Poverty can be defined as a state of deprivation where one lacks the basic necessities of life. This limits one’s ability to live an average life that is evident in access to education, sanitation and healthcare, food, shelter, security and clean water. The latest National Poverty Report (NPR) shows that approximately 30% of the American populations live in poverty (Hoynes, Page and Stevens 59). In 2011, the United States Census Bureau revealed that the poverty rate in America rose to 15.1% which translates to approximately 46.2 million people (Rank 17-18). This was an increase from 14.3%, which are approximately 43.6 million people in the year 2009 (Rank 49). The poverty levels fell between 1993-2000 reaching 11.3 percent in the year 2000.These statistics indicate rise in the levels of poverty levels in America (The Economic Collapse 2011).
The rising level of poverty rates in America is a cause for alarm among the economists and other social scientists perhaps due to its socioeconomic implications. These specialists have therefore devoted their minds and intellectual effort to account for this phenomenon. Among the reasons that have been advanced to explain the current state of affairs with regard to poverty in America is the continued shrink in the job opportunities in the United States of America (Iceland 70). Poverty in the United States is closely linked to the employment status of an individual. In 2007 for example, poverty rates in America was 21.5% for the people who were not employed compared to 2.5 % for those who were on full time employment. This statistics shows that the financial crunch that hit the world between the years 2007 to 2009 affected the U.S. economy and caused significant job losses resulting to the rise in poverty levels in the United States (Iceland 72).
Another factor that is closely connected to poverty and employment in America is the increasing number of the working poor (The Economic Collapse 2011). Most jobs in the United States are low-income earning jobs. The high-income earning jobs are steadily declining as they get replaced by the low paying jobs. As a result, there are sections of the American population who are employed and really working hard yet life is still very unaffordable for them. The working poor cannot even afford to lead a middle class lifestyle due to the relatively low pay/income that they earn from their employments. Iceland (71) cited that on average, half of the American workers currently earn $505 or even less in a week. In the year 2011, approximately 19.7% of the U.S. adults had jobs where the pay could not be enough to support a family of four. Such families were still likely to remain within the poverty bracket even if their breadwinners worked hard throughout the year on a full time basis (Iceland 70-71).
The operation of the American political system is considered a factor in the process of unraveling the forces behind poverty in America. The political system is meant to address some of the challenges facing the poor American population. However, this system has failed to focus on the fundamental concerns of the American poor (Rank 169). Instead other concerns have been given priority. For example, the expense incurred by the tax payer for military and security is very huge. The American government spends half of the federal government discretionary expenditures. This is a very big percentage when compared to what is spent to assist the sections of the population living in abject poverty (Hoynes et al, 49). The corporations that are run by the rich have managed to achieve their priorities in terms of business expansion and liberalization to the benefit of a few private business owners. These include tax breaks, subsidies and other interests. As a result, the rich continue to be richer as the poor become poorer. Reef (267) cited that when these political realities are added to the historical culture of inequality that has been in America, poverty becomes more pronounced and real. This is because inequality causes segregation by race and income.
Effort has been made to solve the problem of poverty in America. This is through the formulation of programs such as minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Temporary Assistance to the Needy Families (TANF) programs (Iceland 118). The minimum wage program outlines what can be paid to an employee by firms as a wage for the work done. Currently, the minimum wage for an American employee is $7.25 per hour. However, this program is limited by the inflationary forces since it is not based on inflationary changes. On the other hand, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a process through which low income families are able to receive income supplements by filing a tax return (Lawson and Lawson 45). This is meant to encourage and reward people for the work done. This program reduces poverty by supplementing the income earned by the minimum-wage workers. The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) is meant to provide block grants for the state to provide assistance to needy families in poverty. These programs have tended to deal with poverty in America though their levels of success still need evaluation.
In conclusion, poverty rates in America have been under-estimated. The programs and policies that have been developed to address this socioeconomic menace have not been very successful. As a result many people, men, women and children are still living in abject poverty. Therefore more objective evaluation of the programs targeting poverty reduction should be done to inform strategic programming towards addressing the phenomenon. Besides, the federal government needs to consider formulating and developing more strategic programs that give priority to sustainable solutions to the problem of poverty in America.