U.S.: More Kids in Extreme Poverty

Chiang Ching ChiangChing at alltel.net
Tue May 13 21:22:37 MDT 2003

U.S.: More Kids in Extreme Poverty

Revolutionary Worker #1199, May 18, 2003, posted at http://rwor.org

In 1996 this country's ruling class, led by Bill Clinton, pulled the rug
out from under the poorest of the poor by declaring "the end of welfare
as we know it." This cold-blooded measure denied the most basic help to
those who have nothing. The government's cruel message to millions was
"Sink or swim."

In 2002 George W. Bush praised Clinton's "welfare reform," saying that
it "dramatically improved" the lives of poor people.

Now, in 2003, a new report has revealed one devastating effect of the
government's assault on the welfare poor. Almost 1 million Black
children today live in "extreme poverty"--in families who have incomes
that are less than half the official poverty level .

According to a report issued in April by the Children's Defense Fund,
the number of extremely poor Black children has risen sharply in recent
years and is now at its highest level since 1980. Households in "extreme
poverty" are defined as those with incomes of less than $7,064 for a
three-person family (half the official poverty level of $14,128).

The number of Black children in extreme poverty shot up 50% from 1999 to
2001 (the last year for which figures are available). In the same
period, the number of Latino children in extreme poverty rose 13% to
733,000. White children in the same group increased 2 percent to 1.8

Think about this. In this so-called "land of opportunity," millions of
kids are living in families that are not just poor but desperately poor
. At the same time, the government funnels hundreds of billions of
dollars into well-connected military corporations and the Pentagon's
worldwide war machine.

In the U.S., 30% of African American children, 29% of Latino children,
and 13% of white children are officially considered as living in
poverty. Defenders of the government's policies say that the overall
poverty rate among Black children has shown some decrease in recent
years. But the Children's Defense Fund points out that those figures
"fail to show the record-breaking increase in extreme poverty among
those children." They note that their analysis "further shows that
safety nets for the worse-off families are being eroded by Bush
administration policies that cause fewer extremely poor children of all
races to receive cash and in-kind assistance."

One example of the slashing of the safety net is the fact that most
states have recently made cuts in, or added restrictions to, Medicaid,
the government health insurance program for the poor.

Almost half the states also have reduced childcare subsidies for poor
families during the past two years. These states have restricted
eligibility for childcare programs, stopped accepting new families, or
are charging more for childcare programs. This hits hard at families on
welfare and those who have recently left welfare, as well as low-income
working families.

The rise in extreme poverty among Black kids and children of other
nationalities is directly tied to the government's "welfare reform." The
director of the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia
University said, "There is no doubt that there are families that have
not been able to make the transition from welfare to work and are now
not receiving benefits. When these families lose benefits, their
children slip into extreme poverty."

Even before the recession hit, "welfare reform" meant intense hardships
for millions of people. Yet Bush claims these government policies have
"dramatically improved" people's lives.

Welfare rolls have dropped significantly all over the country--by more
than half since 1996. But at the same time, as documented by a report
from the Joyce Foundation last year, poverty has continued and even
deepened for many millions--both those who are still on welfare and for
many who were forced off welfare.

Many women have found themselves on a trip from welfare poverty with a
regular check to working poverty with no security at all. In the Joyce
study of Midwestern states, one-quarter of those who left welfare for
work had more than five employers, and many worked part-time. On
average, former recipients held jobs two-thirds of the time over the
previous three years. Nearly half of people who left welfare reported
being unable to pay bills, rent, buy clothes or purchase enough food.
Barely half (57%) still had a job two years later. Of those who had
jobs, only one-third got health care benefits with the job. In other
words, women who had been able to care for their kids while on welfare
now bounce from one underpaid, temporary job to another--still not
making ends meet, but now unable to make sure their kids are cared for.

A study of a welfare-to-work program in Connecticut last year found that
close to 3% of participants became homeless after two years--a higher
rate of homelessness than in the old welfare program.

Many of the people still on welfare are working part-time--32% in 1999.
Their wages are criminally low, averaging a median hourly wage of $6.65.
For those off welfare it is even worse--their median wage is $7.15. But
because these workers now often have fewer supplemental benefits (no
insurance, no food stamps), their poverty is even more harsh, and their
lives are even more insecure. There are now as many as 8.5 million
children in the United States without health care coverage, and over 80%
of these children have parents who hold jobs.

Women moving from welfare to work suffer twice the rate of clinical
depression--two in every five-- compared to the general population.

Many who left welfare for jobs have been forced back onto
welfare--simply because they often had no way to pay for child care, or
because their wages simply could not cover food and shelter. By one
estimate, only 30 to 40% of former welfare recipients who become
unemployed will qualify for unemployment insurance.

Among those who left welfare from 1997, 22% were back on the rolls by
1999. The numbers of people forced onto welfare are now increasing in
the current recession, as the ranks of the unemployed swell. For the
first years of welfare reform, millions of people found minimum-wage
jobs because the economy expanded. But that's no longer the situation.
The poorest sections of the working class have been among the hardest
hit by the rise in unemployment--for example in the hotel and tourism
industries where many people found low-wage jobs. It is estimated that
the number of people needing welfare goes up 5 to 10% for every
percentage-point increase in the national unemployment rate.

But people newly forced back onto welfare or newly going on welfare now
find that there is a lifetime limit to benefits and sharply reduced
help. The weak protections that people once relied on in hard times are
now being shredded.

One in seven who left welfare in recent years now have no known income
at all. They are often trapped in dire situations--homelessness,
prostitution, and other desperate hustles within the illegal economy.
Hundreds of thousands of children live in households that now have no
visible income at all.

Some sharp questions are raised by this whole situation. How will the
sisters and brothers among the poorest of the poor survive? What kind of
a system drives millions of kids into a situation of "extreme" poverty?
Whose interests are those in government serving when they declare that
"welfare reform" is a "success"--while they wreck the lives of millions?
How long will this monstrous system be allowed to rule over us?

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