Category Archives: Poverty

Unaffordable America: Poverty, housing, and eviction

Source: Matthew Desmond, Institute for Research on Poverty, Fast Focus No. 22-2015, March 2015

Matthew Desmond explores the crisis faced by poor families in finding and maintaining affordable housing in this Fast Focus brief. Drawing from his own extensive ethnographic and quantitative research, Desmond outlines the trends that led to the current situation: rising housing costs, stagnant or falling incomes among the poor, and a shortfall of federal housing assistance. As a result of these trends, most poor renting families now devote over half of their income to housing costs, and eviction has become commonplace in low-income communities. Poor single mothers with young children, particularly African Americans, are at especially high risk of eviction. Desmond reviews the consequences of eviction—for parents, children, and neighborhoods—and concludes with suggested policy remedies and a call to pull housing back to the center of the poverty debate.

Childhood Food Insecurity in the U.S.: Trends, Causes, and Policy Options

Source: Craig Gundersen James P. Ziliak, Future of Children, Research Report, Fall 2014

From the introduction:
In 2012, nearly 16 million U.S. children, or over one in five, lived in households that were food-insecure, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited access to food.” Even when we control for the effects of other factors correlated with poverty, these children are more likely than others to face a host of health problems, including but not limited to anemia, lower nutrient intake, cognitive problems, higher levels of aggression and anxiety, poorer general health, poorer oral health, and a higher risk of being hospitalized, having asthma, having some birth defects, or experiencing behavioral problems. Many government programs aim explicitly to reduce food insecurity, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the School Breakfast Program (SBP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). (Other social safety-net programs—for example, the Earned Income Tax Credit—can also help alleviate food insecurity by increasing household income.) The fact that food insecurity remains so high even though the government spent over $100 billion on the various federal food-assistance programs in fiscal year 2012 poses a significant policy challenge.

Food insecurity rates remain stubbornly high for a number of reasons. One is that we don’t fully understand what causes food insecurity or how food assistance and other programs can help alleviate it. Food insecurity has been researched extensively, and this research has helped policy makers and program administrators better address the problem.3 However, relatively little research has looked at what causes food insecurity among children in the first place, or the effectiveness of public policies, especially on more severe forms of food hardship.

In this policy report, we highlight new research that seeks to fill this gap. Much of this work comes from the Research Program on Childhood Hunger at the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research, which was underwritten by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

How Hungry is America? FRAC’s National, State and Local Index of Food Hardship

Source: Food Research and Action Center, April 2015

From the press release:
While Congress threatens huge cuts in funding for the country’s safety net programs that keep or lift people out of poverty, new data released today by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) show that millions of Americans still struggle to afford enough food for their households. How Hungry is America?, FRAC’s latest look at food hardship, finds that one in six Americans (17.2 percent) said in 2014 that there had been times over the past 12 months that they didn’t have enough money to buy food that they or their families needed.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

Source: James P. Ziliak, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), NBER Working Paper No. w21038, March 2015

From the abstract:
In this chapter I provide a brief history of the TANF program, including changes made as part of the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act. I then present a variety of program statistics, including trends in aggregate and state-level caseloads and spending, along with changes in the demographic composition of the program, especially the shift from adult with child cases to child-only cases. I also highlight the changing composition of spending on the program from cash assistance to in-kind assistance, and the challenges faced in documenting total (cash + in-kind) caseloads and spending. I follow this with a discussion of the behavioral issues surrounding TANF, including the four program goals and possible modifications as part of the 2014 reauthorization legislation, and then I provide a systematic review of the research evidence on whether those goals have been met.

The Working Poor Confound the Experts

Source: Peter Coy, Matthew Philips, Rich Miller, Bloomberg Businessweek, January 15, 2015

The left and the right alike have pounced on the drop in Americans’ labor force participation rate to score political points. The rate tied an almost 37-year low of 62.7 percent in December, according to data released on Jan. 9 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the poorest families are the least likely to be in the labor force.

So this factoid should come as a big surprise: Low-income families are the only ones whose participation rate has risen. The average for families in the lowest tenth of households by income rose by 11 percentage points over a 13-year period, to just under 44 percent. The participation rate of families in the top tenth of incomes fell by a little more than 3 percentage points, to just under 80 percent. To put it simply, the poor have been stepping forward while the rich have been stepping back.

These calculations were made by Nicolas Petrosky-Nadeau, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco who is on leave from Carnegie Mellon University. He dug up the new data in collaboration with Robert Hall, an economist at the Hoover Institution and Stanford University. Petrosky-Nadeau says he and Hall were surprised by what they found, as are other economists who have seen the numbers. …

….The research undermines the Democratic case that rapid economic growth is essential to alleviating poverty, because it makes labor markets so tight that employers have no choice but to hire people some would prefer to avoid, such as racial minorities, the long-term jobless, the handicapped, and ex-convicts…. The research also weakens the Republican case that the welfare state keeps people from working….

Fifty Years Later: From a War on Poverty to a War on the Poor

Source: Anna Maria Santiago, Social Problems, Volume 62 Issue 1, First published online: 18 March 2015
(subscription required)

From the introduction:
It was images of poor families taken in rural Appalachia by photographers Billy Barnes, John Dominis, and Andrew Stern, coupled with the writings of The New York Times journalist Homer Bigart and seminal books by scholars Michael Harrington (The Other America [1962]) and John Galbraith (The Affluent Society [{1958}1998]) that brought poverty to light as a major social problem facing a relatively affluent America of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Concerned with expanding opportunities and increasing income for the 37 million Americans living in poverty at the time, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty on January 8, 1964, initiating a “new era of direct federal involvement in schools, hospitals, labor markets, and neighborhoods” (quoted in Bailey and Danziger 2013:1-3). The overarching goals of the War on Poverty were to: sustain high levels of employment; accelerate national and regional economic growth; improve labor markets; regenerate urban and rural communities; expand educational and training opportunities for youth as well as adults; advance the nation’s health; and expand support to the elderly and disabled (Bailey and Danziger 2013:7). To address these goals, Johnson worked with Congress to pass more than 200 pieces of legislation, resulting in the largest expansion of social safety net programs in U.S. history. This legislation created the Medicaid and Medicare programs providing health care to low-income people and the elderly; expanded the Head Start early education program; increased funding for K-12 and postsecondary education; established Food Stamps (currently known as SNAP) and other school and community-based nutrition programs; …

Low-Income Working Families: The Racial/Ethnic Divide

Source: Deborah Povich, Brandon Roberts and Mark Mather, Working Poor Families Project, Policy Brief, Winter 2014-2015

A new report by The Working Poor Families Project examines the large and growing economic divide among America’s 32.6 million working families, with whites and Asians at the top and other racial/ethnic groups—particularly blacks and Latinos—falling behind. In 2013, there were 10.6 million low-income working families in America—racial/ethnic minorities constitute 58 percent of this group, despite only making up 40 percent of all working families nationwide. In addition, working families headed by racial/ethnic minorities were twice as likely to be poor or low-income (47 percent) compared with non-Hispanic whites (23 percent)—a gap that has increased since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007. There are significant state and regional variations in the economic well-being of minority working families as well. The report calls on state policy leaders to address this economic divide, offering policy recommendations that address these inequalities, improve conditions for millions of lower-income parents and their children and promote economic growth.

Measuring Access to Opportunity in the United States

Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot, February 2015

From the abstract:
This KIDS COUNT data snapshot illustrates how outdated methods measuring poverty in the United States are giving an inaccurate picture of how families are really faring and what public programs are actually working. The brief introduces the more accurate Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) and shows how government programs affect state poverty rates. Recommendations on targeting families in need give policymakers input on implementing efficient and cost-effective public programs.

Paying the Price: How Poverty Wages Undermine Home Care in America

Source: Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), February 2015

From the abstract:
Examines the need to improve home care wages and benefits in order to stabilize the workforce and ensure quality of care. Includes data/charts, worker stories, and profiles of states and organizations investing in the workforce.
Press release
Blog post

Reaching Those in Need: Estimates of State Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates in 2012

Source: Karen E. Cunnyngham, United States Department of Agriculture, February 2015

From the abstract:
This report – part of an annual series – presents estimates of the percentage of eligible persons, by State, who participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during an average month in fiscal year 2012 and in the two previous fiscal years. This report also presents estimates of State participation rates for eligible “working poor” individuals (people in eligible households with earnings) over the same period.