HDAL 4957/5957 – Politics

HDAL 4957/5957 – Politics


Welcome to the first ever winter semester.
This is Homelessness, Hunger, Poverty and Politics. I’m Dr. Joyce Duncan. I’m going to be your instructor for the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy the course. The
more things change the more they stay the same. In 55 B.C., which was a very long time ago, the philosopher Cicero said “The
budget should be balanced, the treasury should
be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom
should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should
be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of
living on public assistance.” In the United States we tend to believe the myth of the
American dream. That anyone willing to work hard enough, with a little luck, with a little
persistence, with a little talent can become upwardly mobile, successful, rich
or President. That myth is perpetuated by popular culture, primarily through
television sitcoms, gameshows, reality shows, and, of course, our role models,
entertainers, athletes, lotteries, casinos, etcetera, etcetera. Because we believe the myth, we really do
not marginalize the poor, the homeless and the hungry. They merely become invisible.
If we admit that they are there we must assume some sense of responsibility for
their existence. While politicians, of course, tend to blame the victim:
immigrants, welfare, lazy bums. Although we may show concern at this time of the year,
between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which I always find somewhat irritating. We
become very generous during this time of the year. We put dollars into the little
red bucket. We donate food, and you know, serve meals. And then the other 11 months out of
the year the poor and the homeless can, I don’t know, go eat cake?! Although there is some cross-over among the terms that exists in the title
of this course, Hunger, Homelessness, and Poverty are not the same thing. For
example, an individual may be hungry without being homeless. And the homeless
may have enough to eat. Politics, however, wraps tightly around
all of them, in boa constrictor fashion. Political actions tend to occur only
through threats to social stability. And that is probably the theme that will go
through the entire course. When there is social distress, social discord, politicians tend to rise up and pass
programs that will ameliorate that discord and make it go away. For example,
the period during civil rights, or the advocacy for women’s rights, that’s
eventually what got bills passed was that there was too much disturbance in the social
fabric. This course is designed to underscore the involvement of politics
and every facet of the public economy and well-being. Before we actually begin, we should dispel a few myths that exist. Myth number one, and a big one, is that a job, any job, can pull
individuals or families out of individuals or families out of homelessness or poverty or hunger. So, what I
would like for you to do is to go find a calculator. I will wait. Okay, now that you have your calculator, I’d like for you to enter $7.25, which is the current minimum wage. Multiply that by 40
hours a week. Multiply that by 4 weeks in a month. Your final figure should be $1,160. Multiply that by .15, which is,
pretty much, the standard tax for that tax bracket. And subtract that
amount from the previous figure, which should leave you $986. Divide $986 by three
and take away one third of $986 by subtracting from your
previous figure, which should leave you $658. After that, subtract utilities, food, transportation,
insurance, medical expenses, medication, child-care, school supplies, etcetera and see what
you have left, if you work 40 hours a week for minimum wage. If you did your math correctly your balance should be less
than zero. Furthermore, if you’re homeless, or just coming out of poverty, you must
add first and last month’s rent deposits on rent utilities and a place to live just to get in off the street. When available cash
income cannot exceed, or meet, normal and reasonable expenses, the resulting
financial gap translates into people doing without. You have to make a
decision between things like food, child care, medical attention. If you are elderly,
certainly, between medications, food. A minimum wage worker would have to work
eighty seven hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at thirty percent
of his or her income, which is the Federal definition of affordable
housing. Myth number 2, not all persons are eligible for government assistance,
and it’s likely somewhat less than you might imagine. Perhaps a working parent
can get some assistance. But if that person takes a tiny boost in their pay
through a raise, through extra hours, it may be just enough to push them toward
the cut-off point. So, if you’re making a dollar more than the minimum that you need to
be making to get assistance, it goes away, or it is certainly decreased. Myth number 3, we are not a classless society, in fact, we may be becoming more so as time
goes by. How do these myths relate to life in the
United States? In order to answer that question we need to decide what hardship means. The
definition of hardship varies from culture to culture. In some countries,
hardship may imply unsanitary conditions or insufficient food and water. In the United
States, it could mean the absence of a car or television set. In 1776, Adam Smith,
who was probably the first real economist, wrote “The Wealth of Nations”. He
said that social perception determines economic hardship. In other words, if I
think I need it and I don’t have it, I’m underprivileged. If you have it and I
don’t, I’m underprivileged and, maybe, oppressed. Peter Townsend, social poverty researcher,
defined poverty as the lack of sufficient income for “people to play the
roles, participate in the relationships, and follow the customary behavior which
is expected of them by virtue of their membership in society.”
In other words, for each culture, the definition of poverty varies. To understand where we are, you have to to
understand how we got here. So, briefly, to talk about aid early in the
United States, beginning in Colonial America. Relief, which is what aid or assistance
was called at that time, was usually locally financed and administered, which makes
perfect sense. I mean, it was a small country. With few people living in small
communities, so that community helped out the people who needed the help. They
offered direct aid to the unemployable. The term “worthy poor” was probably invented in
Colonial America, and is still around, as opposed to the “unworthy poor.” The
young were apprenticed to learn a trade, and work release was given over for
able-bodied adults. Parents were not only legally liable for their children, the children
were legally liable for their parents. So, if a parent could not or would not work,
their children were put to work to support the parents. Persons refusing
to work were whipped, branded, pilloried, stoned or evicted from
the community. The poor could be auctioned off to the
highest bidder or placed in an asylum, if one was available. Non-resident vagrants were expelled. That’s interesting, because even today, so many people want to take illegal immigrants
and send them back to their country of origin. Colonists accepted responsibility for
their community members, including free blacks, but not slaves, and not outsiders. By the 1800’s, we had moved to an age of
industrialization and urbanization, and the attitude changed to laissez faire.
Persons considered the money used to care for the poor as interfering with
labor mobility and contributing to overpopulation, lower wages and standards
of living. It was an era of rugged individualism. In many cases this country
has always been and still is mired in rugged individualism. The poor were
thought lazy, morally degenerate and labeled “dependent, defective and
delinquent.” If no jobs were available, let them go west, there was always the
frontier. At that period in time, the West was, as yet, reasonably unsettled and
there were still homesteading opportunities for people. If you remember
the famous saying by Horace Greeley, the New York newspaperman, “go west, young man.” And, that was a possibility. If you don’t want to work here, go there. As
industrialization replaced the agrarian economy it created a generation of
tramps. Person’s floated from place to place in search of work. And poppers,
persons receiving relief or assistance from the local or county government.
Interestingly, a few nights ago I saw something on one of the news programs that, evidently, we have
a new generation of tramps. This definition. There are people who have
sold their homes and bought mobile homes and have formed a community. And they’re
traveling from place to place as temporary jobs open up. They stop, they
live, they work for awhile until the job ends and then they move on. A response to our current
economy, I suppose. The 1820’s created the indoor relief movement. Bring them inside, put them out of sight, including institutions such as almshouses work houses, orphanages and mental hospitals. Of course, the intent of all these places was to reform, rehabiliate and morally enrich the poor. Most of the institutions were
short term residencies, some with hard conditions. It was based on the theory
that if the conditions were horrible enough people would want out of there
and would go find work. Although they were funded by the states, they were
managed locally. Charities and mutual aid societies continued to flourish, but
primarily they gave money to people who were like them, those like us. In the
post-Civil War era was the first establishment of Veterans Administrations and there were
called “Old Soldiers Homes.” But the very first ones were for Union soldiers only; Confederate soldiers did not have that
ability to go to those places. In the 1870’s, the creation of
scientific charities came into being. Big business charitable groups investigated
the poorest conditions. And wealthy folks, once again, passed along advice, based on, once again, the moral degeneration of the poor and the theory that no one would
work if he or she was just handed money, given the means to survive. Although
these failed in many ways, they did establish record-keeping which led to
case work which led to the profession of social work. By the late 19th century,
tenement and shanties with poor sanitation spring up, primarily in the
inner city. The rich began a trek away from all that
toward the suburbs. And the wealthy went even further out into gated estates
to keep out the riffraff. A couple of terms that you probably need to
understand the difference between. “Rich” means that you have more than a sufficient
income. “Wealth” refers to accumulated properties, investment, stocks,
bonds, any kind of assets along those lines. Yet, in the 1860 census, it revealed only
7.9 percent of the population received public assistance. Conditions changed a
little in the early 1900’s. Many Southern blacks immigrated to the North
finding conditions, in some cases, worse than the ones they had left. Although,
they might have been hired as domestics, they had very minute wages. In
Philadelphia, for example, African-Americans made up only 4 percent of the
population, but eight percent of the destitute. Immigrants from Europe
offered cheap labor for industrialization, a lot of
infrastructure building, railroading, roads that sort of thing. More than, a century later, economic
dislocation, legal and illegal immigrants, ethnic inequality and
the uncertainty of how to address those issues are still among us. The 20th
century introduced quantitative measures and social sciences and academics began
the science of poverty. In the United States, researchers argued over minimum
subsistence levels, and minimum comfort levels.
Between 1909 and 1920, 43 states passed legislation requiring employers
to pay workmen’s compensation for persons injured at work, which was really
the first organized social insurance program in the country. There was still
concern for the welfare of women and children and the Children’s Bureau was
formed in 1912 to collect information on child welfare. And the
1921 Sheppard Towner Act provided health education programs for mothers with
babies. The period also created pension laws for widows, which kind of took away the
stigma of charity. You know, it’s money that my husband earned, and so it should
come to me. By the 1920’s private and public charity gave way to
social work and colleges began to add programs. But then: The
Great Depression. The stock market crashes, as I’m sure you know, in 1929.
Between 1929 and 1933 unemployment quickly rose from 3.2 percent to 24.9 percent. By 1935,
more than 20 million people were accepting aid, not necessarily because
the government was kind and generous. But, to alleviate the growing unrest in the
country. By 1932, then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew the situation must
change or the country would deteriorate into major social upheaval. Roosevelt and Congress created a series of agencies and acts to return the
country to prosperity. Called “The New Deal”, it was essentially the nation’s first set of
entitlement programs. An “entitlement” is a guarantee of access to benefits based
on established rights or by legislation. A right is an entitlement associated with
a moral or social principle. Typically, entitlements are laws based on concepts of
social equality, social justice or enfranchisement, the right to vote. Some of the major programs of the New
Deal included the Works Progress Administration which created jobs, the
National Labor Relations Acts which gave unions the right to organize, Farm Security
which aided small farmers and migrant workers, the Federal Emergency Relief Act
which offered block grants to states. A block grant, if you don’t know, is Federal
money that is given to the state as a lump sum. And then the state has the
right to divide that money and pass it out among its citizens, however it sees fit. The Social Security Act, pensions for the aged and
unemployment insurance. Aide to Dependent Children. The GI Bill in 1944, which offered
disability, employment, education and subsidized housing to 16 million World War 2 veterans. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, America was dubbed the affluent society
with relative financial stability except for African Americans, the rural poor, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and Puerto Ricans. But then: The Civil Rights Movement shattered the image of a homogeneous society. In 1962, writer Michael Harrington penned a book called “The Culture of Poverty”. Harrington claimed that poverty was an invisible land of the poor that existed in rural isolation or in crowded slums where middle-class visitors seldom ventured. “That the poor are invisible is one of the most important things about them,” he added. The work caught the
attention of President John Kennedy who pushed to create the 1962 Public Welfare
Amendment to the Social Security Act, which increased Federal benefits. His
administration also created the Peace Corps and its domestic counterpart Volunteers in Service
to America, or VISTA. After President Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon Johnson took the office and initiated a “War on Poverty” under his Great Society master plan. If you are interested, you can access the link below
and read more about the War on Poverty. The war initiated a variety of new
entitlement programs. Between 1963 and 1966 Federal grants to the states more
than doubled, with over a million cases added to the welfare rolls. By 1970, that
had increase to 3.3 million. Johnson’s plans started quite a few programs that are
still around today. Work Study, which, I’m sure you are familiar with.
The Economic Opportunity Act, which provided job training, adult education and
loans to small businesses. Job Corps For School Dropouts, which helped them
train for jobs, to earn a GED or to find and keep a good position. Head Start, which promoted
school readiness for children aged 3 to 5 in low-income families.
The Food Stamp Act, which provided food assistance; to mean any food or food product
for human consumption except alcohol, tobacco, or things that
were imported. Medicare, for the elderly and disabled. And Medicaid, for the poor.
During the period, another movement arose which is worth mentioning: those from the
Community Action Program. Some of them were funded with Federal money. Most of these programs were developed on a grassroots
level. What grassroots means is that it starts from
the people with the problem and then radiates out from there. So, the best
solutions to issues, sometimes, come from the people who are embroiled in those
issues. It was a means whereby the poor could participate in formulating and
administering their own local programs of social reform. Richard Nixon, in 1968, was very critical of welfare, across the board, but added the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. The former, if you have children, and you
have a very small income, and you’re down as head of household, you can sometimes
get back a larger refund than you actually paid into the system. The
Comprehensive Employment Training Act subsidized public service jobs for the
unemployed. The next President who impacted this situation greatly was Ronald Reagan. And Reagan
created something called Reaganomics, which kind of took a slash and burn
approach to entitlements. To any kind of welfare, to any kind of benefits system, he said
he wanted to “end the widespread freeloading that plagued the system.” Yes,
there are people who certainly misuse the welfare system. There are people who misuse foodstamps. And there always will be people who will break the rules. But, there
will always be people, unfortunately, who need help for a short time. And, sometimes, they can’t manage it all without
public assistance. Reagan cut taxes and increased military spending with the
money saved from cutting the welfare budget. George H.W. Bush, the first President Bush,
in 1988, helped pass the Family Support Act and the jobs program.
This required single-parents of children over 3 to work and get training in
order to receive assistance. The program did provide the money for childcare and
transportation while the people were in training. Bill Clinton promised in 1996 to end
welfare as we know it. He set up the Personal Responsibility and Work
Opportunity Reconciliation Act, abolished AFDC, and set a two year limit on welfare benefits.
While the plane did increase employment among single mothers, their average
annual earnings were only $8,000 to $12,000 dollars a year. If you’ll
go back to our calculated amount, you will see that was not necessarily
financially, physically tenable. Some good things that did come out Clinton’s plan is that he made an
effort to track down deadbeat dads, those men who abandoned their family and don’t
send any financial help. He helped emphasize reducing teen pregnancy. He did
say, however, that nearly 60% of people on welfare were not officially poor under
current guidelines and that assistance to the poor often comes at the expense of another. Passing
Executive Order 12848 in 1993, which you can read, if you care to. And there’s a link on the slide.
Clinton said he was going to set up a Federal plan to break the cycle of homelessness within a decade, or so. Now, this was in
1993. In 2010, the Barak Obama administration unveiled a plan to end homelessness among some of
society’s most vulnerable groups within the next 10 years. Does this sound
familiar? But, Obama’s program is called Opening Doors. It is 74 pages. It wants to, first of all,
end child and family homelessness and then wipe out chronic homelessness. Chronic homelessness is
someone who has been homeless for a year or more. And homelessness among veterans. And, there’s
also a link to the Obama plan, if you are interested in reading it. Some food for
thought… Policymakers can raise requirements for
high school or college graduates without funding the new demands. Educators can
emphasize grammar skills without considering the vernacular that students
bring to classes. Unruly students can be expelled to make the classroom safer, only to
make the streets and the playgrounds less safe. City fathers can force the
homeless out of public buildings to make them more appealing. But, without
offering affordable housing, the parks, sidewalks and vacant
buildings fill with the homeless. Food for more thought…Philanthropic groups may set
up soup kitchens without asking why in the land of plenty, people are going hungry.
Urban planners burn or bury garbage without considering the impact on the air and
water supply. Reformers propose health care without asking why so many people
are getting sick. Politicians can fund more prisons
without considering poverty as the primary cause of crime.

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