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Writers' Post Network Blog: Poverty & Economic Justice - Entered Pope Francis Following the "Occupy Movement" & President Obama's Inclusive Domestic Agenda

Posted on November 30, 2013 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (101)

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The Ultimate Authoritative Voice on Trickle-Down Economics & Income Inequality & Social Injustice

Pope FrancisPoverty & Economic Justice – Entered Pope Francis
Preceded by the Occupy Movement & the Obama Agenda
 

v. The Demonetization of the Poor by Tea Party Republicans

Millions of children go hungry every day in the United States




This week, a series of released reports converged to highlight the state of hunger and poverty around the world, and in the United States. The release of these reports coincided with Pope Francis’ written document and interviews on income inequality, the dark side of capitalism, the damaging impact of unbridled free market on the rest of society, and the destructive force of economic greed. The data on poverty, hunger, and the poverty threshold, are issued by various governmental agencies, policy research centers, and independent non-profit poverty watchdog and service organizations.  The combined data from all of those sources are used to chart the state of the economy in broad terms, and to determine economic growth, income growth, trends, and statistics in various sectors of the economy and among different segments of the U.S population. The data is also used to define the poverty threshold, and economic equality in terms of shared prosperity. In addition to those independent data sources some of which are headed by researchers and economists from the nation’s top universities, data statistics are also compiled and flow from The United Nation Momentum project and other UN anti-poverty programs, such as AIDS and UNICEF, which monitor world poverty, conduct research, and pursue policy measures to combat world poverty.

In the United States, the most widely used sources of data and statistics on household income and income distribution are the “annual survey of households” conducted as part of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), and the Statistics of Income (SOI) data compiled by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) using a sample of individual income tax returns. The Census Bureau also publishes an annual report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage. This data is converted into a shared file and made available to researchers. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) combines both the Census Bureau’s and the IRS’ data in its own model to project household incomes. To be eligible to receive government assistance, an individual or a family must be living at 130 percent below the poverty level. While studies have shown that poverty kills millions of people in the United States and across the world, and leaves millions more at risk of societal ills and diseases, the government’s calculation of levels of poverty can leave even millions more in the cold. For example, two households with an income of $29,000 are ranked at the same poverty level on the income distribution ladder, even if one of the two contains two children and the other is made of a single individual.  In few cases, under certain types of programs, the income is adjusted based on household size so that the larger household is regarded as having a smaller income.

While we were asleep, the world population grew to 7.1 billion people, and given the failure of governments to bring about economic justice and income equality, poverty and hunger also rose with the increase in the number of people living in poverty and children going to bed hungry around the world. However, while poverty and hunger remain prevalent in poorer and less developed countries (98% of the world’s people live in poverty), there is no excuse for the 15 percent of Americans, or 46.5 million of the 330 million people who live in the United State, to continue to live at or below the government-defined poverty line. 14.5 percent of U.S. households (nearly 49 million Americans, including 15.9 million children) do not have adequate access to food and nutrition. These numbers do not account for those who may be working but are unable to adequately feed themselves or their families, the homeless, and the unemployed. At a time when the poverty rate was roughly 19%, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America,” in his State of the Union Address on January 8, 1964.  About a decade later in the late 1970’s, following the implementation of government anti-poverty policy program, the ranks of the poor and the hungry in the United States decreased toward the end of the Johnson’s presidency and the percentage of Americans living in poverty was on track to continue to decrease through the 1980’s. Today, the level of poverty in the U.S. is about the same as it was in the middle of the Reagan presidency in 1983 and it remained steady through 1993 at the end of the twelve years of trickle-down economics under Reagan and W.H.Bush.

Income Gain Chart among income groupsBefore the war on the poor was cranked to full gear with the advent of The Republican Tea Party, there was a declaration of war on the poor, beginning with President Ronal Reagan’s stereotype of the “welfare queen” as a typical lazy and scheming Black American, who lives in luxury, but continues to depend on the government for handout while refusing to work. This image, which was introduced to the American public through television election advertisements, also portrayed the poor as lazy Black government recipients, consisting of drug dealers making thousands of dollars while at the same time robbing the tax-paying public blind, by living on government programs. In reality, the majority of people living in hunger and poverty are children, under-paid workers, the elderly, the disabled, veterans, small farmers, and people who live in rural areas, most of whom are White. Many in the progressive community view President Bill Clinton’s compromise with Newt Gingrich’s Republican Congress to gut the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) as widening the rank of the poor, the program was turned into Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) also known as “welfare to work.” The data shows that far more American live in poverty today than did at the end of the Clinton administration. However, Clinton’s “welfare to work” could be credited, at least in part, for the millions of working Americans who find themselves needing to hold 2 or 3 part-time jobs or work in full-time employment that do not pay them living wages, thereby preventing them from sustaining themselves and their families, in ways that are adequate enough as to allowing them to provide for basic needs, such as food, shelter, and medical expenses. This failed policy, added to the financial crash of 2008, has sent millions of Americans in search of nutritional subsidies through the commonly known Food Stamp program or SNAP. The consequences of Clinton’s dismantling of the welfare program may not have been felt at first, given President Clinton’s expansion of the earned-income tax credit and the low unemployment rate during Clinton’s eight years in office.

But the data released this week from various research studies on economic inequality, including data on poverty from the Census Bureau figures are shocking. The consumer index and data statistics showed that the top 10 percent of earners saw a 34% gain in their income, while the bottom 90% saw a gain of 0.4% in earning. While some argue that capitalism is not a zero-some game where what goes to one necessarily comes from another, and that income equality will not derive from distributing smaller pieces of the pie but by growing the pie to provide for more slices to be distributed to more people, the U.S. and the world’s economy today may be operating more on trickle-down than capitalism. Trickle-down economy, which was more precisely defined and widely practiced by Ronald Reagan provides for the government to facilitate earning by top earners relying on those top-earners to use a portion of their gains to invest in the economy, thereby benefiting those at the bottom by default through new investment. As an economic model trickle-down has failed miserably in two decades of implementation under Presidents Reagan, George H. Walker Bush, and President George W. Bush, leaving tens of millions of Americans living in economic distress, insecurity, poverty, hunger, and sometimes, abject destitution.

In an article in the Institute for Faith – Work and Economics, Jay W. Richards attempted to salvage what is left of the image of free enterprise as a socially fair and just economic model.

“Greed, miserliness, and hoarding are rightly condemned in scripture [he wrote], but the greedy, the misers, and the hoarders [Edit], these are the stereotypes of free enterprise. The real men and women who live out the entrepreneurial vocation are often far different from these caricatures. They save, they serve, and they take principled risk. This is the essence of free enterprise, not greed.”

The truth is, these characteristics are not mere stereotypes when describing today’s vulture-like model of free enterprise as it is practiced by modern capitalists. Today’s free enterprise in the context of the capitalist society is based fundamentally on greed, hoarding, extreme individualism bordering on selfish gluttony, and everything that goes against the teachings of Christ and his Church. This spirit has become pervasive in the U.S. government with the dominance of the House of Representatives by Tea Party Republicans.

The following are just a sample of the insidious quotes made by Congressional Republicans, using Bible passages to justify the decimation of food stamp and why the government should pursue policies that take food away from the poor, the weak, and the hungry, while continuing subsidies, tax cuts, and loophole for the rich and large corporations:

Rep. Senator Owen HatchSenator Orrin Hatch states “I think it’s abysmal 51% of Americans do not pay income taxes.

Congressman Kevin Cramer (R-N. Dakota)  Congressman Kevin Cramer on Facebook: “2 Thessalonians 3:10 English Standard Version (ESV) 10: For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” [Nothdecoder.com]

Congressman Stephen Lee FincherCongressman Stephen Lee Fincher: from the Book of Thessalonians: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Representative Fincher happens to be the second largest recipient of farm subsidies in the United States Congress. [Rick Ungar - Forbe]

Photo_Minnesota Public Radio
Tea Party House Representative Michelle BachmannCongresswoman Michelle Bachmann: “Our nation needs to stop doing for people what they can and should do for themselves. Self- reliance means, if anyone will not work, neither should he eat.” [addictinginfo.org]
It is economic journalist, Henry Hazlitt, as quoted by Richards, who captured the contour of the problems that have helped to perpetuate poverty; the lack of moral, compassion, and the short-sightedness of law and policy-makers to advance policies that can benefit the population at large, thus advance social and economic equality. To that effect, Hazlitt said,

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” 
This week, Pope Francis put the matter to bed for those Republicans who seem confused about their religion, Bible passages, and Jesus’ parables. In his first “Evangelii Gaudium”  (an 84-page long document) or The Joy of the Gospel, the Pontiff exhorted the world to Catholic values; He wrote:

"Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."

The Pope’s admonishment was published almost simultaneously with multiple scientific researches that showed the devastating and long-term effects of poverty on people, particularly children. In addition to the severe impact and the risks that poverty poses to those at the bottom of the economic ladder, researchers have found that rather than being a factor of individual behavior, morality, or traits, poverty is the net result of the economic inequality that has been almost entrenched in an unbreakable social stratum. In this respect, poverty is at once, both oppressive and pervasive. Contrary to old beliefs and myths that poorer people have lower IQ, poorer judgment, or are lazy, researchers have found that it is, in fact, poverty that hinders some of those higher levels of thinking that people need to function effectively in a complex social structure. Poverty and the minute-by-minute struggle for survival and the struggle for basic human necessities, they found, consume so much of those high cerebral functions nestled in the frontal cortex of the brain that poorer people are left with little ability and brain power to spend on concentration, patience, cognitive tasking, focus, and reasoning outside of money factors. That has led the researchers to conclude that “All the data shows it isn't about poor people, it’s about people who happen to be in poverty. All the data suggests it is not the person, it's the context they inhabit [Edit].” 

The implications of this study are far-reaching and immense in the arena of policy making and the implementation of programs that can effectively lift people out of poverty. For instance, No one knows what poor people need to survive or to improve their lives than poor people. The fact that a person who is poor does not take the effective steps that can get help to lift that person out of poverty, such as education, training, and know-how. is more a factor of resources that it relates to a lack of recognition on the part of the individual of what it will take to break the cycle of poverty. And most poor people, many of whom happen to be children, are not poor because they are alcoholics, immoral, criminal, or drug addicts. Poor people know best what they need to survive, and will use any money they have to meet their basic and immediate needs. A poor family who cannot pay the rent does not need donations of clothes, shoes, or other items of the sort, which may not prevent them from being evicted and being out in the cold. Even a household with food, clothing, and other basic items, needs cash to survive. In a logical world, government would use this data to structure anti-poverty programs to win at least one war since World War II, the war on poverty. After all, the United States considers itself the world’s wealthiest country, greatest power, “exceptional” nation. So, let that “exceptionalism” be put into practice to uplift those who have been left behind due to the actions of others. This is one area that new and innovative thinking, as much as comprehensive actions and immediate attention. If approached earnestly and seriously, without the indignity, stereotyping, and the usual humiliation toward the poor, success in reducing poverty could have a domino effect, which could help improve the broken and disreputable criminal justice system, and education,  and could further heal many of other social injustices that continue to plague America through the 21 century.

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Sources - References & Information Links
Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Jiaying Zhao