Nice report done by the Seattle Times. How do we as a nation crack down on poverty? What is the criminal justice role?
In a rare burst of positive news for America's hard-put poor families, 15 states have set up bipartisan commissions to see how to narrow the yawning income gaps that leave so many Americans in destitution.
The advent of the commissions and serious studies — ordered up in states from Maine to Washington, Alabama to Colorado — is good news. It's true, legislatures have struggled with welfare and Medicaid issues for years. But not gladly.
In the meantime, the nationwide poverty rate has stalled around 11 percent or 12 percent for years — and that's for a family of four with income under the federally set line, now $21,200 a year. (Try living on that — a reasonable minimum for food, shelter and clothing needs would be closer to $30,000.)
Poverty places a huge drag on the economic output and productivity of states and communities. Poor health, substandard housing, mental stress, employment crises, teenage pregnancy, low literacy and the added likelihood of arrest and imprisonment all appear to be part of a misery package that hits poor populations far more heavily than the rest of us.
The results for children are especially alarming. A recent study shows that those who spend their first five years in poverty will (compared to a middle-class child) face daunting odds — first lagging school performance and then, as adults, less income, poorer health and higher psychological stress. Girls growing up poor are five times more likely to be a teen parent; boys are more than twice as likely, after reaching adulthood, to be arrested.
Small wonder that by some estimates, childhood poverty is draining a massive $500 billion a year out of the U.S. economy. State and local governments can hardly not care: They're then saddled with vastly increased welfare, health, social services, criminal-justice costs — plus incredible amounts of lost income.
So what's to be done? What should the 15 state commissions (and how about the other 35) recommend?
First and most obvious, get more money into the pockets of the poor. Even with full-time, minimum-wage employment, many of our poor subsist "on the edge." Often, rent costs more than half their income. A single illness, an unexpected car repair or rent increase can throw them into full-scale crisis.Seattle Times