Sunday, July 29, 2012

Poverty in the west

For much of human history slavery, rape, abuse of children and women, heavy drinking, murder, cruelty, and animal torture were commonplace and accepted.

Not so much now, at least in wealthy nations. Humans are immensely imperfect and prone to regression, but we are better than we were. Progress happens.

Progress happens, but then the bar goes up. We clean the air of LA and the acid rain of the Northeast, so we get global CO2 management as our next assignment. We work through a chunk of our racist and genocidal history, and we get to work on gay marriage. Fifty years from now we won't eat animals. And so it goes.

Poverty elimination is also on the list. Might be an even harder problem than CO2 emissions. The good news is that worldwide poverty is improving very quickly...

US intelligence agency sees world poverty in sharp drop, rising fight for resources by 2030 - The Washington Post

Poverty across the planet will be virtually eliminated by 2030, with a rising middle class of some two billion people pushing for more rights and demanding more resources, the chief of the top U.S. intelligence analysis shop said Saturday.

If current trends continue, the 1 billion people who live on less than a dollar a day now will drop to half that number in roughly two decades, Christoper Kojm said...

I don't think 'virtually eliminated' means what Kojm thinks it means - but this is good news all the same.

The bad news is that poverty in America isn't going away.  Peter Edelman runs the numbers  on our brand of poverty ...

Why Can’t We End Poverty in America? - Peter Edelman - NYT NYT

... The lowest percentage in poverty since we started counting was 11.1 percent in 1973. The rate climbed as high as 15.2 percent in 1983. In 2000, after a spurt of prosperity, it went back down to 11.3 percent, and yet 15 million more people are poor today...

... We’ve been drowning in a flood of low-wage jobs for the last 40 years. Most of the income of people in poverty comes from work. According to the most recent data available from the Census Bureau, 104 million people — a third of the population — have annual incomes below twice the poverty line, less than $38,000 for a family of three. They struggle to make ends meet every month.

Half the jobs in the nation pay less than $34,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. A quarter pay below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually. Families that can send another adult to work have done better, but single mothers (and fathers) don’t have that option. Poverty among families with children headed by single mothers exceeds 40 percent.

Wages for those who work on jobs in the bottom half have been stuck since 1973, increasing just 7 percent...

Addressing these problems will be challenging. Children are very expensive in a post-industrial society, yet much of American poverty is concentrated in father-free families managed by a single mother. Their poverty would be easier to manage if they had made different fertility choices; simplistic income subsidies could incent politically unsustainable behaviors.

Fortunately there are strategies which eliminate perverse incentives. Tying income to managed work, providing health and child care (including easy access to contraception), and quality educational programs alleviate poverty and provides the means and incentives to make thoughtful fertility choices.

A different slice of our poverty comes from a mismatch between post-industrial employment and human skills. This isn't going a way, 3D printing of manufactured goods will do to manufacturing what full text search did to the law. Meanwhile six percent of Americans suffer from a serious mental illness every year and twenty-five percent of Americans have a measured IQ less than 90. Given changes in technology, and the automation of many jobs, is it conceivable that 20% of Americans are relatively disabled?

Again, the strategy for this community is subsidized work -- the same strategy used for the "special needs" community. (Since I won't get to retire ever, I assume I'll be in this community sooner or later.) 

We know what we need to do. We even know where the money will come from -- from taxing CO2 emissions, financial transactions, and the 5% (ouch).

Sooner or later, we'll do it.

See also:

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