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RW: U.S.: More Kids In Extreme Poverty

U.S.: More Kids in Extreme Poverty
Revolutionary Worker #1199, May 18, 2003, posted at

In 1996 this country's ruling class, led by Bill Clinton, pulled the rug out from under the poorest of the poor by declaring "the end of welfare as we know it." This cold-blooded measure denied the most basic help to those who have nothing. The government's cruel message to millions was "Sink or swim."

In 2002 George W. Bush praised Clinton's "welfare reform," saying that it "dramatically improved" the lives of poor people.

Now, in 2003, a new report has revealed one devastating effect of the government's assault on the welfare poor. Almost 1 million Black children today live in "extreme poverty"--in families who have incomes that are less than half the official poverty level .

According to a report issued in April by the Children's Defense Fund, the number of extremely poor Black children has risen sharply in recent years and is now at its highest level since 1980. Households in "extreme poverty" are defined as those with incomes of less than $7,064 for a three-person family (half the official poverty level of $14,128).

The number of Black children in extreme poverty shot up 50% from 1999 to 2001 (the last year for which figures are available). In the same period, the number of Latino children in extreme poverty rose 13% to 733,000. White children in the same group increased 2 percent to 1.8 million.

Think about this. In this so-called "land of opportunity," millions of kids are living in families that are not just poor but desperately poor . At the same time, the government funnels hundreds of billions of dollars into well-connected military corporations and the Pentagon's worldwide war machine.

In the U.S., 30% of African American children, 29% of Latino children, and 13% of white children are officially considered as living in poverty. Defenders of the government's policies say that the overall poverty rate among Black children has shown some decrease in recent years. But the Children's Defense Fund points out that those figures "fail to show the record-breaking increase in extreme poverty among those children." They note that their analysis "further shows that safety nets for the worse-off families are being eroded by Bush administration policies that cause fewer extremely poor children of all races to receive cash and in-kind assistance."

One example of the slashing of the safety net is the fact that most states have recently made cuts in, or added restrictions to, Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor.

Almost half the states also have reduced childcare subsidies for poor families during the past two years. These states have restricted eligibility for childcare programs, stopped accepting new families, or are charging more for childcare programs. This hits hard at families on welfare and those who have recently left welfare, as well as low-income working families.

The rise in extreme poverty among Black kids and children of other nationalities is directly tied to the government's "welfare reform." The director of the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University said, "There is no doubt that there are families that have not been able to make the transition from welfare to work and are now not receiving benefits. When these families lose benefits, their children slip into extreme poverty."

Even before the recession hit, "welfare reform" meant intense hardships for millions of people. Yet Bush claims these government policies have "dramatically improved" people's lives.

Welfare rolls have dropped significantly all over the country--by more than half since 1996. But at the same time, as documented by a report from the Joyce Foundation last year, poverty has continued and even deepened for many millions--both those who are still on welfare and for many who were forced off welfare.

Many women have found themselves on a trip from welfare poverty with a regular check to working poverty with no security at all. In the Joyce study of Midwestern states, one-quarter of those who left welfare for work had more than five employers, and many worked part-time. On average, former recipients held jobs two-thirds of the time over the previous three years. Nearly half of people who left welfare reported being unable to pay bills, rent, buy clothes or purchase enough food. Barely half (57%) still had a job two years later. Of those who had jobs, only one-third got health care benefits with the job. In other words, women who had been able to care for their kids while on welfare now bounce from one underpaid, temporary job to another--still not making ends meet, but now unable to make sure their kids are cared for.

A study of a welfare-to-work program in Connecticut last year found that close to 3% of participants became homeless after two years--a higher rate of homelessness than in the old welfare program.

Many of the people still on welfare are working part-time--32% in 1999. Their wages are criminally low, averaging a median hourly wage of $6.65. For those off welfare it is even worse--their median wage is $7.15. But because these workers now often have fewer supplemental benefits (no insurance, no food stamps), their poverty is even more harsh, and their lives are even more insecure. There are now as many as 8.5 million children in the United States without health care coverage, and over 80% of these children have parents who hold jobs.

Women moving from welfare to work suffer twice the rate of clinical depression--two in every five-- compared to the general population.

Many who left welfare for jobs have been forced back onto welfare--simply because they often had no way to pay for child care, or because their wages simply could not cover food and shelter. By one estimate, only 30 to 40% of former welfare recipients who become unemployed will qualify for unemployment insurance.

Among those who left welfare from 1997, 22% were back on the rolls by 1999. The numbers of people forced onto welfare are now increasing in the current recession, as the ranks of the unemployed swell. For the first years of welfare reform, millions of people found minimum-wage jobs because the economy expanded. But that's no longer the situation. The poorest sections of the working class have been among the hardest hit by the rise in unemployment--for example in the hotel and tourism industries where many people found low-wage jobs. It is estimated that the number of people needing welfare goes up 5 to 10% for every percentage-point increase in the national unemployment rate.

But people newly forced back onto welfare or newly going on welfare now find that there is a lifetime limit to benefits and sharply reduced help. The weak protections that people once relied on in hard times are now being shredded.

One in seven who left welfare in recent years now have no known income at all. They are often trapped in dire situations--homelessness, prostitution, and other desperate hustles within the illegal economy. Hundreds of thousands of children live in households that now have no visible income at all.

Some sharp questions are raised by this whole situation. How will the sisters and brothers among the poorest of the poor survive? What kind of a system drives millions of kids into a situation of "extreme" poverty? Whose interests are those in government serving when they declare that "welfare reform" is a "success"--while they wreck the lives of millions? How long will this monstrous system be allowed to rule over us?


This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497 - Revolutionary Worker Online -RW resource page on resisting the juggernaut of war and repression - Discuss revolutionary strategy and the RCP's Draft Programme

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