90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Monday, September 24, 2012

With 46 Million Americans Poor, Why Isn’t Poverty Campaign Issue?

People line up to talk with case workers at the Illinois Department of Human Services in Champaign, Ill. (AP)

Census numbers released this month show a tiny drop in the rate of poverty, but that’s after three years of increases.

Over 46 million Americans remain poor and the overall rate of poverty is now near what it was when president Johnson launched the so-called “War on Poverty” nearly 50 years ago.

The latest figures have given new life to the debate on poverty with social scientists divided over whether the official rate overestimates or under counts the numbers of the poor and over whether poverty is caused by a bad economy or by bad social choices.

But poverty has not come up on the campaign trail. As the Boston Globe reports:

Much of the rhetoric and promises of both Mitt Romney and President Obama have centered on rescuing the middle class. The word poverty is seldom heard. Yet the election’s outcome could have a profound effect on the nation’s neediest, particularly regarding plans to trim entitlements and slash such programs as food stamps to ease the strain on the federal budget.



Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Thinkin5

     A lot of poverty is built into the system. Great wealth often comes from cheap labor. It has throughout history. It’s easier, and more popular, to belittle and blame the poor than look at who’s preying on their labor.

  • julie

    I agree that the American system has many problems. As a college graduate who earns $15/hr with no benefits, I can identify with many of the issues discussed today. Can you possibly address the fact that the toilets at the Comcast Center still have to be cleaned. If everyone is educated and makes “good” choices, who will clean the toilets? Also, I have never earned more than 30K/year, and know that I could never support children. Why do so many poor people CHOOSE to have children? Not just one, but MANY? Why does the government subsidize reproduction with tax breaks? Perhaps we should get tax credits for NOT having children?

    • Thinkin5

       The right wonders why people aren’t getting married in the numbers that they did before and why people aren’t having children, or as many children. Those who think responsibly are considering the cost. Regarding the poor, sex /family is one of the few free entertainments/comforts left to them.

      • julie

        sex/family ain’t free. That’s their great illusion. Definitely not a right or left issue, just a human issue. The “great American dream” told them they should want house(s), car(s), and children; those are the symbols of wealth. Time for a gigantic shift in thinking.

      • Mike

         I think one of the reasons people had large families is ‘tradition’.  Through most of human history, people were farmers.  Farming was labor intensive, until recently.  Children doing chores made farming more viable.   Children were also the only pension plan, until recently.

        Having said that, I also think that, instead of sending food to starving nations, we should send boxes and boxes of condoms.  We’ll never solve the big problems (starvation, war, disease), until we address population density.

    • Tncanoeguy

       Why do the poor have kids?  Hormones and no birth control. 

  • svolantetb

    I like this discussion, but suspect that one point that Mr. Kaufmann made requires a correction. He compared payroll taxes with the tax rates reported from Mtt Romney’s returns. I’m no fan of ex-Gov. Romney, but aren’t payroll taxes 7.65% for workers (double for many self-employed people)? Reports I’ve heard indicate ex-Gov. Romney has paid 10-15% of his income in taxes.

  • Lavada

    Keep the masses poor, thus you can control them better.
    Big Brother, Big Sister, the Nanny State, the Surveillance State and the coming Police State at your service.

    I want a nation of workers, not a nation of thinkers.  Jim Marrs.

    The rich and powerful of Wall(War) Street need cheap labor to keep their profits high.
    Never in the history of the world has slave labor been so cheap for the elite to utilize.

    This is your future.

     If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.  George Orwell 

    “We are a nation of sheep, and  someone else owns the grass.”  ― George Carlin  

    The rich will do anything for the poor, except take their foot off your back.
    Karl Marx. 

  • Mike

    There’s something wrong here:  Mr. Kaufmann said $35000 was poverty wages.  About 2 decades ago I was working as an Engineer, with 2 college degrees, making $35000 a year, living well.     Now, I’m retired, living in poverty– sounds to me that inflation is a problem.

  • James McGee

    The WSJ in a recent editorial (last week) clarified why Romney was right and why you and the so-called “fact-checkers” are incorrect in your and their assessment of whether it was accurate.  Not the least of which was the fact that HHS (Sebelius) promulgated a subsequent addendum which included the requirement that states must increase their back to work rates.  The WSJ also skewered the red herring that it was Republicans who asked for this.  This is a perfect example of the media’s (and your) bias.  As the media is so tireless in opining: “You are not entitled to your own set of facts.”  Please read the editorial and give it some  thought.

    Your coverage on this poverty segment was breathless and uncritical.  There is a reasonable, opposing opinion.  Not only did you not present it, your breathless reporting communicated to your audience a full measure of uncritical credulity.

    I list to NPR hours each day, but until your coverage is more balanced, notwithstanding Brooke’s self-serving, self-whitewashing program on media bias recently, I will not pledge any station.  There is a reason that talk radio on the right is financially successful whereas it is not on the left:  Why would anyone go listen to Air America as long as they have LPR (Liberal Public Radio) to listen to?  Your success is the reason Air America could find no purchase.

    As Walter Cronkite expressed so honestly: “I think most newspaper men by definition have to be liberal; if they’re not liberal, by my definition of it, they can hardly be good newspaper men.”

    • Mike

       You sound angry.  But it’s not clear what you’re angry about.  My guess is that you don’t like the increased power of states to determine welfare rules.

        I was surprised that Republicans were against that.  I thought the Republican Party wanted “states rights”– more power back to the states.

  • Tncanoeguy

    Proliferation of low-wage work.  This is the inevitable outcome of union busting and outsourcing.  Companies will seek to lower costs, and boost profits, any way they can.  That can involve externalizing the costs of pollution and/or decreasing labor costs.  We can counter this trend by realizing that the lowest cost item is not necessarily the best quality item, and that we are possibly better off with less stuff – higher quality stuff made in the US by US workers.  

  • Tncanoeguy

    Read Wendell Berry on the local economy.  When you depend on a global economy you are at the whims of that market.  It can be very unstable. 



  • Kirstienewman

    With 50% of adults living alone in the USA, why do we not hear poverty number$ for all the singletons?  I am tired of the focus on “families”.

  • Disstressed

    THIS is a very serious issue that deserves recognition and campaign attention! It was brought up in early discussion via news radio that there was perhaps a “Culture of Poverty.” This, in so many ways seems so far from the truth when you have college graduates out there struggling to find work. Many people with their Masters, or dual degrees have had to ‘dumb-down’ their resumes to find a job paying less than $15/hr, and that’s only if they are lucky! Not to mention the student loans debt they had to incur in order to attend college; paying these off seems like an endless drudgery.

    It baffles me that costs such as housing, utilities, education costs, health and childcare are not calculated in Poverty rates, as adding in these expenses would be the only real way to calculate more accurate Poverty rates around the US. 
And to blame poverty on things such as having children out of wedlock, not obtaining a degree or trade, and living off benefits, without addressing the other factors involved, seems rudimentary. As our culture still looks down upon abortion, more and more women are left in poverty because the child support system, which claims “all children need support,” still does not have effective ways to take initiative and enact a successful way to insure enforcement.

Speaking from personal experience, I have my P.R. & Marketing BA, and have been very successful in Account Executive work. However, I was left with a child that has severe disabilities. And although I have paid an excess of $15,000 to lawyers who helped instate a child custody and support modification, as well as being about to move out of San Diego County to become more self-sufficient; the absent father was able to move where-ever, whenever and with a dual-citizenship (US & Canada) was able to flee child support even when owing over $71,000 + costs still not adjusted for 1/2 medical and daycare (in which I will have to pay more $$ to go back to court to add). 
Furthermore, when the lawyers couldn’t ‘find’ him, I was liable for all of the legal costs. When he didn’t pay, I had late fees on everything from credit cards (which also accrued a higher interest rate), childcare, rent, utilities, and the list goes on. Meanwhile, he was able to put everything in a business name, and live under another persons name (in their residence), and Child Support Services (DCSS) – even when they had address from the states he had been living (CA, FL, MI, NV, and Canada) they claimed they could not even send a bill unless his NAME was verified with USPS!! Last year he married in Canada and even though I gave DCSS her name, they claimed they still could do nothing… not even send a bill. And come to find out, even with ALL of the addresses that I gave them, they NEVER moved the Child Support Case out of the state of CA. So, while he may not be able to renew his passport or ID in CA, he was still able to whatever he wanted in any other state, as well as Canada.

    I also was told by DCSS that there was no such thing as the “Dead Beat Dad’s Act of 1998;” which states that any absent parent that has not paid in over 2 years, and owes over $10,000 would have a Federally issued Warrant for Arrest. Even once talking with the ombudsman unit, nothing was escalated and now DCSS won’t even take my phone-call, they refer me back to the ombudsman (go figure)!

    Meanwhile, once being laid off in MN, I had to move back to CA into my mother’s home, sell everything I own, was left with over $100,000 in medical debt and $145,000 in credit cards student loans, and otherwise. I had to completely exhaust unemployment before being able to get the state’s help for him to have Medi-Cal, because regardless of WHAT YOU OWE, they only count your assets. Even healthy families denied me for the help my son needed to become stable enough for me to return to work. So, over the last year I have lost job opportunity after then next. And on top of this, living in Escondido (a part of San Diego County), there are no suitable locations for child-care for my disabled son!??

    So, how is a full-time single parent able to work at all without suitable childcare for a child with disabilities!? Well, I searched every avenue I could, and thought maybe since I know once I get back to work I could pay for a nanny, that I could employ a friend to be his drop off-pick up and before/after school provider. I thought I could trust an old friend, but within 10days she gave up, and within 3 weeks took off with over $5,000 worth of my clothes, jewelry, suitcases, and other things – AND WHERE IS JUSTICE WHEN YOU NEED IT!??? Nowhere to be found!!!
    I called the police the day of, an officer came out to take the full report on the 8th and even though there were 2 other witnesses, their statements were not able to be given immediately, but they called the station over and over to give one – with only one return call, which they missed while they were working.

    So I decided I was going to help justice get started, I obtained addresses and phone numbers of the locations she was trying to flee too and the friends she was in contact with. EVEN found her EXACT location and the phone number of the person she was with on the 15th and 16th – and one of the parties involved with the case to give his statement actually walked into the Police station to give his statement so they could enact a warrant for arrest in this Grand Theft case and go after the thief, and maybe, just maybe I could get some of my belongings back – BUT get this, there was no one at the station that could get his statement. He was told Sergeant Kramer of the Escondido Police Department wanted to take the case personally, so not only was the person not able to give his statement, he was also told that Kramer would be out ALL NEXT WEEK!!! So, I hear this thief is pawning my personal belongings by the day in L.A. county and yet there is nothing being done in the name of JUSTICE!?? 

    So now what!!!?!?! I am forced to live in poverty! Get ripped off with no justice! Sit back be OK that DCSS is doing nothing to insure my son the support he needs! Get left behind in a welfare to work program that does absolutely NOTHING for someone that has been previously very successful!? And does not aid in even being able to pay for cell phone & internet costs; which are the most cost effective ways in which I can search for work (because of rising gas prices, resume paper, ink, spread out places of work, etc.).

    I want more than anything in the world to get back to work, be able to afford better health care for my son that the state provides (he was on a 5 month long waiting list for mental health services), pay back the debts I owe and become self-sufficient. But our government and the systems within it are LACKING in too many different areas to count!

  • what middle class?

    Being a 24 yr old African American in the middle class, I see the poverty divide not only across the country but even within my family. The divide of the haves and have nots is growing at a rate that I’m afraid we will soon be in the same scenarios seen in France where the poor are turning to more and more opportunities found in the streets. The lack of money to “borrow from your parents” and the fact that the 10o plus thousand dollars that my girl friend has incured for the opportunity for a better life has turned the “American Dream” into an “American Nightmare”.

  • gunter hiller

    In his “State of The Nation” address in 1944, FDR asked the Congress for a bill of economic
    rights, to enable all Americans access to decent housing, health care, education and food.
    To be poor is not to be able to satisfy  these needs.
    These demands constitute   “the common good” , the basic demands that our economy must address. Clearly this is the role of  government.  What we need  is a national service,  a “right
     to work.  To work to improve the infrastructure, to tutor, to help the elderly is not a free lunch.
    Besides having  decent minimum, people also want to be useful, to have a stake in their world.
    To  live without participating in our world  is depressing, a public health burden.
    Poverty in the midst of plenty is intolerable.

  • Sarah Herrmann

    Great story! Thank you for comprehensively covering this complex issue and addressing many of the misperceptions of life in a low socioeconomic status in the U.S.

  • Mtoffgrid

    In the same thread as below, we all live here but only a small percent owns most everything, sounds like the Feudal lords and serfs syndrome-this never went out of style for the folks that run things. Here is why our system does not work. First, nor matter what certain “economists” say, the more wealth concentrated in the smaller upper 5%, the less everyone else has-same for the 1930′s depression, same for now. The “job creators” are us, average folks who employ a few people and work hard at it, never expecting to get rich, the rest, the upper 1%-they are the leaches of society that feed off of everyone else labor with collusion from bankers, politicians and Wall Street. We pay our employees more than we pay ourselves-they do the work. NO ONE, no celebrity, no CEO, no CFO, no movie star, no one is worth more that more than any average 100 people make. Until we learn these lessons, and stop worrying about the “American Dream”, we will have the continual boom and bust cycles that favor the rich.

  • macnjax

    Today’s guest just said “Those who have an enormous amount of wealth have a disproportionate portion of voice” or something like that.  This is one of the problems today.  The person with the most money can buy the presidency! How ridiculous is that?  These people are intelligent.  They know just how far that money would go to help eliminate poverty in our country and other countries but they would rather dump it all in commercials and negative comments about the opposition.  They don’t care about the real problems and they don’t really care about the American citizens.  They just want the power of being known as the leader of the most powerful nation.  I’m sick of it – I’m sick of Obama – I’m sick of American citizens not having a voice.  You can say all you want that our voice is our vote but if you get right down to it – you know that is not true. The wealthy have the voice!  I don’t like Romney either but I can’t stand to see America suffer another 4 years of Obama. 

    We need a complete revamp of our election process.  Every Primary should be held on the same day, every State.  All ballots should be mailed in except the actual presidential race.  Commercial advertising should be limited to a reprint of the debates,a printing of the campaign promises and a “fact check” performed by a by-partisan committee.  The new process in California whereas you vote for your choice in order of your preference would prevent a runoff. Polls would be open only for the election. 

  • Akfaka

    Thepoors can’t afford a $50.000 fundraising dinner. As simple as that. 

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 15 21 Comments

A Call To Reject Corporal Punishment As Part Of Black Culture

An incident of child abuse by an NFL player has raised questions about the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the African-American community.

September 15 26 Comments

Would You Pay To Get Your Kid Into A Top College?

A San Francisco company charges parents for a consulting package based on the odds their student will get into a certain university, with prices up to a million dollars.

September 12 9 Comments

Senator: Arab Countries ‘Need To Step To The Plate’ In Fight Against ISIS

Mark Begich (D-AK) is one of the few members of Congress speaking out against a key part of President Obama's plan for fighting the Islamic State.

September 12 Comment

Ecuadorian Drilling Damage Inspires Documentary

An American and an Ecuadorian are inspired to help Ecuador heal from decades of drilling and oil spills.