- Politics and Social Issues»
- Economy & Government
Determining a true level of poverty
If a person is unable to provide for all their own or families basic needs, then they are effectively below the poverty line.
It's easy to establish what the poverty line is once we understand what people need and can't fulfill those basic needs.
Charles Dickens in his novel, "David Copperfield" stated through one of the characters in David's young adult years; "Annual income 29 pounds; expenditures 28 pounds; result joy. Annual income 29 pounds, annual expenditures 30 pounds, result misery." This then is the concept behind the so called poverty line, regardless of what the value of a floating currency is set at on international markets. We couldn't live on just 29 pounds today due to inflation; we need much more than that now. The true level of poverty then must be described as a condition whether one has enough income to meet their basic needs in a given fixed period; if it is a week, a month or a year. If there is money left over at the end of the month, then they are above the poverty line. If on the other hand there is a deficit, or some of the month left at the end of the money, then they are below the poverty line. It means that they have to do without during that period of no money. A floating currency means that the poverty line shifts according to the value of the currency. A person on a fixed income may find themselves above and below the poverty line in quick succession and this then may occur repeatedly in a given cycle of time. This of course describes the person within the context of modern industrial civilization who depends on selling their ability to labor or work to provide the money in order to purchase the necessities of life.
A person is in poverty if they have to choose between shelter and eating. They are in a situation where they cannot have both due to lack of finances or the over pricing of necessities. Thus the choice becomes homelessness or starvation; a hard choice indeed, especially for poor working single moms. If a person is homeless, they have the added problem of being able to keep and cook food. A person who has a residence who is poor must hunt down "free food" and this can be from food banks, soup kitchens or from dumpsters behind produce stores and restaurants. It is not a pleasant picture, but a real one. The latest census indicates that one in two children in Canada goes to bed hungry at night due to poverty. In the context, BC has had the highest child poverty in Canada for seven years running. Written another way, a family that has two children but can only feed one, must choose which one eats and which one goes hungry in a kind of "Sophie’s Choice". For Canada, one of the richest countries on the planet, this statistic is indicting to the system that is supposedly able to provide for all. One need not look to hard to find the homeless everywhere in both the US and Canada. Not all homeless people have mental conditions or problems, nor are they drug addicts or alcoholics. Some simply fell on hard times from one situation or another. One of the latest was the sub-prime crisis of September 2008 that imploded the world economy, from which we seen the new austerities that promise to deliver much more poverty. And then there are people in third world countries and the developing world that are too poor to survive. As of the summer of 2010, over a billion people are under threat of being too poor to survive. They die in the hundreds of millions every year despite the best intentions of organized charity. They appear to be on line to see this ratchet up.
In the developed countries we now insist that everyone "pull themselves up by their boot straps", become self sufficient and a go getter. Not everyone is equally suited to the task. People who are handicapped, too old, too young, no longer required for jobs and unskilled are unable to compete with others who are go getters. Peoples abilities vary and some skills are just not wanted. When was the last time you heard of a job opening for a poet or a fine artist? Poets and artists really need to be go getter and sales persons extraordinaire, but a go getter is a full time job in itself. So the question emerges, what are we to do with people unsuited to compete with the highly skilled? Traditionally there have been two answers; fascism, where the unskilled, the sick, the elderly and incompetent are simply liquidated into mass graves in murder factories and socialism where they are looked after in an "each according to need and each according to ability" approach. Due to a flood of misinformation, the distinction between fascism and socialism has become fuzzy and blurred. We now hear from some people that George Bush and Barack Obama are socialists. Yet George Bush's policies are a continuation of Clinton and Reagan who declared "the end of welfare as we know it." For some people, this was a death sentence when welfare was completely eliminated in some regions of the US. Having no income whatsoever, they had to throw themselves on the mercy of the community which was increasingly proclaiming "Do not feed the hungry" as this attracts homeless people, devalues the community and scares off tourism. Some places took the attitude, “Go anywhere but here”, but this attitude is universal, which means the poor have no where to go.
Part of poverty derives from ignorance; specifically, ignorance of what is available when the circumstance that was relied upon runs out. That may be the job where one has been laid off or the "end of welfare as we know it". It may strike in the form of a catastrophe that wipes out everything and cuts across entire communities. It can come from being plunged into a war that invades your homeland. In many of these circumstances, people may not know where to go next or what to do to avoid the deprivation that comes of poverty.
A person who is living in the context or nature on the other hand is not reliant upon money and the fluctuations of the value thereof. Being self sufficient, they can provide for most of their needs most of the time from what is locally available. Poverty only comes with famine. As civilized people organized into large trading blocks, we have attempted to take the famine out of life, but have not wholly succeeded in doing this. As a result, for various reasons, there is a large sector of the population that is always in the famine mode or in poverty. This can come from prejudice where some members of society are not allowed the same opportunities that others take for granted.
A person may find themselves out of work due to a market slowdown, lack of industrial resources, a glut on the market, bankruptcy of a boss or company or due to a new process that replaces his or her labor. Working is very much dependent upon the vagaries of the market place and the trends of the investors in the stock market. So a person can find themselves in periods of relative well being followed by periods of grinding poverty. Almost every worker has found themselves in such a circumstance. Almost every person in the developed world is highly specialized and is limited to one trade. For one reason or another, that trade may not be required from time to time. For example, when car sales slump due to high gas prices, those who work in the field of car manufacture find themselves unable to do anything else after having worked a long time in car manufacturing. Retraining exists, but at a price of cash and time, which cash the unemployed person, does not have.
The work place has become so competitive that a phenomenon of the working poor has arisen as an underbidding for wages is in process. Here a person is gainfully employed, but their wages are insufficient to pay for housing and food; so they are forced to make a choice between one and the other. A gruesome statistic tells us that fully one half of the clientele of food banks where they exist, are people who have full time jobs. Some people work two separate full time jobs in order to attempt to make ends meet. Others seek out as much overtime they can get to allay poverty. Working 16 hour days is not meant to be a permanent solution, nor is working seven days a week for years on end. In the end, this takes a toll on people, some collapsing from exhaustion and others to a catastrophic illness, either of which will cause a rapid onset of poverty.
There are a lost of statistics about poverty and they differ radically in the detail. It is hard to know what the true level of poverty exists in the country or community. As most people are very busy in their lives, they have to rely on the reports of others who research these issues. Unfortunately, political interests get in the way and obscure the real picture. Charity hawkers sometimes inflate the desperateness of a given situation to encourage donations. Despite charity, we still see news daily about continued suffering and poverty.
Whether you are in poverty or not, the specter of poverty haunts us all continually. We are surrounded by it all over the globe, in our country, in our communities and even in our own back yard. Unfortunately, the NIMBY approach does nothing to solve or eliminate poverty. Ignoring the poor does not eliminate it either.