Thanksgiving marks a time of- well- thanksgiving. We stop to reflect on the good things that have happened to us over the course of the year and thank God for the blessings and the family that surround us (then go and trample some strangers for a fifty inch TV, but I digress). At this time those who have less also come to the forefront of our consciousness. The Salvation Army bell ringers stand outside the supermarkets we frequent and we drop some spare change into their bucket to spare ourselves the guilt later on, or to get on the universe’s good side or Santa’s nice list or whatever. Rarely, I think do we stop to consider how much less those less fortunate than us really have.
The wealth/ income gap is ever widening in America with the top 5% of income earning households bringing in over 20% of total income in America and the bottom 40% of income earning households bringing in 12% of the total income in America. Income here being defined as the wages and salaries earned as measured over time, such as by hour or year (Witt 247). These numbers do not include a person’s wealth which is defined as all of a person’s material assets, including savings, land, stocks, and other types of property, minus debts at any one point in time (Witt 247). Wealth in America is more unequally dispersed than percentage of total income. The top 5% of households own 63.5% of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 40% own -1.1% of all wealth in America. That means households in the bottom 40% of households owe more than they earn. And in 2009 14.3% of America’s population lived in poverty.
Lets take a moment to define poverty for America. According to sociologists we can define poverty in two ways, in absolutes where poverty is the minimum level of subsistence that no family should be expected to live below meaning that someone below the poverty line lacks enough resources to survive (Witt 250). People in poverty in America, although they cannot afford many of the things our society deems essential they are still better off than those in absolute poverty in poorer nations; this is relative poverty. Where does this aforementioned poverty line lie for those living in America at or below its quantified location. In 1964 a formula was created to to help fight what President Lyndon B. Johnson had deemed a War on Poverty. At the research bureau of the Social Security Administration a food economist Mollie Orshansky combined findings from a study that stated families spend about one third of their budget on food, and the cost of a minimally nutritious diet as established by the USDA to generate a poverty threshold. This threshold, or poverty line was was calculated at three times the cost of the USDA’s proposed diet. This definition or formula has come under debate since the formula is seemingly outdated as families now spend about one fourth or one fifth of their budget on food. New supplemental measures of poverty now take into account costs of shelter, utilities, work expenses, and out-of-pocket medical costs.
Many thoughts about those living in poverty are greatly flawed. Many think that those in poverty are there by means of their own doing, they refuse to work, or foolishly got themselves into a great amount of debt. Most of the time this is not the case. Many of those living in poverty are children or those who are ill or disabled and cannot work. And many who are in poverty do not stay there for very long. “In a three year study of census data, researchers found that 28.9% of the population spent two months in poverty, and 23% were in poverty for the duration of the study” (Witt 253). Poverty can be tied to social and cultural resources as well since people in poverty lack the social connections, or culture capital to help them get good jobs.
In conclusion poverty is not always the outcome of a persons failings in society, life circumstances have a great effect on if a persons lives in poverty and for how long. And while the government has set up resources such as SNAP and Social Security to ease the burden on families living in poverty it is not only food, clothing, and shelter that these people need. They need access to networking, and educational opportunities that will help them rise out of poverty and into a standard of living.
Sources cited: Witt, Jon. “Chapter 10: Social Class.” Soc 2012. S.l.: Mcgraw-Hill, 2012. Print.