“Hunger and Poverty in America” 60 Minutes Segment

A friend told me about this 60 Minute segment dealing with Hunger and Poverty in the midst of this hard economic time.  (This video was March 2011.) Here are some statistics they presented:

  • “Poverty” is considered a family of four making less than $22,000/year.
  • Currently, an estimated 25% of children are included in this statistic.
  • 14 million children were in poverty before “The Great Recession.” Now, there are 16 million now – an increase of two million children in two years.
  • In this research, the government also includes those living in temporary housing (such as a motel) in the “homeless” category.
  • They say this generation of children will be the “…largest American generation to be raised in hard times since the great depression.”
  • One of the kids talks about the things he lost when their home was foreclosed on and includes his: “…scooter, game system, games, my clothes…”

Of course, the families interviewed in this segment were families who were suffering the most: no job, living in their van, trying to get work but can’t find any, families living seperately with other relatives.  One man interviewed took to holding up a sign on the street – not for money, but for work.  (As a result, he eventually found a full-time job.)  These were heart-breaking situations.

I am extremely sympathetic to families that are living in these types of situations.  Unfortunately, the solution in the minds of many in our country is MORE government assistance, MORE welfare programs, and “more jobs” (which usually can be interpreted to mean the government should make more work for people).  I have several problems with these types of stories:

The Worst of the Worst

The families that are interviewed are the ones who are at the very low end of even the tragic statistics reported.  According to this article, many people who are considered “in poverty” are actually living this way [emphasis mine]:

As scholar James Q. Wilson has stated, “The poorest Americans today live a better life than all but the richest persons a hundred years ago.” In 2005, the typical household defined as poor by the government had a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR. If there were children, especially boys, in the home, the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or a PlayStation. In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave. Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker.

Am I saying that there aren’t people who are truly suffering? No. But “suffering” occurs far less than these statistics claim.

Who Should Fix It?

The traditional stereotype says that “Democrats are Compassionate” and “Republicans are Cruel.”  That is because Republics (in general) want fewer government-assistance programs, fewer “shovel-ready jobs,” and more emphasis put on small business and people working their way out of their situations on their own (or at least with help from individuals and churches, not government).

(There is a third side to this debate – Libertarians or Independents – but since this isn’t primarily a political post, I won’t get into that.)

So, who’s at fault, who’s responsible? Who should fix it?  And who shouldn’t?

The Easy Way Out

Finally, I’d like to explore what that means for (lower) middle-class families like ours who have the resources to live sufficiently but can see (some months) how quickly the drop to “poverty” could be.  It’s sometimes tempting to take the “easy way out” – which could mean anything from bankruptcy to welfare assistance to any other number of programs we could take advantage of – if we weren’t working.

Are we seriously considering this? Not at all. But on the hard days, it’s tempting…

Instead, we’re choosing to work hard.  “Work hard” doesn’t necessarily mean “go to a paying job” (though that is definitely involved). For us, it means:

  • Making hard choices
  • Sacrificing “needs” which later turn out to be “wants”. (Cable, music subscriptions like Spotify, downgrading internet packages…)
  • Sometimes sacrifices “needs” which are actually needs, but managing to muddle through without them for a while. (Downsizing to one car, for example.)
  • Selling things that have sentimental value (like Chris Botti tickets or cars we’ve invested time and energy into).

There are other things that are “hard” in this getting out of debt journey; these are just a few.

Things happen that are beyond our control sometimes, and the results of those can be tragic and difficult for many families. But for the things that are in our control, we should accept the consequences of our choices (high credit card bills, mortgages that are more than we can afford) and change our behaviors to find the solutions.

What do you think? Am I underestimating the devastation of poverty in this country? Should the government get involved more? Or should we put more responsibility on individuals?

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