A lot has been written about poverty - and with good reason. But knowledge has not lead to a cure, and it seems that the more we know, the less manageable the problem becomes.
The "poverty gap" - the actual income of poor people subtracted from their income if they lived at the poverty line - has reached astronomical proportions.For example, in 1986, poor people in the U.S. would have needed $49.2 billion just to reach the government-set poverty line.
Contrary to popular belief, those who live below poverty are not just the lazy, those who are disinclined to make a living. Many of the poor work 40-hour weeks like the rest of us, but because of a low minimum wage, they are trapped in a cycle they may never climb out of.
Someone who works full time for minimum wage lives $2,100 below the poverty line. And anyone who tries to raise a family - even a small one - on a minimum-wage job is in serious trouble.
Another misconception is that welfare raises people above poverty. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (ingle-parent welfare) puts recipients at between 50 and 75 percent of poverty. They'd have to supplement their income just to be poor.
Even if it did raise people to the "merely poor" level, fewer than 11 million qualify for AFDC, although 33 million Americans live below poverty.
Here's some more bad news:
- More than 12 million children and 8 million adults (bout 9 percent of the U.S. population) are classified as hungry, according to the book, "Hunger in America." Hunger is described as being "chronically short of the nutrients necessary for growth and good health."
- A few of the many illnesses associated with hunger are anemia, tuberculosis, poor growth in children, and osteoporosis (one disease) in adults.
The groups hardest-hit by hunger are the elderly, pregnant women, infants and children. We're a society that claims to care about our young, but millions are malnourished.
The Scientific American magazine studied the problem of hunger and poverty and published its findings in February of 1987.
According to the report, more than 30 years ago, hunger was a serious problem in the United States, but school lunch programs, the food stamp program, and a supplemental program to supply food and nutritional information to pregnant women and their children virtually eliminated it until 1981, when the government began cutting back.
In 1987, barely more than half of poverty-stricken Americans even receive food stamps, and those that do average 49 cents per meal.
Nutritionists in the Agriculture Department, which administers the food stamp program, warned that families who ate only what food stamps could buy were very apt to be malnourished.
At the same time, welfare grants have failed to keep pace with inflation, so that more than one-third of the purchasing power is gone.
Let's bring it a little closer to home.
Salt Lake City participated in a 25-city survy of hunger, homelessness, and poverty conducted by the United States Conference of Mayors in 1986.
This survey found that the number of emergency food shelters stayed the same, but food pantry personnel reported that those in need are sometimes turned away for a variety of reasons, including "staffing problems in keeping the facilities open," and an occasional shortage of food.
Problems with the food stamp program were cited to explain, at least in part, hunger in our city.
The same survey found a 34-percent increase in demand for emergency food, and a 21-percent increase in families with children who needed that emergency food. Need by the elderly rose 16 percent. And 20 percent of the need went unmet and people were turned away.
Demand was expected to increase into 1987 and '88. It apparently did, although exact figures are not available.
Poverty in Salt Lake increased, although unemployment stayed pretty much the same in '86-'87. While the survey said that some economic recovery helped Salt Lake City, it did not help the poor. Finally, the survey said the poverty rate was 14.2 percent in Salt Lake in 1979 - "and rising."
So, they you have it: More facts and figures. Unfortunately, that doesn't provide solutions to an ever-growing problem. If someone has those answers, a lot of us would like to know what they are.