Fighting Poverty in the United States

Fighting Poverty in the United States

Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 31
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0969-2.ch005
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A major thread that runs through the fight against poverty in the United States is its connection between the history, values, and beliefs and interventions designed to combat poverty. Certain factors determine the characteristics of poverty in the United State of America: racial and ethnic discrimination, age, gender, residence, employment, inter-generational mobility, and immigration status. This chapter, therefore, seeks to examine the historical implications to poverty, the values and beliefs about poverty and the poor, legislative interventions, conceptual clarifications and poverty measures, realities of poverty in the contemporary United States, and potential policy solutions.
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Introduction And Background

The United States as one of the world’s richest countries. As measured by its gross domestic product (GDP) and purchasing power parity (PPP), the United States is the third richest country. The GDP represents the total market value of all goods and services produced within a year and is used as a measure to assess a nation’s standard of living. Purchasing power parity is a method of measuring the relative purchasing power of currencies from different countries for the same types of goods and services and is usually converted to U.S. dollar measurement (Leon-Guerrero, 2009).

The colonialism and economic history of United States speaks to the issue of poverty and the poor. Colonialism began along the eastern shore in the 1600s when both the Dutch and English settlers and merchants started the process of supplanting the established Native Americans. Native Americans lived in the North and were the first people to provide European immigrants with charity-donations of goods and services to the people in need in what later became the United States (Chapin, 2007). Major occupations were commerce, farming and industrialism In the South, slavery dominated the political economy and major occupations were sharecropping and tenant farming. Slavery and indentured servitude were tools of control of human labor to profit the ruling class and property of the owner by law. These were the nature of United States until the civil war ushered a new system of government in the colonies.

During the first half of the 19th century, the new nation expanded dramatically in size. Its population also grew as “large numbers of immigrants arrived from Europe, especially Ireland, Germany and Scandinavian countries” (Chapin, 2007, p. 37). With urbanization, new industries and massive immigration, the abundant natural resources provided many immigrants’ opportunities to escape poverty, but people in slavery and Native Americans remained oppressed... At the same time, the debate over slavery raised questions about the role of race in U.S. society and the federal government systematically removed Native Americans from desirable lands in the east.

The civil war (1861-1865) was fought to preserve the Union and to delineate states’ rights. Following the northern victory, human slave labor was abolished and changes were made to policies regarding the treatment of African Americans, the period immediately following the Civil War, known as Reconstruction, “witnessed some real progress in African American civil rights. During this period, the federal government passed legislation to assist primarily white families in purchasing lands in the west”, (Chapin, 2007, p.40).

However, the Settlement House Movement and the Progressive Era at the end of the 19th century ameliorated some of the economic injustices that plagued the new economy, creating minimum-wage and maximum-hour legislation for women and labor laws for children. During the 1920s, America witnessed prosperity and profits grew, but wages remained stagnant and inequality spread. Soon, the Great Depression occurred, creating a crisis of a depth and breadth never seen before. The 20th century ushered in important social policy initiatives, including child labor laws, women’s rights to vote, anti-discrimination laws, social security, Medicaid and Medicare legislation and public health and sanitation laws. However, many basic needs, such as health care, still go unmet for large members of Americans (Chapin, 2007).

The widespread poverty experienced during the Great Depression of the 1930s helped create a new consensus that supported establishment of many major health and social service policies and programs. However, support for such initiatives is now waning as universal healthcare and support for all children policies are yet to be enacted.

In response, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal created a set of social welfare programs to stabilize a society in chaos – social security, unemployment benefits, the works progress Administration. But the economy did not come back until World War II. Only then, with massive military mobilization, unprecedented wartime production and revolutionary technological breakthroughs, did the economy take off. Moreover, the social security Act was enacted in 1935, to protect benefits to retired workers. Subsequent amendment of Social Security Act brought about accommodation of survivor’s disability insurance and Aids to Families of Dependent Children (AFDC).

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