We were told a couple of thousand years ago that: “The poor, you will always have with you”\…” and sure enough… But now we need to parse the term: “poor” before we get too excited over it. Consider:
We were told even before that warning that: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” And that has since been confirmed not only by our experience but by physicists and such. That’s the nature of our universe; we don’t get anything free. Well, except parents. But it’s obvious that some of us don’t succeed here, either from physical or mental limitations or just plain luck. So we always have those poor around. But, who is ‘poor’?
The street-living ‘homeless’ are mostly poor, with their entire belongings in a shopping bag and no roof or certainty of food. We found storing them in institutions too expensive and tossed the last of them into the streets by 1960, giving us your favorite baglady with her (stolen) supermarket cart of possessions. Those folk are poor and it is because they don’t work, though they may have sweaty enough faces. And they are always with us, a permanent percentage of the human condition. You may have noted that the government doesn’t care for them, either; its usual contribution being to roust them out of any area where too many accumulate. Some religious outfits try to help.
Government spends a lot of money (once yours) ‘helping’ the poor with welfare, food stamps (Now called: “SNAP”), tax credits (Yes, the poor file tax returns), Medicaid and other benefits. Food stamps now feed some 40 million people, a new record. Such benefits help the large numbers of unemployed and partially employed and those relegated from once well-paid work to now, low-paid employment. It is inarguable that such government handouts make unemployment related poverty more comfortable and as columnist Charles Krauthamer observed, tend to subsidize unemployment and thus, encourage it. This is much debated, but true.
An issue that is not much debated is who is so poor that the taxpayers should be forced to contribute? Those on the street come to mind here, few of them have a capacity to change their circumstances. They are as poor as any Rio favela dweller. But should we be taking billions from the productive economy to subsidize the living standards of folk who amount to lower middle class economically? We have created a new class of poor, a new definition of poverty. A typical American ‘poor’ family has a home (rented or mortgaged), a car, one or two TV’s and now, a cell phone. Yet we classify them with the street people as ‘poor.’ And compared to those streetfolk, we provide them a lot more help.
As jobs continue to depart for lower-wage elsewheres as we raise our minimum wage again, while newly affordable robots replace more workers, the numbers of these decently housed, adequately fed and clothed and even well-entertained ‘poor’ will increase while those paying for their ‘help’ will decrease, increasing the drag on the economy. But these sorts of poor folk vote in numbers the politicians heed.
It seems to us, that we have made ourselves a poverty trap that, like the nations’ debt, is not sustainable. Maybe we will need to consider who is truly ‘poor’ and deserving of our sacrifice to help and who is a different case, in need of a different policy. Do the math: Money, as you spread it around, decreases; poverty, as you spread it around, increases.