Articles Posted in Poverty

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On September 12, 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report on poverty and earnings in America, emphasizing the major issues facing many Americans. The data showed that 39.7 million Americans lived in poverty in 2017, comprising 12.3% of all Americans, down 0.4% from 12.7% in 2016. The report also showed that the U.S. poverty rate has decreased since 2010, when it hit a high of 15.1%, and has now returned to the rate from before the Great Recession. The median household income in 2017 was $61,372, a 1.8% increase from the median income in 2016 ($60,309).   

The report also showed the number of Americans with disabilities between the ages of 18-64 living in poverty. In 2017, 3.8 million people or 24.9% of those with disabilities lived in poverty, a slight decrease from from 4.1 million people or 26.8% in 2016. This comes in strong contrast to the 10.1% of individuals between the ages of 18-64 without disabilities living in poverty in 2017. This emphasizes the major barriers to employment for many individuals with disabilities face, as well as some people who are not able to work due to the nature of their disabilities.

Poverty rates also vary by age. In 2017, 17.5% of children lived below the poverty line. The rate for those 65 and over has also fluctuated over time. Amongst individuals 65 and older, poverty fell from the 1960s to the 1990s, primarily because of the expansion of Social Security benefits during this time period. Between 2016 and 2017, the poverty rate for those 65 and older, as well as for those 17 and younger, did not statistically change.

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Georgia does not require employers to provide for paid sick leave.  Paid sick leave is not only important for an individual’s health, but also for one’s financial security.  There are 34.2 million employees in the private sector in America without paid sick benefits. This not only affects the health of these individuals, but also their likelihood of living in poverty. Those without paid sick leave are three times more likely to be living below the poverty line, according to research from Florida Atlantic and Cleveland State University. Vicki Shabo, vice president at National Partnerships for Women & Families, argues that when employees choose to take unpaid sick leave, “they lose money that goes towards groceries, transportation and health care expenses.”

How should employees without paid sick leave protect themselves?   If you are at or below the poverty line, you should take advantage of any government benefit programs available to you, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program.  If you are above the poverty line, working, and have some disposable income, you should consider purchasing disability insurance.  This  can protect you from financial struggles resulting from an unexpected illness or accident.  Financial advisors usually recommend setting aside three months of income for unexpected economic downturns.  While setting aside three months of income may seem difficult, a second job may allow you to accomplish this.

While employees can negotiate for better benefits from their employer, absent a collective bargaining agreement (usually negotiated by unions), employees do not have much leverage.  If this method is not an option, employees can look into new job opportunities. With a growing economy, there may be a job with similar wages and skills required that offers benefits that could make a huge difference in the long-run.

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In Georgia, there are various programs that help people living in poverty.  These programs include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Head Start, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). SNAP is a program that provides low-income households with food stamps to help pay for the cost of food. In order to be eligible for SNAP in Georgia, you must be a resident of the state and have a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) of under $3,001 if you share your household with a person with a disability or person over age 60. If you do not fit into these categories, your bank balance must be under $2,001. You must also have an annual household income (before taxes) below a certain amount (for example, no more than $32,630 for a family of 4).

Another program supporting low-income families is TANF, which provides temporary assistance to families. This program has four goals, which includes giving families support and job preparation.  In order to be eligible for TANF, you must be a US citizen, national, legal alien, or permanent resident, and also have a low income. For example, a family of three must have an income of less than $784/month to qualify for TANF. The amount of cash benefit this program provides depends on the county you live in and your family’s income.  However, there is a five year lifetime limit on TANF benefits.

Head Start, a federal program, educates and supports infants and children up to five years old in families with incomes under the national poverty level. Head Start programs enhance young children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and work to prepare them for success in school. There are also some Early Head Start programs which support pregnant women and babies living in poverty. The maximum income eligibility for Head Start depends on your household size. However, there are groups eligible for Head Start programs regardless of income including:

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The United Nations (UN) completed a study of poverty in the United States in December 2017. This UN report included data from visits to Alabama, California, Georgia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

More than 5 million Americans live in “absolute poverty,” a term which refers to Americans living in third world conditions. According to the U.S. census, more than 40 million Americans live in poverty. Safehouse Outreach, an organization that assists people facing homelessness, reports an increase in the number of people underemployed over the last few years despite decreasing unemployment rates.  At least 40% of Safehouse Outreach’s clients are holding 2-3 jobs and still struggle to pay their rent. The UN report also showed that America has the highest child mortality and child poverty rate in the developed world.  Forty-six million Americans depend on food banks, which is 30% above the levels in 2007, according to Feeding America.  Many of the people living in poverty were either born into poverty or had become disadvantaged due to circumstances beyond their control — such as disability, divorce, illness, or old age.

In Georgia, over 1.6 million individuals are living in poverty.  The Center for American Progress, defines poverty as a family of four who earn less than $24,340 annually. Overall, this means that 16% of Georgians in 2016 were living in poverty.  However, 22.6% of Georgia’s children live in poverty, making Georgia rank 41st in America for poverty. Income inequality is also very high.  Income inequality is measured by the ratio of income going to the top 20% of households against the bottom 20% of households.  Georgia ranks 39th of all states in higher percentages of  income inequality.   In addition to poverty, Georgians are the most uninsured residents of any state, other than Texas.  The most recent healthcare data shows that 26.5% of Georgians under age 65 and also low income do not have health insurance.