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Poverty in America

Poverty in America: A Handbook

John Iceland
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 3
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppr1g
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  • Book Info
    Poverty in America
    Book Description:

    Poverty may have always been with us, but it hasn't always been the same. In an in-depth look at trends, patterns, and causes of poverty in the United States, John Iceland combines the latest statistical information, historical data, and social scientific theory to provide a comprehensive picture of poverty in America—a picture that shows how poverty is measured and understood and how this has changed over time, as well as how public policies have grappled with poverty as a political issue and an economic reality. Why does poverty remain so pervasive? Is it unavoidable? Are people from particular racial or ethnic backgrounds or family types inevitably more likely to be poor? What can we expect over the next few years? What are the limits of policy? These are just a few of the questions this book addresses. In a remarkably concise, readable, and accessible format, Iceland explores what the statistics and the historical record, along with most of the major works on poverty, tell us. At the same time, he advances arguments about the relative nature and structural causes of poverty—arguments that eloquently contest conventional wisdom about the links between individual failure, family breakdown, and poverty in America. At a time when the personal, political, social, and broader economic consequences of poverty are ever clearer and more pressing, the depth and breadth of understanding offered by this handbook should make it an essential resource and reference for all scholars, politicians, policymakers, and people of conscience in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95190-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Preface to the 2012 Edition
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    In 1971, Robert Lampman, who had been a key economic adviser to President Lyndon Johnson on anti-poverty initiatives, predicted that poverty would be eradicated by 1980.¹ James Tobin, another policy adviser, had been equally hopeful when he declared his views in a 1967New Republicarticle entitled “It Can Be Done! Conquering Poverty in the U. S. by 1976”²

    Today these predictions seem decidedly naive. In fact, by the mid-1970s, with the country in the midst of a recession and an oil crisis, it had already become clear that these optimistic forecasts would prove inaccurate. Poverty rates fluctuated in response...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Early Views of Poverty in America
    (pp. 10-19)

    What does it mean to be poor? While most people would be hardpressed to give a precise answer, many of us feel we can recognize poverty when we see it. For example, a news story accompanied with images of malnourished children in a troubled region can vividly display extreme poverty. As one moves away from this kind of obvious example, however, it becomes more difficult to distinguish just what people mean when they refer to “the poor,” as opposed to lower-income people more generally.

    In 1993 the General Social Survey fielded the following question about poverty: “People who have income...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Methods of Measuring Poverty
    (pp. 20-37)

    A 2000Baltimore Sunstory declared that “for more than 30 years, the U.S. government has defined who is needy by using a measure known as the ‘poverty line.’ . . . But experts of virtually every stripe agree that the nation’s official measure of poverty—never designed to be permanent—is outdated. And despite years of studies by economists and poverty experts, there is no agreement on how to repair it.”¹ This aptly summarizes the current state of poverty measurement: agreement that the existing measure has lost some meaning over time, but little consensus on what type of measure...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Characteristics of the Poverty Population
    (pp. 38-69)

    Misperceptions about the poverty population are common. For example, in the early 1990 s one survey asked, “What percent of all the poor people in this country would you say are black?” The median response was 50 percent. Another 1994 survey asked, “Of all the people who are poor in this country, are more of them black or more of them white?” Fifty-five percent of the respondents thought more blacks than whites were poor, 24 percent thought more whites were poor, and the remaining 31 percent thought there were about equal numbers.¹ According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau,...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Causes of Poverty
    (pp. 70-97)

    It is commonly believed that individual failings or wayward values propel people into poverty. In the 1960s, anthropologist Oscar Lewis wrote:

    By the time slum children are age six or seven they have usually absorbed the basic values and attitudes of their subculture and are not psychologically geared to take full advantage of changing conditions or increased opportunities which may occur in their lifetime.¹

    A 2001 poll in the United States asked: “In your opinion, which is the bigger cause of poverty today—that people are not doing enough to help themselves out of poverty, or that circumstances beyond their...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Why Poverty Remains High, Revisited a
    (pp. 98-117)

    Consider the following three views concerning current trends in poverty:

    View 1

    “The major underlying factors producing child poverty in the United States are welfare dependence and single parenthood.”¹

    “The lack of progress in child poverty since 1965 can be explained in part by the erosion of marriage and the growth of poverty-prone single parent families.”²

    View 2

    “[E]conomywide growth improves the income of poor people.”³

    “[A]lmost all the variation in the poverty rate is tracked by movements in median family income.”⁴

    View 3

    “Economic growth in America no longer guarantees a decline in poverty. A steady decline in wage...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Poverty and Policy
    (pp. 118-141)

    The struggle between providing aid to the poor and not promoting socially “undesirable” behaviors is a central one in ongoing debates concerning the future of welfare reform. In 1998 Sar Levitan and his coauthors attempted to summarize public opinion on poverty policy: “We cannot for our own comfort let people starve and freeze on our streets, but we resent their accepting our largesse while indulging in counterproductive habits that we know would decrease our own productivity and well-being if we so indulged.”¹

    These issues are not uniquely modern. Nearly a century earlier, in 1904, Emil Munsterberg posited strikingly similar sentiments,...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 142-148)

    At the beginning of this book I posed a few questions: why does poverty remain so pervasive? What does it mean to be poor? Are people from particular racial and ethnic backgrounds, age groups, or family types inevitably more likely to continue to be poor? What can we expect over the next few years? What are the limits of policy? I now revisit these questions in turn.

    In addition to individual choices people may make, poverty remains pervasive for several reasons: the way we understand and define poverty, the features of our economic system, social stratification across “status” groups (such...

  15. APPENDIX: Data and Methods for the Analysis in Chapter 6
    (pp. 149-152)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 153-180)
  17. References
    (pp. 181-200)
  18. Index
    (pp. 201-208)