Tag Archives: poverty statistics

Race, Poverty, and Stereotypes

The Census Bureau compiles statistics on poverty and the poverty rate in the United States. Their chart for 1959 to 2015 shows 13.5% of Americans living in what is officially designated as poverty, which translates to approximately 43.1 million Americans. [Census pdf]  Poverty in this country is measured as a function of the number of members in a household with a range of $12,082 for a single person to $49,177 for a family of nine or more people as of 2015.  [Link to Chart]

The Numbers

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 9% of white families are “in poverty,” 24% of African American families, 21% of Hispanic American families and 14% of ethnic groups categorized as “other.”    Other numbers to keep in mind: As of this morning we have 325,178,412 people living in this country, and 82,184,000 households.  [Census dwnld]  77.1% of our population as of July 2015 was white (61.6% not Hispanic or Latino); 13.3% African American; 1.2% Native American; 17.6% Hispanic or Latino; and, 5.6% Asian American. [Census]  Thus, “yes,” the percentage of the total African American and Hispanic American families in poverty is higher than the percentage of white families in poverty – but to get a more accurate picture of the “face of poverty” it should be noted:

76% of African American families are NOT living in poverty; 79% of our Hispanic or Latino families are NOT living in poverty… so when the reporter on the television starts droning on about  income, poverty, and other statistics and the film rolls on with the stereotyped footage of the “inner city,” we need to recall that we’re looking at what mostly white media producers think poverty looks like.

The Persistence of Prejudice

The reality is that if a person is single, living in a central city, female, member of an ethnic minority group,  and southern, then there’s the likelihood that cuts in social safety net programs will be the most damaging.  [IRPHowever, the point needs to be made yet again: “Social scientists and others have long made the observation that the media over-emphasizes people of color in coverage of poverty and government benefits.”  [Root]  Not certain about this? Start with the Luther, Kennedy, Combs-Ormes study for the University of Tennessee, of media coverage from 1993 to 2000.  Add the American Progress report on stereotypes in poverty policy published in 2012.   It isn’t too difficult to surmise how we’ve moved from poverty policy based on the needs of the ‘deserving white widow’ to the African American welfare queen (who never existed) in modern political discussions.

The media attention has a history:

“…starting around 1965, the discourse about the War on Poverty became much more negative, and that was for a few reasons, one of them being that programs that the administration had been promoting were now out in the field, and people, especially conservatives, were starting to take aim at them. And the media started to portray those programs much more negatively as being abused by people who didn’t really need them, as being inefficient and so on. And it’s really right at that time — and it’s a very dramatic shift in the media portrayal — that the imagery shifts from poor white people, positively portrayed, to poor black people, negatively portrayed.” [Moyers/Gilens]

This stereotyping plays into a narrative among a decreasing number of whites about the motivations of African Americans.  While support for overt discrimination has declined, some of the underlying attitudes may not have diminished as much as might be desirable.   There appears to be a gulf between the theoretical and the practical among white Americans about the role of government in promoting equality: “In general, though, apart from these nuanced differences across types of implementation, this set of questions makes it clear that whites are more willing to support the principles of equality than commit resources to its implementation.” [Illinois Edu

In terms of racial stereotyping there’s good and bad news, the good news first:

“The overall patterns for stereotypes show that between 1990 and 2004, there was a striking decline in the percentage of whites who report negative stereotypes of blacks. But after that point, the levels have remained constant (see Figure 9 (W) above). For example, in 1990, two out of three whites rated whites as harder-working than blacks; a percentage that declined steadily until 2004, when the figure was just about half that level (37 percent). From 2004 to 2014, though, the percentage of whites endorsing the stereotype ranged from a high of 42 percent in 2006 to a low of 34 percent in 2014. The belief that blacks are less intelligent than whites similarly declined from 57 percent in 1990 to just over one in four in 2004 and since then endorsement has stabilized at 23 to 27 percent.” [ Illinois Edu]

And, now the bad news:

“On the one hand, these results about the declining use of stereotypes may provide some reason for optimism. Whites are less willing (in a survey interview) to draw sharp distinctions between racial groups on the traits of intelligence and laziness. However, caution is advised against making too much of these findings. First, social desirability pressures may be particularly at work on these kinds of items. It has become increasingly socially unacceptable to admit to believing in racial differences of this type, and thus surveys may under-estimate levels of stereotype endorsement. Indeed, evidence from laboratory studies of “unconscious” stereotyping suggest that stereotypes continue to shape how whites think about race and racial groups (Fazio et al., 1995; McConnell and Leibold, 2001).”  [ Illinois Edu]

Therefore, when that tape depicting “inner city life” rolls behind the reporter commenting on recent statistical releases on income inequality, social safety net programs, or economic opportunity it rolls before a white audience ready to accept the theoretical desirability of equality, but not so anxious to implement policies designed to assist people who are still held to be “lazier.”

Thus the White Face of Poverty, obscured by the Black image of inner city disadvantage, perhaps allows some voters to continue their illogical dependence on the idea that one can be theoretically pure while being a rugged individual, and demanding others be the same: “Presumably, then, voters imagine that pledges to slash government spending mean cutting programs for the idle poor, not things they themselves count on. And this is a confusion politicians deliberately encourage.” [Krugman]

Meanwhile, there’s Owsley County, Kentucky, home to about 4,461 people, of whom 98.3% are white, with a median household income of $20,985 per year, and 42.4% of its population living in poverty. [Census]

Comments Off on Race, Poverty, and Stereotypes

Filed under Economy, Politics, poverty, racism

Marching Down The Aisle With Capitalism

The Nevada Progressive nails it in Marco’s Masquerade.  We should have seen this coming, the Republican answer to poverty in America is (drum roll please) Marriage.  Not necessarily marriage for members of the LBGT community, but that good old fashioned march to the altar for the right people.

The Numbers Don’t Add Up

First, if we buy into the Republican stereotypical person in poverty the individual in question would be a single mother and member of an ethnic minority community, which goes absolutely nowhere toward explaining that of the 20% of Nevadan adults who have earnings below the poverty line the gender categories are almost identical. [Kaiser FF] There’s 1% difference.

Secondly, 22% of Nevada citizens living in poverty do not have children, while 17% do.   There is something to the ethnic minority figures.  Of the people in Nevada living with below poverty line earnings 15% are white, 34% are African American, and 29% are Hispanic. [KFF]  However, a better correlation might be established if we were to consider educational attainment levels.   The unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma stands at 12.4%,  High School diploma 8.5%, and a professional degree at 2.1%. [BLS]

And the unwed mother mythology?  In 1990, unmarried white women accounted for 57.5% of the births to unmarried women, and unmarried African American women accounted for 39.1%.  By 2008 the numbers had changed with the rate for white women increasing to 67.7% and the number for African American women dropping to 27.9%.  [Census pdf]

Finally, when we look at the numbers, a hard cold fact sets in.  “There are more married parents with incomes below the poverty line than there are never-married ones, and more food-insecure adults live in households with children headed by married couples than in ones headed by just a man or woman.” [CPER]

In short it is more common for adults caring for children on incomes below the poverty line to be married (43% married, 6% separated) than in the homes of 40% of adults earning poverty level wages who have never been married.

Married PovertyNoticing the Obvious — the major cause of poverty is not having enough money.

Yes, young people do tend to be well represented among those paid minimum wages.  Those under 25 years of age make up about 20% of our workforce, but constitute about 50% of those earning minimum wages.  However, that information is only 50% of the story.

49.4% of our hourly wage earners over the age of 25 are working for minimum wages. [BLS]  15% of men over 25 years of age are working for minimum wages, compared to 30% of women in the same age group.  [BLS Table 1]

The cherished myth is that people who start out earning minimum wages in their teens go on by dint of Horatio Alger-like effort (remembering, of course, that he married the boss’s daughter) to Do Great Things.   This is such a good story one hates to diminish it, however reality kicks in all too quickly.  The Council of Economic Advisers (pdf) cautions:

“While the United States is often seen as the land of economic opportunity, only about half of low- income Americans make it out of the lowest income distribution quintile over a 20-year period. About 40 percent of the differences in parents’ income are reflected in children’s income as they become adults, pointing to strong lingering effects from growing up in poverty.”

Capitalism Works, and We Should Let It

The corporate think tanks and their media cohorts are fond of repeating the mantra that raising the minimum wage would be a Disaster, A Disaster I Say, for American capitalism.  Employment will decline! [Forbes]  Except for one nitpicky litte detail — there’s no hard evidence this happens.    The Forbes article cited above goes to great length to offer gloom and doom predicated on the assumption that the corporation must recoup any and all losses to its bottom line (read profitability) by adjustments in productivity.  Interestingly enough nowhere in the article does its author mention the bloated executive compensation packages which somehow do not need to be adjusted to improve corporate profitability.

Forbes opines: ” The Law of Demand always works:  the higher the price of anything, the less that will be taken, and this includes labor.”  Yes, it does. However, a person should be careful here to differentiate between micro and macro economics.   If our hypothetical worker, and that seems to be the main form workers take in financialist-land, works for the Acme Widget Company, and the “cost of her labor increases,” Acme may have to adjust, but Acme isn’t where she shops for groceries.  Or, where she purchases her car. Or, where she buys clothing and furniture.   The increased wages (or, increased labor costs) become part of our old friend Aggregate Demand.

Firms cannot pay a worker more than the value the worker brings to the firm.  Raising the minimum denies more low skilled workers the opportunity to get a job and receive “on the job” training.” [Forbes]  Yes they can, and they do.   One of the prime reasons employers are anxious NOT to have high levels of employee turnover is that training is relatively expensive.   No worker, from the bottom to the top, is worth on day 365 what he was worth on day 1.  If the firm is managed rationally, then it is assumed that experienced personnel are more valuable than the rookies, and therefore more valuable — and they all started out as rookies.   Interesting, this “worker value” argument never seems to emerge when Wall Streeters speak of executive retention bonuses?

If it did, we might hear some business pundit say the unimaginable, “We can’t give more executive retention bonuses because this will deny less experienced or skilled people the opportunity to receive on the job training.” I’m not holding my breath waiting to hear that one on some business cable channel.

Capitalism could work very nicely.  If we’d let it.

Comments Off on Marching Down The Aisle With Capitalism

Filed under Economy, Politics, poverty