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Readers' forum: Poverty in America

Published: Thursday, Aug. 11 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Robert Rector's recent article ("A poor definition of poverty," July 24) misleads the reader into believing that being poor in America — living below $22,000 a year for a family of four — isn't so bad. Rector's argument is flawed on two main fronts.

First, Americans know that it takes far more than $22,350 a year to provide basic economic security for a family. Americans know firsthand that the costs of health care, housing and child care are going up while wages flatten or decline. Rather than pretending the poor don't exist, we should be worrying about the erosion of the middle class and the widening income inequality that's putting the American Dream out of reach for too many.

Second, Rector concocts a sanitized version of poverty in which the poor live humble but stable lives. But research shows that poverty can lead to a wide range of detrimental outcomes for children and families. Early childhood poverty is associated with a host of physical and mental health problems over the course of childhood into early adulthood that can reduce long-term worker productivity and increase health care costs.

Thank goodness for effective policy interventions such as Head Start, nutrition assistance and affordable housing that mitigate some of poverty's worst effects so that fewer poor Americans suffer homelessness and extreme hunger.

Melissa Boteach

Washington D.C.

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