By Peter Edelman a law professor at Georgetown University, co-director of the University’s Joint Degree in Law and Public Policy, and Faculty Director for the school’s Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy. Edelman is also the chair of the American Constitution Society’s Board of Directors, and will be signing copies of his book at the ACS National Convention next week.
It’s never hard to find a policy hook to discuss poverty in the United States, but one we have just now is the recent budget for FY 2013 proposed by Paul Ryan and the House Republicans which proposes to slash virtually every program that helps low-income people in our country. My new book is called So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in the United States. Paul Ryan and colleagues are definitely a policy hook for talking about my book.
I could just say that people like Paul Ryan and the House Republicans are the reason why it’s so hard to end poverty in our nation. That’s not wrong, but the story is much more complicated than that. We have a long list of successful programs without which we’d have 40 million additional people in poverty over and above the 46 million we have now. Don’t let anybody tell you that nothing works. Paul Ryan’s line is that if we have 46 million people in poverty now, it’s because the programs are a failure – because social security, food stamps, the earned income tax credit, housing vouchers, and Medicare and Medicaid are failures. And some people – all too many -- take him seriously.
No, we have 46 million people in poverty and tens of millions more struggling every day to make ends meet for other reasons. There are two problems here, actually: the millions who work as hard as they can and can’t get out of poverty or near-poverty, and the smaller (but not small) group who are virtually destitute, with incomes below half the poverty line, or below $9,000 for a family of three. The first group – whose basic problem is the huge number of low-wage jobs now extant in our economy – now constitutes a third of the population, 103 million people who have incomes below twice the poverty line (below $36,000 for a family of three). The second – those in deep poverty – now number 20.5 million, up by almost 8 million since 2000. Both numbers are staggering, each in its own way.