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Lovie Luckie
Professor Vyvial
English 1302
April 17, 2017
Poverty in America

If someone would like to better understand the U.S. economy, try looking deeper into the

poverty rate. According to recent data and statistics posted by the U.S. Census Bureau,

approximately 43.1 million which translates to 13.5% of Americans live in poverty (Proctor, et

al). When posed with the question of what exactly is poverty, you will get a few explanations.

Some individuals describe poverty as the state of being extremely poor, while others feel it is the

inability to maintain the basic necessities in life such as food, clothing, and shelter. Either way

poverty is viewed, there has been several debates about the opportunity gap, the direct effects on

children, and whether raising the minimum wage would ease the burden.

There are great disparities between income levels of the rich and poor. While the rich are

continuously advancing, the poor has become poorer, all while the middle-class carries the

weight of stabilizing the economy. Understanding the causes and effects could be the first step in

offering solutions to significantly minimize the number of individuals affected by poverty, but

this is something that many believe will never happen. This claim may be the case, but do those

individuals stricken by poverty deserve anything less than what America, the land of opportunity


Robert Putnam, a Harvard political scientist, warns of several reasons why poverty exists

in an article, “The Terrible Loneliness of Growing Up Poor In Robert Putnam’s America.” The

basis for this article originated from his two books “Our Kids” and “Bowling Alone,” where he
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discusses the “opportunity gap[s]” and the long-term effects on our society. Putnam starts off

speaking of the opportunities that exists between educated people with something as simple as

hearing a nighttime story versus children growing up in poverty never having that experience.

Putnam’s research revealed when individuals grow up in single parent households, they decided

not to pursue any formal education beyond high school (See Fig. 1). Further, he noticed a

decline of involved individuals like those volunteering in the PTA, and spoke of “Americans

withdrawing from each other and civil life.” As a result of the withdrawal, children have less

mentors or positive role models to follow. He mentioned that children were able to count on

their teachers in the past, but this is no longer the case. Sadly, that more and more children are

navigating through “life without coaches, pastors, tutors, friend’s parents, counselors, neighbors,

community groups, parent’s co-works and family friends” (Badger) causing them to feel lonely

and abandoned.

Fig. 1 – People living in a single-parent home


Another discussion that is ongoing is how

poverty affects children. Because poverty

parents go without medical insurance due to

the high rates, sick children are either unable to seek medical care or receive substandard care.

The effects of not getting proper medical treatment causes children to miss more school because

of their illnesses. Further, this lack of medical treatment causes infants to sometimes be born

with problems such as low birth weights which is linked to several mental and physical
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disabilities. Mental illness is another area of concern when understanding how poverty affects

children. Parents of these children suffer more stress from everyday issues such as depression,

joblessness and eviction. Having more stress because of financial uncertainties, children of

poverty suffer more physical and mental abuse at the hands of their parents. It is common that

stressful households experience more violence than other households. Not only is physical and

mental illness a concern, think of the increasing amounts of homeless children. It is a well-

known fact that poverty causes homelessness. Another area of focus is the proper nutrition of

homeless children. “Nutrition-related health problems that are especially common among

homeless children include anemia; dental problems; and gastrointestinal complaints, including

diarrhea and asymptomatic enteric infections. Compared with housed children, homeless

children have more gastrointestinal ailments, dental problems, nutritional deficiencies, and lead

poisoning.” (Wiecha 370).

Understanding that poverty should be a leading discussion among U.S. leaders, former

President Obama recently commented, as it related to children, that we should all be concerned.

He said, “But the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty because she lacks a

decent education or health care, or a community that views her future as their own, that should

offend all of us” (Putnam). One solution to combat poverty during his term was to increase the

federal minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. Some people questioned whether the increase was

enough or would make any changes for people experiencing poverty. For supporters, the

increase eliminated an additional tax or funding on behalf of government. With the increase, the

effect would be that some individuals may not require other government programs such as SNAP

(food stamps), Medicaid, Medicare or the Earned Income Tax Credit. Experts differ in their

beliefs that the solution to poverty is to raise the minimum wage rate. Most agree that raising the
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rate does reduce levels of poverty, but well-known University of Massachusetts economist

Arindrajit Dube (on leave at MIT) disagrees. He argues that when used, different variables,

wage elasticities, and other considerations could increase poverty in America. Along with other

economists, research evidences that a higher minimum wage will have no impact on the median

household and will not have any effect on poverty or the economy. It is argued that higher wages

will “come at the expense of reduced expenditures for labor and capital goods elsewhere in the

economic systems, which must result in more unemployment” (Kanopiadmin).

It is obvious that people of poverty experience several battles. They must constantly fight

people with the belief that they are the root of their own destruction because of their mindset.

Some Americans feels that the poor cause their own poor because they have little concern for the

future, have behaviors they refuse to change, prefer the easy route of being on government

assistance, or it is simply a generation curse. Either way, poverty needs to be addressed for this

inferior, hopeless, and powerless group.
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Works Cited

Badger, Emily. "The Terrible Loneliness of Growing up Poor in Robert Putnam’s America." The

Washington Post. WP Company, 06 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

Kanopiadmin. “How Minimum Wage Laws Increase Poverty.” Mises Institute. Mises Institute

Publications, 02 Apr. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

Proctor, Bernadette D., Semega, Jessica L., Kollar, Melissa A. "Library." Income and Poverty in

the United States: 2015. U. S. Census Bureau, 13 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

Wiecha, J. L., J. T. Dwyer, and M. Dunn-Strohecker. “Nutrition and Health Services Needs


the Homeless.” Public Health Reports 106.4 (1991): 364–374. Print.