The purpose of this blog is to highlight trends, resources and opinions on what’s happening regarding poverty and inequality and what should be done to address them. The focus is largely, though not exclusively, on the U.S, particularly on Los Angeles and California. See my introductory post for more background on my motivations for creating this blog.
A blog should not be a one-way affair, so I welcome critiques, suggestions, and opinions via comments on the blog or even guest posts.
Why focus on poverty and inequality?
Addressing the core issues of poverty and inequality has been central to almost all of my professional career and volunteer activities. I carry a deep-seated belief (thanks to my family, friends, mentors and other important influences) that all people have equal value and should have the same opportunities to live fulfilled lives. To my thinking, there are two major reasons for this belief in myself and many others, one moral and spiritual, the other economic and political.
• They are morally and spiritually repugnant
Probably just about all people but the most heartless among us agree that we have a moral responsibility to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Giving to the poor and seeking social justice are common values across world religions and spiritual movements. Among many secularists, as well, there is often a moral imperative to address poverty and inequality.
• They are not ultimately economically and politically sustainable
In addition to the moral/spiritual motivation to reject poverty and inequality, it isn’t in our long-term interests to accept such socio-economic divisions. Cost-benefit analysis of long-term homelessness, for example, show that allowing people to live on the streets – many with serious disabilities – is much costlier to society than providing them with the housing and services they need. High levels of poverty and inequality can also lead to political instability, as evident throughout history in “bread riots” and social movements. It simply isn’t sustainable over the long term to for a democratic society to accept high levels of poverty and inequality.
The vastness of poverty and inequality in our world provide clear evidence that, unfortunately, these arguments have not carried the day. Tacking poverty needs to be a priority and we need to understand it and be smart about addressing it. I hope this blog can help in that effort.
What exactly do we mean by poverty and inequality?
Poverty has become a dirty word, especially in the U.S. over the past couple decades, conjuring up images of lazy, dependent people who drain resources from the rest of us. Inequality, on the other hand, is a word that for many people seems foreign, something that doesn’t exist here, in the great land of the middle class. In fact, however, poverty and inequality are very real and very different from popular perception.
So, what do they mean? First, let’s deal with the technical definitions.
• Poverty is usually defined and measured by a governmental entity, since public social welfare and entitlement programs are usually based on these measurements. In the U.S., the Census Bureau determines poverty thresholds for various family sizes. For example, for 2009, the poverty threshold for a single person is $10,830 and for a family of four it is $22,050. (That means that household with income below those levels are considered poor).
• Measurements of inequality range from descriptive statistics of socio-economic outcomes (e.g. looking at the median household income by geography, race/ethnicity, etc.) to more sophisticated indicators such as the Gini coefficient. Essentially, these measurements provide quantitative measurements of the extent to which resources are concentrated among certain individuals or groups to the exclusion of others.
While these technical definitions are helpful – and indeed necessary – for analyzing trends in poverty and inequality, this blog will take a somewhat more flexible view. Clearly, the poverty threshold methodology used in the U.S. – first developed in the 1960s – is a relic from a very different time and does not adequately account for geographic and social changes over recent decades (namely, the fact that housing and childcare expenses have risen faster than those for food as household expenses, as well as regional differences in the cost of living). Indices of inequality can be difficult for the layperson to understand and assume that the ideal condition is always a perfectly equal distribution of resources. Therefore, in addition to highlighting statistics and research, this blog will utilize stories, opinion and social commentary to discuss the dynamics of poverty and inequality.
For the purpose of this blog, here are simple, working definitions:
- Poverty = not having enough resources to meet basic needs of food, shelter or health
- Inequality = an unequal distribution of economic and social resources or opportunity
Therefore, this blog is not primarily a space to debate methodological or technical issues, but rather to discuss why and how some people have fewer resources and opportunity and – most importantly – what we should be doing to make sure there is a more even playing field.