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Poverty in America

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• Poverty in America (Iceland, 2013) Chapter: 3

• Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?

• By

Robert Rector


Rachel SheffieldJuly 19, 2011


Tavis Smiley & Cornel West on “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto”



“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

-Franklin D Roosevelt

“Although the American economy has enjoyed a healthy growth rate over the past four decades, stagnant wages among the least skilled have made it hard for people holding low-wage jobs to escape poverty. This problem has been exacerbated by changes in family composition. And government spending, which has grown rapidly, has reduced poverty less than had been hoped and in some cases may even have been counterproductive, by reducing incentives to work and supporting young women who have births outside marriage.

The combination of policy based on sticks (such as the work requirements, time limits, and sanctions of welfare reform) and carrots (such as child care and the earned income tax credit) is an effective strategy for fighting poverty. Moreover, it is consistent with the domestic philosophies of the nation’s two major political parties. Republicans emphasize that progress will not be possible unless individuals behave more responsibly— and more in accord with traditional American values—than they have in the past. Democrats emphasize that serious personal effort and responsible behavior alone will not be enough to allow millions of poorly educated adults and their families to escape poverty. Both individuals and government, in other words, have major roles to play in reducing poverty, and both parties can—and indeed have—supported work requirements and work support programs.”

(Haskins & Sawhill, 2007)

Policy Initiatives Can Reduce Poverty: A Success Story The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies, The Future of Children, Volume 17, Number 2, Fall 2007


Assignment Instructions

1. Choose from one of the following Government assistance programs:

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -Food Stamps (SNAP)

Women, Infants, & Child (WIC) program

WIC Fact Sheet

Free School Lunch program

Social Security:


Head Start:

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program, (SCHIP)


Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC):,,id=96406,00.html


a. The background and history of the program

b. The population it addresses

c. Requirements to qualify for the assistance

d. Pros and cons of the program.

2. Please read the following article by Rector and Shefied (2011) and watch the Smiley & West interview (2012 video segment from Democracy Now).

Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?

Rector and Sheffied (2011)

Tavis Smiley & Cornel West on “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto”

a. How can the poor be poor if they own luxury items like TV’s and AC?

b. Does owning such items disqualify them from being considered as living in poverty?


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