids and sweeps on homeless households or encampments work in opposition to its positive housing initiatives, because punitive measures can create a climate of fear, mistrust, and chaos that undermines engaged public outreach to help the homeless.

In Honolulu, approximately $700,000 per year has been spent on managing and disposing of property and enforcing anti- homeless ordinances. A recent court settlement found that the city of Honolulu violated constitutional rights against seizure of property without due process, making the city and county liable for legal fees and compensation for a class of plaintiffs.

Instead of spending resources on punishment and legal cases, Honolulu and other localities could devote resources to more permanent solutions – by expanding Housing First programs and supplementing them with additional steps such as rapid-rehousing, emergency rental relief to prevent eviction, and investments to increase the availability of low-income rental housing. Honolulu, like many high cost-of-living locales, should seek to maximize investments in public housing maintenance as well as in inclusionary zoning and rental assistance and tax credit programs to encourage more construction of low-income rentals.

Read more in Jennifer Darrah-Okike, Sarah Soakai, Susan Nakaoka, Tai Dunson-Strane, and Karen Umemoto. “‘It Was Like I Lost Everything’: The Harmful Impacts of Homeless-Targeted Policies.” Housing Policy Debate, (2018).

The History of Stereotyping Homelessness in Australia

The history of homelessness in Australia stems back to our nation’s colonization by our British counterparts which moved Indigenous Australians out of their physical living structures. As Australia became more industrialized nearing the 1970’s, the contrast between homelessness and the rest of society become starker as the mainstream society had higher living expectations and standards which solidified what the disadvantage looked like.

Homelessness is an unspoken epidemic in Australia. It is not reported in the media and if you didn’t work in the welfare space, you would be blind to the number of people living in these conditions.

  • 116,427 people were counted as homeless in the most recent census (2016);
  • NSW has the highest representation of homelessness than any other state;
  • The 25-34yrs age bracket is the highest portion of homelessness and
  • These people sleep in a combination of improvised dwellings, supported accommodation, couch surfing, boarding houses, and severely overcrowded dwellings.

Homelessness was initially justified by ‘men being down and out of luck,’ however, as our societies ideas developed and matured, it became connected to more tangible and measurable practices. They were now associated with alcoholism, the plight of the individual, transience, and criminality. The common theme was that homelessness was a result of a failure which was only the birth of the stigma related to disadvantage in Australia which has influenced generations and engrained stereotyping of these groups as an acceptable practice.

These preconceived ideas can be understood with a sociological perspective, specifically examining the notions of status in society and what indicators determine that. Historically, status was inherited and determined prior to an individual’s birth (if we are observing the ancient civilisations, ie., the Caste system). Every ancient civilisation had a system to determine hierarchy, generally determined by education, political ideology, capital ownership, occupation, and material possessions.

However, it is always contextual in that the status is determined by how the individual is respected in the group/community they are a part of, ie., discriminating the status of a government minister amongst other government officials in comparison to commoners would result in a different level of respect. Determining status can be perceived as an adverse aspect of society, especially with a leftist view, however, it does maintain chaos and provide a vision which the lower classes can aspire too – it can be viewed as an indirect way to ‘tame’ societies and provide inspiration for growth – when used (and viewed) with this approach.

However, if we are looking at hierarchy in the context of homelessness, it only exacerbates the stigma. Modern society has far more progressed ideas then the ancient worlds and more recent historical periods mentioned above, yet, stigmatizing still exists and only hinders the level of equality which social workers advocate for.

Stigmatization links to capitalisation greatly, in that, society focusses on the individual as the curator of their fate, leaving the social structures which they exist in, blameless. What is left unaccounted for in the way homeless people are depicted in the media is the maldistribution of resources (such as employment, housing, nutrition, and health) in our resource dense nations with the premium lifestyle and experiences exhausted by the top tier classes of societies. It is also important to note that some people view homelessness as acceptable, we have become accustomed to accept that every society has an underclass and we ignore those groups which we find difficult and threatening.

The term ‘homeless’ carries a less-then-human quality; their conventional caricature embodies foreign qualities such as isolation and rootless of family and friends and human nature tends to reject those who disrupt the status quo.

A study undertaken by Chris Chamberlain outlines the traditional pathways which leads to homelessness. He theorises that either a housing crises, family breakdown, substance abuse, mental health or a difficult transition from youth to adult, are common circumstances for a state of homelessness to arise. Within these widely varying contexts, Australia has a multitude of service providers to support these people, so why are left un-accessed?

The answer to this comes down to the stigma which we associate with homeless people, which results in a complete separation from knowledge and access to these resources leading to a drop in self-worth/motivation. In western nations, the cultural priority and importance (and status) which comes with home ownership.

Academic research often appears to be neo-liberal in nature and commonly equates homeless to some sort of deviance or mental illness by disqualifying the societal issues which cause these situations. It’s almost as if we have justified homelessness – we do not see it as a short fall of society but more as the individual not fitting into the society we have built.

Why Involving Entire Families in Child Protection Cases Can Improve the Lives of Endangered Children

By: Susan Meyers Chandler and Laurie Arial Tochiki

Annually, about 435,000 children across the United States are taken away from their custodial parents following a confirmed incident of abuse or neglect. In 2015, approximately two million cases of abuse and neglect were accepted for investigation by child protection services agencies in the fifty U.S. states. Although other family members currently care for such children in informal arrangements, the vast majority of children in protective cases are placed with non-biological foster families (now called resource families) until the parent’s home is considered safe.

Outcomes in the child welfare system are relatively poor – with such children at high-risk for school dropout, homelessness, unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, and future joblessness. According to available research, kinship and foster placements protect children and eventually reunite them with their biological parents about equally, yet kin placements are less disruptive. In practice, however, many child protective services agencies do not encourage kin to get involved in decisions until after a case of abuse or neglect has been confirmed.

Challenges in the Child Welfare System

Children and families who enter the child welfare system often have multiple challenges including behavioral health issues, special educational needs, substance abuse challenges, and delinquency. Often the families are poor, struggle with food and housing insecurity, and may have poor parenting skills or mental health challenges.

Various public agencies are charged with meeting these multiple needs, but child protective services agencies, by legal mandate, are the sole state system charged with ensuring children’s safety and well-being – and these agencies are bound by firm administrative rules and practices that often exclude family members and other relatives from involvement in decisions about the child. Due to confidentiality requirements, other child-serving agencies may not be involved, either. Nevertheless, research shows that children needing protection do better when their families are involved; and collaboration among various service agencies also improves outcomes for children and their families.

What Can Be Done?

Although family inclusion does not consistently happen, it is stressed by most child protective services agencies and a cornerstone of federal and state policy. The federal Fostering Connections Act of 2008 now requires that, within 30 days, child protective services notify adult relatives and grandparents that a child has been removed from parental custody. Family members are required by law to be included in case planning and decision-making meetings. In addition, financial assistance for guardianships is now provided when children are placed with relatives.

The 2010 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Reauthorization requires agencies to document their capacity to ensure meaningful involvement of family members in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of child protective decisions. For all states, a Child and Family Services Review evaluates conformance with federal requirements. This review measures family engagement and agency practices that reach out to extended family members. Restorative practices are encouraged – such as agency efforts to promote healing in family relationships and involvement in family conferences. Newer models of family engagement include creating family “circles” that acknowledge the harm done, further child safety and parental confidence, and provide ongoing family support services.

Lessons from Innovations in Hawai’i

The state of Hawai‘i has a state-wide system of family conferencing that is offered to all families entering the child welfare system. Family Group Decision Making is based on an indigenous process developed in New Zealand. In Hawaiʻi, the ʻOhana Conferencing model draws upon western mediation and social work practice, as well as the indigenous Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. The system has involved more than 17,000 families in the decisions involving children in the child welfare system, by assuring that families are:

  • Included in the decision-making process as true, respected and active partners in the decisions that affect them;
  • Listened to and heard, with their input valued;
  • Encouraged to find appropriate strategies to solve their own problems;
  • Actively engaged in collaborative problem-solving;
  • Equipped with the knowledge that there are partners in the community to help support the child and the family;

Using ʻOhana Conferencing has allowed Hawaiʻi to enjoy one of the highest percentages of kinship care in the child welfare system. The state is in the top three for kinship care, and more than two-fifths of children in protective care have been placed with kin since 2008.

ʻOhana Conferencing is strengthened by Hawaii’s strong process for strong commitment to finding kin and including all appropriate family members in the decisions about protection and foster care placements. This Family Finding process has reduced the number of children living in foster care and improved outcomes for the state’s endangered children.

What Americans Think about Poverty and How to Reduce It

The 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty attracted little attention in 2015, and the 20th anniversary of welfare reform was barely noticed the following year. Although poverty tends to be overlooked by elected officials, policy experts, and the media, it remains a large and chronic social problem. According to the U.S, Census Bureau, 43 million Americans are officially poor, and millions more live just above the poverty line. Poverty has a big impact on health care, education, criminal justice, and other social realms and policy domains.

Given the relative silence at the elite level, I worked with three undergraduate students to review a variety of U.S. national opinion polls concerning poverty. We wanted to know what ordinary Americans think about poverty and efforts to ameliorate it – and whether their views had changed much over the last two decades. Our research was recently published in the Public Opinion Quarterly and includes suggestions for better questions researchers should ask in the future.

Current Public Opinion

The American public is generally sympathetic to the poor and supportive of greater government efforts to fight poverty. On the standard feeling thermometer questions – where people are asked to indicate degrees of warmth about various groups – scores for the poor are unusually high. Americans say they feel more warmly toward the poor than toward liberals, conservatives, the Tea Party, big business, or unions. When it comes to explaining poverty, Americans are more likely to blame it on forces beyond people’s control than on lack of effort. They recognize that many of the poor work but earn too little to escape poverty.

What should be done about poverty?

  • Most Americans agree that government should “take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” That responsibility includes guaranteeing every citizen “enough to eat and a place to sleep.”
  • In 2016, over half of respondents to a Pew poll said that dealing with the problems of the poor should be a top priority for the President and Congress; an additional one-third said it should be an important priority. Poverty was a higher priority than climate change, tax reform, or criminal justice, but ranked somewhat lower than education or jobs.
  • Most Americans think the country is spending too little on assistance to the poor. Only a small fraction, 10 to 12 percent, thinks too much is spent, while almost half believe that the poor lead hard lives in part because government benefits are inadequate.
  • On the other hand, public support drops when questions refer to “welfare” or “people on welfare” – and the gap is especially large when spending is at issue. Few Americans think we should spend more on welfare.

An important additional point: Although our project was designed to describe public opinion more than explain it, we did see evidence that racial attitudes and welfare attitudes could be linked. Many whites feel that blacks on welfare could get along without it if they tried and that blacks as a group are not as hard-working as whites.

Most Americans are frustrated with past efforts to reduce poverty. A 2016 Gallup survey, for example, found dissatisfaction among 81 percent of respondents with how the federal government handles poverty. Similar results were found when questions were worded more broadly – to encompass efforts by the entire nation and not just government.

What Has Changed and What Has Not

Over the last two decades, Americans seem to have become more aware of the working poor, and more willing to believe that those living in poverty are having a difficult time even with government assistance. Also, blacks are somewhat less likely to be viewed as lazy.

But for most poll questions that have been asked repeatedly, the answers have been fairly consistent. It still matters, a lot, whether questions refer to welfare or to poverty. In that sense, the historic 1996 reforms – with their caps on spending for public welfare assistance, greater work requirements, tougher sanctions, limited eligibility for legal immigrants, and time limits – do not appear to have changed the public’s mind very much. “Welfare” and “welfare recipients” still have negative connotations.

Implications for the Future

Overall, Americans continue to have mixed views about poverty, and policymakers can use polls to justify either more efforts by government to ameliorate poverty or fewer efforts.  Policymakers and citizens who want to do more will need to focus on the poor overall, not just welfare recipients. And it might also help to highlight success stories – where government efforts have helped people climb out of poverty – to counter the public’s pessimism.

As we reviewed the survey data, we were struck by the need for polling organizations to ask new and better questions. “Welfare” and “assistance to the poor” could refer to many things, and it would help to know much more about how the public feels about specific programs. In addition, asking questions about blacks and whites but no other important social groups seems outdated.

Finally, pollsters and researchers should try to learn much more about the public’s dissatisfaction with efforts to fight poverty. Do people consider all anti-poverty programs to be equally ineffective? Do they believe the national government has been less successful than state governments, charities, and churches in fighting poverty? Answers to these kinds of questions could help policymakers decide how best to help millions of poor Americans who remain vulnerable and need assistance. Americans sympathize, our data show, but remain conflicted about what can and should be done.

Changing the Lens on Poverty Research

Using an innovative technique to measure poverty, a Georgia Institute of Technology economics professor has found that more older Americans live in deprivation than official statistics suggest.

Shatakshee Dhongde, associate professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, found that 12.27 percent of senior citizens were deprived in two or more crucial areas, including multiple disabilities, low income, a lack of education, and severe housing burden.

Dhongde said the research illustrates a shortcoming in the official measure of poverty in the United States, which focuses solely on income. The federal government reported that 9.5 percent of older Americans were living in poverty in 2013. That is below the 12.3 percent rate found in Dhondge’s multidimensional poverty index.

Research Reveals Deprivation beyond Official Poverty Count

According to Dhongde’s research, nearly four in ten older U.S. residents reported being deprived in at least one of the four categories: multiple disabilities, low income, a lack of education, and severe housing burden.

Moreover, many of those living with multiple deprivations were not income poor. For instance, 3.6 percent of seniors experienced both multiple disabilities and severe housing burden, but would not appear in official poverty statistics because their income was above poverty line threshold.

Race plays a role, as well. Dhongde found that white senior citizens were less likely to be deprived, while Asian, African-American, and Hispanic seniors were more likely to be deprived. In fact, Dhongde found that 30 percent of Hispanic seniors were deprived in two or more dimensions.

Study Relies on Census Data

The study draws on the 2013 edition of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which includes detailed data on economic, housing, educational, and healthcare circumstances of people living in the United States.

Dhongde, a faculty member in the School of Economics within the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, is in the vanguard of economic researchers examining multidimensional deprivation in the United States. Thinking of deprivation in a multidimensional manner is a way of looking beyond income while measuring poverty.

“The main idea is that you change the lens and look at overlapping deprivations,” she said. “So I’m not separately looking at what percent of the elderly population was deprived in X and what percent was deprived in Y and so on. Instead, I choose one individual and then analyze how many deprivations he or she is facing simultaneously.”

By examining multiple areas that can affect a person’s quality of life, Dhongde says the multidimensional poverty index can provide better insight into the population’s broader economic condition. It can also give policymakers tools to gauge where best to focus limited resources.

Multidimensional Analysis Gains Traction

The research follows up on a groundbreaking 2017 paper that Dhongde co-authored with Robert Havemen of the Institute of Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In that paper, Dhongde and Haveman showed that during the “Great Recession” which gripped the United States economy from 2008 to 2013, nearly 15 percent of working-age U.S. residents were deprived in at least two of the measures.

Most of those in the study who were multidimensionally deprived were low-income earners whose incomes exceeded the poverty line.

That paper was the first in the United States to take a comprehensive look at multidimensional poverty at a national level, but similar techniques are taking hold internationally.

The United Nations has used a similar approach in measuring poverty since 2010. The European Union has also adopted a multidimensional approach. The United States government, however, still assessed poverty largely using income data alone.

Dhongde said that her latest research suggests avenues for policymakers to approach quality-of-life issues and health care costs among the nation’s growing elderly population.

For instance, her research shows that people with little education are more likely to have health issues. This suggests that policy makers could address literacy as a way to help people make better health choices — and hold down the spiraling cost of health care.

New Areas of Study to include Transportation

Dhongde is now working to extend the research model to other fields that could benefit from such analysis.

She is currently working with Laurie Garrow, a professor of transportation systems engineering in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Garrow is interested in developing a transportation deprivation index to help guide transit decisions — particularly in rural areas.

“As transportation engineers, we have regulatory requirements to ensure we are designing public transportation systems in ways that are fair and equitable for all individuals,” Garrow said.” By better understanding how transit dependency characteristics, such as income, employment, disabilities, etc., are related and how these characteristics are spatially distributed, we can design public transit services to better meet individuals’ needs.”

Dhongde said such a tool might use data sets to produce a comprehensive evaluation of transportation factors such as access to private cars, availability of mass transit, and even how often public transportation is available, and how far people have to travel to get groceries or go to school.

Dhongde’s new research appears in the book, Measuring Multidimensional Poverty and Deprivation: Incidence and Determinants in Developed Countries.

Critical Analysis of the System Changes Needed in the Child Welfare System

The child welfare system coupled with the juvenile and criminal justice systems have ultimately created and perpetuated the systemic constraints and social underpinnings that keep Black families court involved and monitored.

Data reveals that pluralism across systems yields, “much earlier contact with child protection, committing the first offense at least two years earlier than the general population; had been identified with mental health concerns but not referred to treatment; and had complex trauma histories.” This leaves Black women and girls vulnerable to navigate complex, bureaucratic systems that pathologize Black life and culture. Faced with challenges at the intersections of race, gender, and socioeconomic status, support across the economic spectrum is what families need in order to meet their needs and goals.

The US Department of Justice report, in 2015, Exploring the Impact of Criminalizing Policies on African American Women and Girls, highlights “the impact of criminalization policies on African American women and girls who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including the impact of arrest, detention, incarceration, and mandatory minimums.” The challenges and plural systems that undermine a family’s ability to meet those needs and goals were also discussed.

While the report centers the discussion on key points and recommendations for policymakers, child welfare, and the juvenile justice systems, it also facilitates the conversation on the “unintended and undesired consequences” affecting black women and girls. This includes the hyper regulation, monitoring, and criminalization of black girls. In order to address some of the gaps identified in the report, it is imperative that a multidisciplinary, multidimensional approach is developed, implemented, and evaluated. The paradox comes in when we consider the challenges of pluralism across systems.

“Criminalization includes state policies and practices that involve the stigmatization, surveillance, and regulation of the poor; that assume a latent criminality among the poor; and that reflect the creep of criminal law and the logics of crime control into other areas of law, including the welfare, systems” – Gustafason

Challenges faced by pluralism across systems

Within these systems, service users’ satisfaction, evidence based practice outcomes and effectiveness, recidivism to programs, etc. are programs which need evaluation and monitoring in order to measure effectiveness and program improvement. Across the board, within human and social services, allocation of funds for monitoring and evaluation of services is an afterthought. Child welfare programming, “specifically child protection services need funding and efforts for comprehensive oversight and evaluation.” Impacting families directly, but specifically, Black girls, program effectiveness and monitoring data analysis are a key foundation for discussions on program development, process improvement, and policy review.

Access to comprehensive training that encompasses the multilayered challenges of Black girls is imperative. These opportunities will provide a space to better equip and broaden understanding of the systemic underpinnings that impede and exacerbate their unique needs. They need professionals at all levels, who will advocate when systemic and bureaucratic injustices attempt to push them to the margins.

While standard operating protocol and procedures are readily available quality, innovation, relevance to demographics of the clientele is varied and unknown for the professionals within these systems, patriarchal, racial and capitalist ideologies are ever present. These ideologies present themselves through variance in child protective case classifications, options for in and out of home placements, length of court involvement, services referred, recommendation for child removal, etc. only to name a few.

Black girls need programming that mirrors the intersectional, co-occurring and multilayered aspects of their lives. Acknowledging and understanding how trauma, “manifests in delinquent behaviors, and how juvenile justice involvement can exacerbate the trauma,” assists in considering the harm in pluralism across systems.

This includes programming that acknowledges the many roles, barriers and systemic challenges that Black girls face in their families and communities. Data analysis and cross system communication and collaboration to identify “repeat families in the child protection system with whom traditional responses do not work” is a step towards programming that supports the Black family as a unit.

Speaking on the social work profession, Iris Carlton-Laney stated,“the profession maintains a discomforting silence when viewing inequalities and social conditions that affect African American families. Where this is true, the social work profession is helping to sustain societal oppression and facilitating the unequal distribution of power and resources.” Specifically, “social workers have a responsibility to intensively examine the ways that gender intersects and shapes” our lived experiences.

Working within child welfare and the juvenile justice system in six, I know that “girls who are in physical confrontations with a parent or guardian or other adult residing in the home are often responding to a failure to be protected from physical, sexual, or emotional harm.” The discomforting silence extends to Black girls and makes you question whether Black girls lives matters to social work.

Special attention should be given to a review of child protection policies, program existence and effectiveness, and referral to culturally relevant, trauma-informed services in an effort to increase outcomes for children and families. Recidivism factors, training resources for juvenile and family court judges, CASA’s involvement and county and statewide data should be continuously monitored and evaluated to increase the effectiveness in the child protection involvement for children of color especially black girls.

In order for collaboration, comprehensive services, and critical policy reform to occur, professionals from child welfare, juvenile justice, in addition to co-occurring (mental health, substance abuse) specialists, need to be at the policy-making table.

9 Answers To Burning Questions About Social Security

Since you began working for the man (your company), you’ve forked over a portion of every paycheck to the man (the government) in the form of Social Security Taxes. You haven’t had a choice in this matter.

Yes, a few semi-crackpots have told you that you can not pay these taxes if you disavow your SSN, but these types of people usually end up in standoffs with the government in remote locations.

So what exactly is Social Security Taxes? Who do they benefit? Why do you pay them? And where the heck did this policy come from?

You have burning questions and I have answers.

In this post, I am going to spell out the who, what, and why of Social Security. We’ll answer your burning questions in a way that doesn’t confuse you or bore you senseless.

Sound good?

Let’s get started.

Question #1: Where Did Social Security Come From?

 

On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. Originally the bill was going to be called the “Economic Security Act,” but it was changed to the equally boring “Social Security Act” when it was being evaluated by Congress.

Those guys have never been known for their creativity or liveliness.

Ernest Ackerman received the first payment ever – a whopping 17 cents. Even back in 1935, this was not a particularly large sum. Presumably, he saved this money so he could purchase a single beer after he retired.

The program was already a rollicking success!

Question #2: What Is The Purpose Of Social Security?

Most people think of Social Security as just a retirement program. This makes sense given that you can’t collect it before age 65 without a penalty. But, it also provides some life insurance and disability protection as well.

Let’s say that, God forbid, you are in a terrible roller derby accident. It can happen to anyone.

If you didn’t survive your accident, your dependents would receive benefits from Social Security. If you were severely disabled, you would also receive some compensation through what you had already contributed. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has done an extensive study on the data and statistics on Social Security benefits, and I will be sharing them with you.

In 2016, approximately one-fifth of the 60 million people who received Social Security benefits were either disabled or dependents of deceased workers.

Now that you have this knowledge, you can go all out in your next roller derby tournament.

Question #3: Who Is Eligible For Social Security Benefits?

 

If you’ve worked for 10 years or more, you’re probably eligible. In order to receive the minimum income of $1,260 per quarter, you need to have 40 credits (or quarters) of coverage.

There are a few odd exceptions to this. Pastors have the option of choosing to not opt-in to Social Security. Federal employees hired before 1984 can’t participate and railroad workers usually get benefits through a different system.

As long as you don’t fall into one of those categories, you should be solid.

Question #3: What Determines How Much You Receive In Benefits?

The amount you end up receiving is based on the amount you earned over the course of your life. The more you earned and paid in taxes, the higher the amount (not percentage) you receive.

Let’s say you’re a high-flying CEO earning a cool six-figure salary. You will pay a percentage of your salary in Social Security taxes, up to a maximum taxable amount of $118,500. When you retire (or are pushed out by a younger, better looking executive), you will receive benefits based on your earnings and what you paid in taxes.

But here’s the thing: the higher your earnings, the lower percentage you earn in benefits. In other words, if you make 45 percent of the average wage, Social Security will replace about half of your income. If you earn more, Social Security will replace a lesser percentage. It’s a progressive benefit.

As you get older, your benefits will be adjusted based on the cost of living. This is to prevent you from sinking into poverty and being forced to panhandle for change.

If you start drawing benefits early, you will receive a reduced amount.

Question #4: Why Is Social Security Important?

 

When you see that chunk of change being removed from every paycheck, it can be tempting to think that Social Security is just a waste of your money. But it’s not.

First, it’s an almost guaranteed retirement plan. The Social Security Administration estimates that 97 percent of people aged 60 – 89 receive benefits or will receive them. This functions as a safety net for retirees.

Second, it’s available to all people, no matter how much they earned. Unlike some programs, where you get the shaft depending on your earnings, everyone has access to Social Security funds.

Social Security matters for the United States, especially as the Baby Boomer generation hits the retirement age. Without it, many people would be left high and dry with very little in their bank account.

Question #5: Can You Live Off Social Security Benefits After You Retire?

Unfortunately, Social Security doesn’t pay enough to let you purchase a Lamborghini or a house in the Hamptons. In fact, the benefits are actually smaller than many people realize.

In 2016, the average benefit was only about $16,000 per year. Unless you’ll be living in a shack and eating noodles, that’s probably not enough to survive.

And, to make things worse, the replacement rate for wages is falling. In 2016, Social Security replaced about 39 percent of past wages, but it’s going to fall to about 36 percent in the future.

That being said, Social Security will still replace a significant portion of most people’s income and shouldn’t be discounted.

Question #6: Is Social Security Important For People Other Than Retirees?

 

It sure is. It matters to a lot of children in the United States. In 2014, more than 6 million kids lived in homes that received some form of social security income. This includes dependents of retirees, deceased workers, and the disabled.

You may not like giving up money for Social Security but think about the kids. You care about kids, right? RIGHT?

Social Security is also very important for minorities. Why? Because they often have less opportunity to save money and earn pensions. For those 65 and older, Social Security is 90% of income for Asian Americans, 45% for African Americans, and 52% for Latinos.

Finally, Social Security is critically important for women. It’s common knowledge that women earn less than men, take more time out of the workforce, and live longer than men. This combination makes it critically important to women, especially those who survive their spouses. In fact, about 97% of survivor beneficiaries are women.

Question #7: What Would Happen To Retirees If They Didn’t Have Social Security?

Just how important is Social Security to the elderly? Without it, 40% of those 65 or older would be below the poverty line. That is a huge number of people and will continue to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

With Social Security in place, only 10% of those retirees are below the poverty line.

Social Security is really important to a lot of people.

In fact, 61 percent of elderly people rely on Social Security for the majority of their income. For one-third of those people, it represents 90% or more of their income.

Removing Social Security would create a massive problem for those who are relying heavily on the benefits to keep them afloat.

Question #8: Will The Social Security System Continue As Is?

 

That’s a bit of a dicey question. The Social Security Board of Trustees has said that, unless things change, funds will begin declining and 2020 and become depleted in 2034. When they are depleted, benefits will be paid out a reduced rate.

That reduced rate will start at around 79% and decline to 73% by 2089.

Of course, it’s not likely that you’ll be alive in 2089 unless science finds a way to dramatically increase the human lifespan. However, your kids will be alive, so this does affect them.

Let’s hope they fix things before then.

Conclusion

Clearly, Social Security isn’t a perfect system. It doesn’t have a huge payout after retirement and that payout will probably be smaller in the future. But it does play an enormous role in our society. Without it, millions of people would be in poverty.

Additionally, it functions as a safety net of sorts, so that if something does happen to you, you’ll receive at least some income.

Should you plan on living off Social Security? Of course not. But you can count on receiving something after age 65, and that’s a huge benefit.

Study Shows Tax Return Delay Could Hurt Low-Income Families

Millions of low- and moderate-income Americans who claim certain tax credits will have to wait weeks longer than usual this year for their federal income tax refunds because of a new law aimed at reducing fraud.

The delay could prove costly for countless families “in relatively vulnerable financial circumstances,” finds a new study from the Brown School and the Tax Policy Center.

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act (PATH Act) of 2015 requires the Internal Revenue Service to hold refunds claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until Feb. 15. Because of weekends and the Presidents Day holiday, the IRS said in a recent statement that affected taxpayers may not have access to their refunds until the week of Feb. 27.

“Many of these families file their returns early and use refunds quickly to pay down debt or for spending on necessities,” said Stephen Roll, research assistant professor at the Brown School’s Center for Social Development and co-author on the study.

“Delaying refunds will likely lead to additional financial hardships for some of these families, who in previous years had received and used their refunds before Feb. 15,” he said.

The study, “Delaying Tax Refunds for Earned Income Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit Claimants,” is co-authored by Elaine Maag, senior research associate at the Tax Policy Center, and Jane Oliphant, program manager at the Center for Social Development.

“For the average American household, the tax refund is a nice yearly bonus that likely does not impact their finances in any major way,” Roll said. “However, for EITC or ACTC households affected by this delay in the refund, the tax refund is often the biggest single payment they’ll receive in a year.

“Imagine that you didn’t have much in savings and your income was entirely taken up by your expenses,” he added. “Then imagine that, without much warning, an entire month’s worth of your income just didn’t come for two or three weeks longer than you expected. That’s potentially what these households are facing.”

For the 2016 tax year, the Tax Policy Center estimates that on average EITC beneficiaries with children will receive a $3,314 tax credit. The median EITC or CTC family with children reported only $400 in liquid assets, and 69 percent reported credit-card debt at a median rate of $2,000. Fewer than half of these families reported they could access
$2,000 in an emergency, and barely one-third are homeowners.

What can impacted families do?

“Filing early may help, but only to an extent,” Roll said. “Even if you file on Jan. 23, the first day that the IRS begins accepting returns, there will still be a delay until at least the 15th of February.  Filing early ensures that families will receive their refund as quickly as possible.”

Beyond that, Roll said, there are steps families can take to minimize the impact of this delay.

“For example, families should be aware of this delay and try to avoid taking on extra debt, and high-cost debt in particular, at a point when they may have to wait weeks to pay it off,” he said. Additionally, families may be tempted to rely on ‘refund anticipation loans’ that function as short-term loans to provide the expected value of the refund early.

“While these loans can potentially provide families with quick cash when they need it, they can also come with a number of fees or hidden costs that may cause more harm than good,” Roll said.

Windows into a Life in Poverty and Lessons for Social Workers

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Living in poverty is more than not having enough money to meet an arbitrary threshold. For many, a life in poverty is one of perpetual disappointment, missed opportunities, self-loathing and blame. Recognizing these feelings in others, and the impact they have on us professionally, is an important step in creating change. A simple transaction at a thrift store, or a quick inventory of gas purchases, can open our eyes to so much more.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I found myself browsing the racks at a nearby thrift store, shopping for clothes for my upcoming second child. As I haphazardly tossed one-dollar onesies and two-dollar leggings into a growing mound in my cart, I observed another woman, presumably a mom like me, anxiously moving through the store aisles. She carefully scrutinized each item and, even more carefully, examined the price tag. Surveying items that held promise, she would look at the cost and quickly place them back on the rack.

I encountered this woman again at the checkout. She had ended up with four or five items—clothing for a small boy–and paid for the items using carefully counted nickels, dimes, and pennies.

As I got back to my car, I couldn’t help but feel great sorrow for this woman; too poor to buy many of the second hand items she wanted for her young son, and pulling from the bottom of the barrel to provide him with a few essentials. As a mom, I could intimately relate to the deep-seeded desire to provide for your children, and the failure and humiliation we feel when we can’t do that as well as we feel we should.

I, however, had visited the thrift store because I am thrifty, not poor. I can’t stomach the prices at fancy children’s clothing stores for items my child will likely wear once. I have never been unable to purchase clothes for my kids for financial reasons. I have never had to worry that my family won’t have enough of what they need.

Of course, my assumptions could be off. There are undoubtedly multiple scenarios for the woman’s behavior, and there are certainly those who would presume this mom’s prior bad choices or poor money management had gotten her to the place she was that day.  But as a social worker, these are the experiences I can’t help but internalize and analyze. Like many social workers and other helping professionals, I can’t help but feel the pangs of sadness and anxiety, observing the lives of those who struggle to make ends meet.

These observations offer a window into the reality of living in poverty; an unending series of difficult decisions and stress, feelings of unworthiness and humiliation, excited to watch your children grow, but scared about what it will mean for your tight budget. Research increasingly points to the impact of poverty on cognitive functioning and physical health, which is likely no surprise to those of us who have worked in the field. As social workers, observing and internalizing these feelings is a part of what makes participating in this profession so profound, yet often so painful.

This is certainly not my only experience which offered a glimpse into the daily lives of the poor, and if you gathered a group of social workers to discuss, they could most likely build a long list. Both in practice and in our daily interactions in the community, we see it. Some are more obvious. Observations of diapers not changed because there are too few to get through to the next pay, bare cupboards during a home visit, moms who stay with abusive partners to keep a roof over their children’s heads.

Others are less obvious. One dollar lunches at a fast-food restaurant, kids in too-small clothing. A mother snapping at her child who asks for something at the store, not out of anger at the child, but anger with herself for always having to say no. I keenly remember, several years back, watching a low-income parent at a birthday party interacting with the other moms and dads. One mom was gleefully sharing about an upcoming family event in the community. “Only five dollars per child!” she exclaimed. I saw the other mom hesitate, look down, shame in her eyes. Five dollars per child? Easier said than done.

My father, a life-long advocate for low-income people, has many times encouraged people to take a glance at the gas pumps in any given community when they stop for gas. In wealthy and middle class communities, pumps will show recent purchases of $30, $40, even $50 dollars. Full tanks, gas flowing until the pump clicks, symbolic of the abundance in the community. What about a glance at the tanks in poor communities? Purchases totaling $2, $4—gas purchased one or two gallons at a time, as money becomes available (sometimes borrowed or found) — to support a single trip to the store, or the doctor, or work. This strategizing with scarcity is a prime example of the difficult day-to-day decision making that plagues many in low-income communities.

Much like identifying signs of child abuse and neglect, social workers are often the first to observe these seemingly insignificant behaviors. And while others may be quick to blame poor judgement or character deficits for these unfortunate circumstances, we as social workers can see them as symptoms of a larger problem. We can choose to believe that all people, regardless of income, have the desire and the right to care for their families, have meaningful work, and participate in the community. We can choose to view these conditions as motivation for why we must take care of one another.

Internalizing the pain that these families and individuals feel, day after day, is an occupational hazard that we can’t completely avoid. Sometimes these feelings can seem like a burden too great to bear. Compassion fatigue is very real, and we must always remain mindful of the need for rigorous self-care. But it is important not to ignore these instincts, as it exactly these feelings of empathy and care for others that are at the root of our profession, and that can serve as a call to act. I would encourage us to use these experiences and our reactions as ammunition to become better helping professionals.

These interactions can provide us with needed inspiration to keep going in our pursuit of social justice. In daily practice, there are small opportunities. We can provide families with information on free community events so parents can still feel the pride and joy of giving their child a new experience. We can organize a clothing swap among low-income clients to share gently used items. If there are no options for free diapers in our community, we can work to create one. When interacting with clients, we can consider the physical, cognitive, and emotional implications for those living a life clouded by scarcity. More broadly, we can bring these issues to light to our decisions makers, locally and beyond, in the hopes of developing sustainable solutions.

Talent Is Equally Distributed, But Opportunity Is Not

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America’s recent legacy of trickle down economics has many implications, namely a wide division between the haves and the have-nots. When we talk about this phenomenon, we tend to discuss the reality as if it were merely the economy, but what leads to such an uneven playing field. As education adapts to the modern world, such as online education and distributed access to information and learning, it becomes more obvious that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity isn’t.

This concept comes from one of the leaders in online education: Arizona State University (ASU) President, Dr. Michael Crow, has been out in front of the movement to offer online education in order to provide more access and overcome barriers. What Dr. Crow understands is that we haven’t been operating on an even playing field and this has created barriers that not only keep people from educations, but keep our society under educated, trained and employable.

The Poverty Barrier

Poverty creates some obvious problems with receiving higher education. The cost of attending college has become prohibitive for many. Even with financial aid, much of the financial assistance is received in the form of loans in which young people are less and less willing to take on particularly with no guarantee of future earnings.

There are also more subtle frictions to education that stem from lower economic status. One might think that being poor would be a natural incentive because those in poverty want to escape their economic reality and degrees produce higher earnings, but statistics show that college is often perceived as an unattainable goal. Because of this perception and/or reality, there is usually a lack of planning, savings or academic commitment.

Society Implications

There are some out there who think this is merely the problem of those who can’t afford education, but the implications affect everyone. When we don’t have enough qualified people to fill positions, there is a drag on the whole economy. Businesses can’t expand without adequate skilled workers. Innovations don’t evolve at as quickly and there are many costs to society from welfare to crime.

Because of these factors, there is strong justification to return to a free or at least less expensive post secondary education system. I say return because in the 70s college was tuition free in California within the UC system and across the country, state colleges were so inexpensive that they could be paid for with a part-time job. Now, the cost of college has skyrocketed to the point that millennials don’t see it as a good investment in general, and it is particularly true among the poor.

The Point

One point of resistance when we talk about providing college for free like much of the rest of the world does is its cost. When we dig deep into the real costs, we see that student loan debt is over 2 trillion dollars, and students are having increasingly difficult time paying back student loans. This is creating a burden on our society in multiple ways.

First, the money is borrowed, then there is the cost to try and collect. Plus, students feel trapped by the debt and avoid taking on additional debt that could be very valuable, like going to graduate school or buying a home. Both of these things hinder economic development, and we all pay for an economy that doesn’t grow to its potential.

Second, a better educated population earns more, providing more tax revenue and reduces the burdens of social programs. This should be easily understood. It’s basically the principle of you can pay me now or pay me later. When we invest in our society the future costs go down and we prosper across the board. When we don’t we must manage pervasive crises. It requires forward thinking, but it is better to invest upfront for everyone.

Ultimately, we must come around to the idea that the talent among us is distributed equally, but the opportunity isn’t. When we can accept this, then we can put down limiting perceptions that people who don’t succeed are just lazy or not as capable. This understanding helps promote a more civil and productive society where people pursue their dreams based on desires and not fears. And with democratizing innovations like the internet, there is no reason to hoard education and opportunity, especially when everyone can benefit from increased availability.  

End Homelessness Through Eviction Prevention

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Despite positive trends showing that homelessness has steadily decreased since 2007, nearly 600,000 people were homeless in the US at the beginning of 2014. In fact, two cities in the US rank in the top worldwide for cities with extremely high homeless populations. This is relatively high considering the US is the “richest nation” with 41.6 percent of total global personal wealth.

Most homeless people, defined as people sleeping outside, in an emergency shelter, or otherwise transitional housing program, don’t choose to live on the streets. Unfortunately, there are common misconceptions regarding the stereotypes and habits of homeless people, such as having mental illness or drug dependency, further tainting the image society has on this underprivileged group. However, a significant portion of these people have been reduced to homelessness by an increasingly common cause: evictions.

Evictions leading to homelessness

This demographic of the homeless are evicted tenants, often with families, who are in financial situations where they can no longer afford to live under a roof. According to HomeStart, a housing assistance program, 36 percent of eviction cases will result in the tenant being evicted, driving low-income tenants to face impending homelessness. With the minimum wage being insufficient to support a working family, affordable housing for low-income households can be scarce. In fact, in just New York City alone, around 22,000 families per year have been ordered by court to leave their housing premises.

Often those who are suddenly evicted have insufficient time to search for a new home or acquire the necessary finances for their next rental, leading to the possibility of homelessness. It is illegal for a landlord to kick a tenant out by force, without court order. Evictions, intended for legitimate reasons such as lease violations, failure to pay rent, or property damage, are increasingly being used on low-income tenants illegally or unfairly as a result of increasing gentrification in certain neighborhoods such as Brooklyn, New York City.

What are some preventive measures?

Thankfully, tenants at risk of not having a home do have legal avenues and resources to fight back. The Institute for Research of Poverty, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, states that “tenants with legal counsel are much less likely to be evicted.”

Michelle Yang, a licensed US attorney and legal counsel advises, “Knowing the law and your rights is key. Read your lease carefully and look up your state’s landlord-tenant laws. Carefully document and build your defense, and be prepared to argue your case at an eviction hearing. You can also take advantage of free legal services provided by organizations such as Legal Aid or the NY Housing Courts.”

There are also programs such as Coalition for the Homeless, whose mission is to save “households each year from the trauma of homelessness.” They can offer grants to tenants who need the funding for their current rental housing. Initiatives like these give people the chance to resolve their financial situations without having to resort to leaving their property immediately. The Institute for Research of Poverty asserts that such affordable housing initiatives can be the most powerful and effective method to reduce poverty. 

A home for every homeless

It’s important to recognize the unique story behind each homeless individual that we see. Even though society is taking action to alleviate some of the causes of homelessness, the problem can be overlooked once housing programs have been launched. Taking the steps and initiative in assisting the homeless does not mean the problem has been entirely wiped away, despite how optimistic the media may portray it. We must be aware that preventing and addressing homelessness is a continuous process.  On the other hand, identifying the roots of homelessness can inspire more people to be proactive in driving eviction prevention programs or even lawyers to volunteer to participate in housing courts to help those who may be at risk of being without a home.

While we may not always be in a position to immediately help the homeless, there are certainly programs and projects we can embark on to help minimize homelessness and make sure people are living in their homes comfortably without fearing they have to leave. Whether you are a lawyer volunteering for a housing court to help tenants, a passionate civilian willing to help out at a local housing program, or someone donating their time and energy to provide resources to the homeless, every bit of help makes a difference.

Journey through the Grief of Homelessness

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Subprime loans, adjustable rate mortgages, unregulated equity lines of credit, mentally ill, physically and verbally abused, veterans, runaway children, drug addicts, and prostitutes are all part of the collectively vulnerable voices journeying through the grief of homelessness.

Homelessness is not prejudiced it crosses socio-economic, religious, educational, mental capacity, gender, veteran status, sexual preference and racial barriers; this destitution occurs in urban, rural and suburbia. Unfortunately, homelessness is an equalizer that causes one to lose hope and pride in the American dream as it becomes more elusive to the average Joe citizen.

Statistically speaking the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans reported that last year 12% of the adult population is veterans and of that total 20% are homeless with co-occurring disabilities and severe mental illnesses. Moreover, the state of our current economic situation and housing condition within the United States has created a social epidemic and high-risk population demographic.

The Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (TCHC) of Fort Worth, Texas, was established to serve the homeless population in Tarrant and Parker Counties. This agency annually conducts a point in time count of homeless individuals. On January 23, 2014, over 2400 people including children were homeless. Moreover, a systemized national survey revealed that over 84,000 were experiencing chronic homelessness. It was 30 degrees. Homelessness is a national crisis.

The Services for Ending Long-Term Homelessness Act (H.R. 1293) was introduced to the House of Representatives on March 4, 2015, by Democratic Alcee Hastings from Florida and currently has 21 cosponsors.  As of March 6, 2015, the health subcommittee received a referral for committee consideration from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. As of this date, H.R. 1293 has not moved any further through the legislative process.

This Act (H. R. 1293) was proposed to amend the Public Health Service Act of 1944 by establishing sponsorship for supportive services in permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals and families, and for other purposes.  Moreover, organizations that receive funding must treat individuals and families that are identified as chronically homeless and provide mental health and substance abuse treatment; treatment for co-occurring disorders; education on self-sufficiency and other services aimed at eradicating chronic homelessness.

The need for H.R. 1293 to become adopted is of an urgent nature to assist in eliminating homelessness. It is vital that you write, call or visit your local political representatives to ensure that they are aware of this Act and take action to address the issue of transitioning from homelessness to mainstream society it became a never-ending cycle.

This specific legislation could complement the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, which was the preliminary phase to eradicating homelessness in America. Although this was an attempt to address the issue it was meant for short-term use only; however, few programs did not address the issue of transitioning from homelessness to mainstream society it became a never-ending cycle. Therefore, by enacting H.R. 1293, this amendment would address the gaps in services that exist within McKinney Act. Allowing for funding for advocacy groups, national programs, nonprofit and for-profit organizations to work collectively with heightened public awareness will eventually produce solutions to this global dilemma.

Supporting a National Priority to Eliminate Homelessness stated that the persisting numbers of homeless people in America are an indictment of our collective failure to make the essential ingredients of civilized society accessible to all citizens. Having the public’s best interest in mind and limited resources elected official must focus on the vital needs affecting their communities. The voice and influence in support of H.R. 1293 must come from the public against this grievous offense of homelessness.

Call, email and write your local, state, and federal elected officials and ask why H.R. 1293 has not moved any further through the legislative process. Let them know that we this amendment passed immediately!

Protest Movement Turned Into A Commitment to the City’s Homeless

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In February 2011, thousands of concerned citizens protested with Wisconsin public employees against Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-led legislature moving to limit public employee rights to collective bargaining. These protests merged into the Occupy Madison (OM) movement, which like many other cities in America was in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Due to city and county ordinances, the OM movement had to move to a new place every night. What OM members didn’t realize at the time was that many who were moving along with them in protest were homeless individuals. The homeless population in Madison had realized that these OM encampments were a safe place where they could get food and shelter. Board member Luca Clemente said that in the beginning of the Occupy Madison movement there was conflict between the activists and the homeless. The homeless felt they were doing the real occupying because many of the activists went home at night. The homeless referred to the activists as “housies” and the activist referred to the homeless as “crashers,” he said.

The homeless realized that OM was protesting for rights that mattered to them too and OM activist realized that OM was faced with the same challenges as the homeless population. Clemente said, “It became clear that people were in real pain.” He said it wasn’t easy, but they got past their differences and worked together. During their two plus year protest OM advocates spent time and money to build the encampments to meet local laws and city regulations and codes, but in 558 days the encampment was forced to move its location 30 times and the protestors received city and county ordinance citations.

Board member Bruce Wallbaum said, “For years many of the OM members have been fighting for equal opportunity for resources rather you’re homeless or not.” He said in response to the protests and the continued plight of the homeless population, OM became a non-profit organization in 2013. They have advocated with and for citizens in Madison who have and are currently experiencing homelessness. Wallbaum said they have worked together for more shelter space, improved shelter rules, access to restrooms, showers and laundry facilities.

Despite their efforts, the homeless shelters remained full and there was no movement by the local government or other non-profits to add anymore shelters. According to the Tenant Resource Center, there are approximately 500 chronically homeless citizens in Madison. The coupling of rental rates in Madison at an all-time high and vacancies far and few between (2%) is a problem for many Madison residents. Having a job does not guarantee that you will be able to afford a place to live. Affordable Housing in Madison has long waiting lists (up to a year) and section 8 housing closed their waiting list years ago.

In an effort to help the homeless obtain affordable transitional housing OM became a 501 (c) (3) non-profit and started a project called OM Build. OM board member Bruce Wallbaum said they starting building Tiny Houses in June 2013.  Wallbaum said, “The first three homes were built by volunteers and paid for by community donations.” He said that each home costs $5000 in materials and supplies. The houses are 99 square feet and are built on wheels so they can be moved if necessary.

Wallbaum also said due to concern for their property values and a possible increase in crime, 70% of the neighbors were against the purchase of the property for the Tiny Village. After a year of no police incidents and property values remaining stable, they have since come around. He said that Alder Larry Palm has been behind the project since the beginning and the local newspaper did interviews and made a video with the neighbors who now have no complaints.

The Village and the OM Build project is making a big impact and getting a lot of attention.  Visitors from 23 states and several countries have toured the Village in the past year. OM-Tiny Houses & More has a great website with tons of information. Wallbaum said they would love to help start Tiny Villages in other communities, but they are a small group and are 100 % funded by volunteers.

OM resident and member Russel Albers said that he became involved in 2011 because, “I believe in affordable housing for all.” Albers says he was living out of his truck during the OM protests because he lost his job and was having trouble finding a new one. He said he couldn’t afford to pay rent. “Until it happens to you, it’s hard for anyone to understand how fast you can lose everything,” he said.  “If your coach surfing and have no permanent address and you’re living out of your car, employers don’t want to hire you,” he said.

Phase 1 was completed in late 2014, OM purchased an old auto body shop on Madison’s near eastside, and the OM volunteers and board members have tirelessly worked to repair and clean up the property and Phase 1.  He said phase I brought in approximately 80,000 dollars in donations and 1000 volunteer hours. Albers said the first three residents took occupancy in 2015 and Madison’s first micro village of Tiny Houses became a reality.

Albers said, The Tiny Village is now working on Phase 2, which has already seen five more houses built and two new residents. He said, “Tiny Home residents are called stewards, and can be a couple or an individual.” He said future stewards have to put in 500 hours of volunteer work on a house or in the OM store to earn stewardship and residency in the OM Village. Once a steward moves into their Tiny Home they must continue to volunteer on a monthly basis. Albers said, “We have rules that have to be followed such as no drugs or alcohol in the Village and every steward has to participate in the chore wheel.” Albers said they modeled the “sweat equity” after Habitat for Humanity and the “chore wheel” from another Tiny Village in the state of Washington.

Albers took me on a tour and I was able to see one of the unfinished houses up close and personal as well as the workshop, cooperative kitchen, three bathrooms, four large gardens and a retail store. He showed me where the new community center and the new kitchen were planned to be built as part of Phase 2.

For those interested in duplicating their project, they recommend that you visit their web page www.occupymadisoninc.com where they give you tips on how to start a Tiny Houses Village in your community. You can also like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OMBuild or visit the Village in person at 304 North Third Street, Madison, WI 53704.

They encourage everyone to remember, “It takes a village to make a village.”

Stories From A Tiny Home Village: Madison

Answering the Call: 5 Social Initiatives Helping to Fight Poverty in Kentucky

By Gabe Duverge

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The poverty rate in the United States is 14.8 percent, based on the latest data from the Census Bureau. Almost 47 million Americans have an annual household income that falls below the poverty line, which is about $24,000 for a family of four. The statistics are even higher in Kentucky.

At 18.8 percent, the poverty rate in Kentucky is the fifth highest in the country. The percentages rise dramatically among women, children and minorities.

  • 26 percent of children live in poverty (10th in the nation).
  • 7 percent of working-age women live in poverty (second in the nation).
  • 7 percent of Asian-Americans live in poverty.
  • 3 percent of African-Americans live in poverty.
  • 1 percent of Latinos live in poverty.

Clearly, Kentucky struggles with poverty. That’s why many social initiatives are answering the call to address this complex problem.

Major Issues Affecting the Poor

Hunger

According to Feeding America, one of every six Kentuckians faces food insecurity, which is defined as a “lack of access at times to enough food for an active, healthy life” and a “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” The household food insecurity rate is 17.2 percent, and the child food insecurity rate is 22.4 percent.

Homelessness

A count by the Kentucky Interagency Council on Homelessness shows that 5,245 Kentuckians are homeless. The actual number of homeless Kentuckians is almost certainly larger, as the data only includes those in shelters and known areas. Homelessness disproportionately affects veterans, people with chronic or mental illnesses, individuals struggling with substance abuse and addiction, and victims of domestic violence.

Crime

Violence against the poor is a reality. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, people living in poverty had more than double the rate of violent victimization, such as sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault, than people in high-income households. This is just one example of the correlation between poverty and crime.

Education

The high number of children living in poverty has a broad impact on education. Kentucky Youth Advocates believes that the statewide educational level of children will not improve at a “sufficient pace” until poverty is addressed. Children affected by poverty are less likely to succeed in school, and they are less likely to pursue a college degree.

Five Social Initiatives Fighting Poverty

Governmental offices, nonprofit groups and charities are all working to help solve the poverty problem in Kentucky. They use a variety of strategies and focus on different aspects of this large issue. The following five initiatives are well-respected and supported by both citizens and the government.

  1. Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC)

Throughout his second term, President Obama has designated several “promise zones,” which receive federal funds to fight poverty and improve the overall quality of life. Southeastern Kentucky is home to the only rural promise zone, a partnership of eight counties.

KHIC is the lead entity of the promise zone and is using both public and private partnerships to target development in the region. Some priorities include building affordable high-speed Internet, improving drug and alcohol rehabilitation services and bolstering economic development. The group has a 10-year strategic plan to guide its major efforts in the region.

  1. Sharing Our Appalachian Region (SOAR)

SOAR works to improve the quality of life throughout Appalachian Kentucky. The initiative works with a wide variety of public and private entities to identify opportunities for agriculture development, increasing tourism and improving the well-being of the people in eastern Kentucky. SOAR is an initiative begun in 2013 by the state government and works as a collection of individuals committed to creating change in 10 areas of focus (e.g., business recruitment, education and retraining, health, infrastructure). Members of the SOAR Advisory Council are leaders in their fields and have significant experience working in eastern Kentucky.

SOAR focuses on creating “tangible change” through the awarding of grant money, including $33.2 million in 2015. SOAR also reaches out to state universities to inspire students to help find new solutions that can help move the region forward. Although still young, SOAR is certainly fostering real change in the region.

  1. Kentucky Interagency Council on Homelessness (KICH)

In the fight to end homelessness in the Bluegrass, KICH leads the way. The group’s mission is to coordinate the many organizations working with the homeless and develop a larger strategy across the state. Started in 2002 by the Kentucky Housing Corporation, KICH has grown to represent 20 agencies, nonprofits and advocacy groups working to help the homeless.

KICH focuses mostly on interagency collaboration. This is especially true in systematic efforts to improve delivery of services. For example, KICH helps groups organize their efforts in the winter as the cold has a substantial impact on the homeless. The group also serves as a representative when policy is developed in Frankfort.

  1. Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA)

Kentucky Youth Advocates believes that “all children deserve to be safe, healthy and secure.” KYA works to help reduce the number of children living in poverty, mostly through working alongside legislators to improve policy.

In the realm of poverty, KYA is seeking to create a state earned income tax credit (EITC) that would assist working families in making ends meet. KYA also offers assistance to families, including coordinating health and safety services across the state, and works to improve education standards, especially in high-poverty areas.

  1. Kentucky Association of Food Banks (KAFB)

KAFB is one of the leading nonprofits organizing food banks across the state’s 120 counties. The group partners with seven member food banks to ensure that citizens always have an option to find the food they need. With a network of more than 1,000 food pantries distributing 60.5 million pounds of food annually, the group estimates it reaches one in seven Kentuckians each year.

KAFB offers the Farms to Food Banks program that helps farmers sell excess produce to stock pantries. The No Kid Hungry campaign works to end childhood hunger through increasing access to federal nutrition programs among Kentucky’s children. KAFB also orchestrates food distribution in times of emergency and helps fill the gaps when disaster strikes a region of the state.

Continuing the Fight to End Poverty in Kentucky

Social workers often play a key role in initiatives that benefit the poor. An education in social work provides the skills and knowledge needed for a successful and rewarding career in the profession. Campbellsville University offers an online Bachelor of Social Work degree that is both affordable and convenient. Courses are taught by instructors with years of experience making a difference. Learn more about answering your call to serve others today.

Is the Criminal Justice System A Crime In Itself

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Patches are used to keep something that is worn out still working. For example, you can take a piece of material and sew it on your jeans to cover a hole, extending their life. This patch often adds color and revitalizes the old fabric, albeit without continuity. There comes a point when a patch is no longer viable, however, and the tattered remnants of clothing that brought us so much joy must be resigned to patches in a quilt.

As our society has evolved, in particular the way we deal with crime, we have continuously applied patches. Patching society has been the natural and incremental approach, but stemmed from archaic class systems unrelated to the founding of  the United States. Yet we have accepted these remnant methods and rarely think about how they reflect our social values.

But, there comes a time when we must discard the old and tattered and invest in the new. Regardless of the resistance of those dedicated to old world views, when the time is ripe patching is no longer viable and we must accept that a shift is happening or be run over by it.

We have now reached a point where the patched social makeup is one of mass imprisonment, (2.3 million in the US alone), and most of those are unconvicted, meaning they are awaiting trial but don’t have the money for bail and when convicted, it is for non-violent crimes. We’ve become so unsympathetic as a society that we basically view this as ‘their’ problem.

It’s time to start over. An important question we now face is what is a crime and why are they committed? When we really examine this, there are many theories, but most won’t look past our  current, patched together social fabric. But the statistic show that most crime is centered around money. Money has evolved from a time of barter to complex banking systems with printed currency and now EMV card technology. But no matter the format for currency, when people don’t have enough for their basic needs, they steal, engage in illegal commerce or retaliate against those trying to obtain money.

There are many theories as to the root causes of crime from Freud to Karl Marx and those theories vary greatly from the responsibility of the individual to the role of society and economics. What has become clear by crime statistics is that money is the center of most crime even if you are reluctant to apply the biblical teachings of Timothy, where he states that the love of money is the root of all evil.

What’s different today respective to Marx and the Bible is that we have the means to provide, at least at the base level, enough for every person on the planet. We have enough food, energy and an ever-increasing ability to provide to all localities, yet people do without. They do without clean water and basic food because of denial of access which invites and incites crime. It’s not because people are pre-determined criminals or they are envious of other’s accumulation. It is because their basic needs are not met in a world with overflowing abundance.

But instead of providing, we create crime by building modern versions of moats and castles. We spend billions on prison and courts and lawyers. It seems obvious to me that if we redirected our resources to provide instead of punish, we would all but eliminate most crime and therefore most criminal activity. Thomas Jefferson famously stated that, “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”  And now our criminal justice system is not only riddled with unjust laws which have essentially become a war on ordinary people.

This is a big topic and one without easy answers, but the question I would like to pose is, if we were to subject the makeup of our society to the legal system, would we find that our system is criminal? I’m not starting an advocacy for a nanny state or any other cliched response. I’m merely asking the question, is our culture, when looked at objectively, criminal? If the answer is yes, then it follows logically that we should examine how to reconfigure our society. After all, that’s how America was originally created.

Who Really Receives Food Stamps?

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As with other groups, there is a stereotype of food stamp, or SNAP benefit, recipients. Many people believe that most food stamp recipients resemble President Ronald Reagan’s infamous “welfare queen”; women of color who would rather collect money from the government than go to work, poor families who have more kids than they can afford, or some combination of the two. However, the actual demographics of SNAP benefit users are quite different from this stereotype.

Perhaps the most important demographical fact about food stamp recipients is that around 40% are white. However, many politicians continue reinforce the idea that welfare programs are used almost exclusively by minority populations. For example, in 2012, former Senator Rick Santorum said, “I don’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money, I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

Data from the USDA released in 2013 showed the breakdown of SNAP recipients: 40.2 percent are white, 25.7 percent are Black, 10.3 percent of recipients are Hispanic, 2.1 percent are Asian, and 1.2 percent of SNAP recipients are Native American. Read more

This kind of rhetoric is problematic for several reasons. First, it perpetuates the incorrect stereotype of minority populations especially with African-American’s being portrayed as the only group on any kind of social benefit programs. Additionally, it explicitly implies that people who receive benefits are doing so to avoid working, and if they were willing to look for and accept work, they would no longer need the benefits. Finally, it perpetuates the negative stigma associated with being on a social assistance program, which could make people less likely to seek assistance if needed.

If food stamp beneficiaries are not able-bodied, black, and unwilling to work, who are they? Around 80% of SNAP benefit users either have children (40%), are disabled (20%), or are over the age of sixty-five (17%). While there are able-bodied, young, single people who receive food stamps, they are by no means the majority. Additionally, many states are in the process of purging the program of these individuals with approximately half a million users set to lose their benefits in the next year. This means that it will be even less common for young, healthy, single individuals to receive SNAP which will overwhelming affect foster children who age of the system with no to low support systems.

Many food stamp users belong to a demographic known as the working poor. These are individuals and families who are working, but they are in jobs that do not offer enough hours or enough money to truly remove them from poverty. Approximately 30% of food stamp recipients are working in some capacity. However, due to their income and/or family size, they still qualify for food stamps and other means-tested programs such as Medicaid.

Unfortunately, despite evidence to the contrary, the negative stereotype of the food stamp user persists. One way to combat negative stereotypes is to speak up about the reality, However, it is understandable that many benefit recipients are hesitant to do so. It is imperative for social workers and other service providers to help combat this stigma by speaking out on behalf of our clients.

More Than 500,000 Childless Adults to Lose SNAP Benefits This Year

Credit: Mohammad Ali Fakheri/Flickr Creative Commons
Credit: Mohammad Ali Fakheri/Flickr Creative Commons

Within the next year, between 500,000 and 1 million childless adults without disabilities will be dropped from their SNAP, or food stamp, benefits. A three-month time limit exists on benefits for this population, which has been in place since the welfare reform legislation in 1996. Currently, childless adults aged 18-49 without disabilities are the only population subject to this time limit.

The reasons that single, childless adults find themselves on food stamps are varied, as is the group itself. Some of these individuals are chronically homeless, stuck deeply in a cycle of poverty that could feel impossible to break. However, many of them are working, but in either low wage or unstable jobs because their income is either quite low or sporadic. It can be difficult to sustain a stable budget, which leads to the need for SNAP and other forms of assistance.

The welfare reform package of 1996 included a work provision that has made it more difficult for many groups to remain on assistance, even if their income has not increased. During the great recession, which started in 2007 and has had lasting impacts on the economy since, many states received a waiver from the federal government that temporarily allowed benefit recipients to remain in the program while the economy stabilized. Now that the economy has improved, these waivers no longer apply.

The overarching goal of the 1996 welfare reform package was to provide incentives and assistance for people to find work. As a result of this, job training programs should be set up in most places, and many benefits can be kept for the duration of an unemployment period, as long as that individual is looking for work, willing to accept any kind of work that comes along, works less than twenty hours a week, or is in a job training program. While these provisions do apply to SNAP benefit recipients, if they cannot find a spot in a job training program or is working twenty one hours a week, they then become ineligible.

This will have hugely detrimental effects on both the individuals who lose their benefits and their wider community. Being subjected to deeper poverty and food insecurity will almost certainly effect the mental health of these individuals. Being anxious and/or depressed can make it more difficult to find and keep employment, and being unemployed can lead to feelings of anxiety and/or depression, creating a cycle that may feel impossible to break. Additionally, being hungry can make it more difficult to concentrate and impacts memory and overall cognitive functioning, all things that can make finding and keeping work more difficult.

As is often the case in politics, the three-month limit on food stamps for adults without children was not meant to cause long term, systemic harm. In theory, when the economy is strong, people will be able to find jobs that lift and keep them out of poverty and hunger. However, when these jobs are unstable, low-paying, or just plain unavailable, the ruling causes great harm to this population.

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