The Poverty News Round Up is getting a new look for the new year. Instead of featuring five news stories and scripture each week, we’ll focus on one event from the week ahead and one event from last week. We’ll also link to one or two top opinion and/or feature stories that don’t fit our weekly focus, as well as provide scriptural commentary. If you have a story or event you’d like to see included in the poverty news round up, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The week ahead:
This week is marked by the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty. Wednesday, Jan. 8th, is 50 years from the State of the Union Address in which Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty (full text and audio). It’s sure to be marked by an emphasis on the ongoing debate over whether or not we won the war on poverty.
There are two very important things to keep in mind as you read and hear about the war on poverty. First, the correct comparison is not between the poverty rate in 1964 (19%) and the poverty rate today (15%). The correct comparison is between the poverty rate today, and the poverty rate today in an alternate reality where the war on poverty never happened (??%). The basic problem with evaluating all social programs is that we can never truly know what would have happened without them. (On an individual program level over a shorter time period we have some fairly decent methods we can use to see if the program is effective, but estimating the overall impact of the war on poverty is extremely difficult, or perhaps even impossible).
Second, there are a lot of problems with the way we measure poverty. We use an income-based measure, but we don’t count things like housing vouchers as part of income. So anti-poverty programs that don’t give cash (and most of them don’t) may make people better off in ways we care about, but never actually show up as reducing the poverty rate simply because they are not included in our (flawed) measure of poverty.
Long-term unemployment benefits have expired, leaving 1.3 million people without benefits and 4.9 million with fewer benefits than they would have gotten. The worst part is that far from encouraging work, getting rid of unemployment benefits actually causes people to give up on work altogether. Evan Soltas reviews the evidence from North Carolina, which cut off its benefits early, thus giving us a preview of what awaits the nation. His key finding:
Cutting unemployment insurance apparently hasn’t encouraged the unemployed to look harder for work: It has caused them to drop out of the labor force altogether.
To get unemployment insurance, you have to actively search for work and prove that you’re doing so. The drop in the labor force suggests that this incentive was effective. Without it, more people just give up.
By the way, people dropping out of the labor force does make the unemployment rate go down, but not in the way we want it too. Don’t be mislead by someone who just looks at the headline numbers and concludes that reducing unemployment benefits reduces unemployment. We need an increase in jobs, not an increase in people who have given up on ever finding one.
Top Opinion and Feature:
1. The New York Times has an excellent interactive map of poverty in the U.S.
2. Mike Konczal takes a look at the impact of the minimum wage not on job creation, but on overall levels of poverty. His findings hold true across multiple studies, including those by minimum wage opponents:
…raising the minimum wage 10 percent (say from $7.25 to near $8) would reduce the number of people living in poverty 2.4 percent. (For those who thrive on jargon, the minimum wage has an “elasticity” of -0.24 when it comes to poverty reduction.)
Using this as an estimate, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as many Democrats are proposing in 2014, would reduce the number of people living in poverty by 4.6 million. It would also boost the incomes of those at the 10th percentile by $1,700. That’s a significant increase in the quality of life for our worst off that doesn’t require the government to tax and spend a single additional dollar.
In the Psalm of the week we hear about the expectations of good governance. The rulers (in those days the King) was expected to defend the cause of the poor and deliver the needy from their oppression. Thousands of years later we still pray for the same thing. Psalm 72:
72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
72:3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
72:5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
72:6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
72:7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
72:10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.
72:11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.
72:12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
72:13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
72:14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.
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