People often talk or read about the poor without having a clear picture of them in mind. Who are they? Is the stereotype of a chronically homeless and jobless person correct? As the U.S. Bureau reports, 5.1 million American families are poor despite having at least one member working.
Things are not improving and having a more concrete idea and a clear definition of who is poor can help us understand our society and politics better. The opposing campaign strategies of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in approaching the poor and tackling poverty give us a deeper insight to their agenda.
The most common way to define the poor is by measuring income poverty. Even though this method is problematic, since it excludes non-economic factors such as medical and living conditions, it is the most straightforward. The Census Bureau determines who is poor through official poverty estimates that use a set of dollar-value thresholds, or minimum income needed to meet basic needs. The official poverty line for 2015 is $12,082 for a single person and $24,257 for a household of four, which brings 43.1 million Americans below poverty line.
If you add their families, the working poor become a large percentage of the electorate -- and they are up for grabs in this election.
So, in contrast to the stereotype, many of the poor actually work but make less than $1,000 per month. The working poor may be involved in precarious and low-wage work, or forced to remain part-time. That puts them in a distinct category of workers -- the outsiders.
According to the insider-outsider theory of employment, workers are divided into insiders and outsiders, two groups with often opposing interests. Insiders are those who have a secure job and enjoy work benefits -- union members are the best example. Outsiders are those who work in precarious jobs and often need welfare protection while temporarily unemployed or earning below the poverty line.
If you add their families, the working poor become a large percentage of the electorate -- and they are up for grabs in this election. The candidates have adopted different approaches: Clinton has a pro-poor plan, even though she has mostly focused her campaign on the insiders, while Trump, who has proposed largely pro-business policies, has tailored his rhetoric to attract a certain segment of outsiders.
During the second presidential debate, Trump quoted Bernie Sanders a few times. One reason could be that Sanders was particularly focused on the poor and Trump has been trying to appeal to these voters. Trump has repeatedly said that "poverty is beyond belief" and, in an (largely unsuccessful and misguided) attempt to gain support from minorities such as the black community, Trump often brings up the lack of opportunity in inner cities and unemployment rates.
His performance in the primaries shows that appealing to the poor actually made a difference: Trump succeeded in counties with unemployment rates higher than the national average of five per cent. Specifically, an analysis of county-level primary voting data shows that Trump won about three-fourths of 1,400 counties with higher-than-average unemployment rates.
In his plan to revive the economy, Trump suggests that "reform policies with a pro-growth tax plan" will boost the economy. Despite his anti-establishment rhetoric, his plan would mostly benefit employers, not the employees. His vague claims that the repatriation of American companies will help the poor are non-pragmatic and misleading, as trickle-down economics have proven to be dysfunctional.
Clinton, on the other hand, has proposed a targeted anti-poverty agenda in her plan for helping America's poor. Her strategy, based on Congressman Clyburn's 10-20-30 plan, directs 10 per cent of federal investments to communities where 20 per cent of the population has been living below the poverty line for 30 years.
In terms of campaign strategy, however, Clinton has mostly focused on one of the traditional Democratic supporters -- the insiders. She has promised to be the "partner in the White House" for the National Education Association, one of the largest American unions. She has told Americans that "When unions are strong, America is strong."
So Clinton got a lot of the insiders, who are her expected base, and is planning to help the outsider poor by promising targeted investments within an anti-poverty agenda. Trump, through focusing on the disenfranchised, has managed the unexpected -- to expand the Republican base to the poor. Clinton could take some of the outsiders back by better explaining her anti-poverty plan and more explicitly exposing Trump's pro-business agenda. The next president needs to have a specific and targeted plan for the poor because, remember, these are not just voters.
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10. Connecticut >> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 12.5% (17th lowest) >> Official poverty rate: 10.7% (7th lowest) >> State price level: 6th highest >> Pct. without health insurance: 9.4% (8th lowest) Based on pre-tax income alone, 10.7% of Connecticut residents lived in poverty between 2011 and 2013, one of the lower rates nationwide. Based on the supplemental poverty measure, however, 12.5% of state residents lived in poverty, still among the lower rates, but the 10th largest deviation from a state’s official poverty rate in the country. The supplemental poverty rate tends to be higher among older Americans. With the help of the nation’s third highest average social security payment, however, retirement-aged Connecticut residents had incomes of $26,581 on average, more than in all but a handful of states. The average earned income tax credit was $2,140 in Connecticut last year, one of the lower rates.
9. New Hampshire >> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 10.5% (7th lowest) >> Official poverty rate: 8.3% (the lowest) >> State price level: 9th highest >> Pct. without health insurance: 10.7% (12th lowest) New Hampshire had the nation’s lowest average official poverty rate from 2011 to 2013, at just 8.3%. Although using the supplemental poverty rate, 10.5% of state residents lived in poverty in that time, this was still among the lowest rates in the nation. Among the factors that may contribute to the state’s higher supplemental poverty rate is the low average earned income tax credit.The average refunded amount was just $1,926 in the latest tax year, lower than in any state except for Vermont.
8. Massachusetts >> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 13.8% (22nd highest) >> Official poverty rate: 11.5% (14th lowest) >> State price level: 7th highest >> Pct. without health insurance: 3.7% (the lowest) Massachusetts residents are some of the nation’s wealthiest, and the state does not lack generous social programs. Less than 4% of state residents didn’t have health insurance last year, for example, the lowest rate of any state. Despite the state’s support structures and high incomes, there is a large gap between the official poverty rate and the poverty rate that also considers social programs and the cost of living. Massachusetts had one of the nation’s highest costs of living as of 2012, and was one of the most expensive state in which to rent a home.
7. Virginia >> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 13.6% (24th highest) >> Official poverty rate: 10.9% (10th lowest) >> State price level:10th highest >> Pct. without health insurance: 12.3% (20th lowest) Under the official poverty measure, about 880,000 Virginia residents, or 10.9%, lived in poverty between 2011 and 2013. This was the 10th lowest rate in the nation. However, under the supplemental poverty measure, nearly 1.1 million Virginians, or 13.6%, lived in poverty in that time, 211,000 higher than the official measure. Moreover, the supplemental poverty rate was among the top half of all states. Among the factors that may contribute to this disparity are the relatively low share of households participating in federal social safety net programs. Just 28.3% of households received Social Security payments last year, 10% of households received food stamps, and 4.1% received Supplemental Security Income, in each case among the bottom 15 states nationwide.
6. Maryland >> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 13.4% (25th highest) >> Official poverty rate: 9.9% (2nd lowest) >> State price level:5th highest >> Pct. without health insurance: 10.2% (10th lowest) Less than 10% of Maryland residents lived below the official poverty line last year, lower than in every state except for New Hampshire. Yet, after taxes and supplemental measures were taken into account, this rate increased 3.5 percentage points. Maryland residents are exceptionally wealthy. For example, an average retirement-aged resident had an income of $30,678 in 2013, the highest nationwide. Despite the relatively high retirement income, poverty among Maryland seniors was more than twice as high based on the supplemental measure than under the official measure, according to a 2013 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
5. Nevada >> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 20.0% (2nd highest) >> Official poverty rate: 16.3% (13th highest) >> State price level:21st highest >> Pct. without health insurance: 20.7% (2nd highest) Nevada’s average poverty rate from 2011 to 2013 using the supplemental poverty measure was 20%, the second highest in the nation. One reason for the high rate may be the state’s relatively low EITC participation rate. Just 71.5% of eligible income tax filers claimed an earned income tax credit in the 2010 tax year, among the lowest rates nationwide. Additionally, many households may have to contend with high levels of out-of-pocket medical expenses. Last year, 20.7% of residents did not have health care coverage, the second highest rate in the nation. According to the Census Bureau, under the supplemental poverty measure, out-of-pocket medical costs are the top reason people fall into poverty.
4. Florida >> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 19.1% (3rd highest) >> Official poverty rate: 15.1% (18th highest) >> State price level: 16th highest >> Pct. without health insurance: 20.0% (3rd highest) When supplemental measures were taken into account, nearly 20% of Florida residents lived in poverty — not only one of the largest deviations from the official poverty rate, but also nearly the highest supplemental poverty rate in the country. High out-of-pocket medical expenses likely explain in part the high supplemental poverty rate in the state, as one in five residents didn’t have health insurance in 2013, nearly the highest rate nationwide. Between 2011 and 2012, 58% of school-age children were eligible for free or reduced lunch. While this was one of the highest rates in the country, it clearly was not enough to offset the state’s poverty level.
3. New Jersey >> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 15.9% (12th highest) >> Official poverty rate: 10.7% (7th lowest) >> State price level:3rd highest >> Pct. without health insurance: 13.2% (24th lowest) New Jersey had one of the nation’s lowest official poverty rates, at just 10.7% between 2011 and 2013. However, using the supplemental poverty measure, 15.9% of state residents lived in poverty during that time, 12th highest in the country. High prices may be one factor contributing to the area’s higher supplemental rate. As of 2012, New Jersey had the third highest price level of any state, and the fourth highest cost of renting a home. The relatively few individuals claiming an earned income tax credit, as well as the low levels of households receiving food stamp benefits, may play a role in the state’s high supplemental poverty rate as well. Taxes, too, may have played a role. As of fiscal year 2011, New Jersey had the nation’s second highest state and local tax burden, behind only New York, according to the Tax Foundation.
2. Hawaii >> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 18.4% (5th highest) >> Official poverty rate: 12.4% (18th lowest) >> State price level: the highest >> Pct. without health insurance: 6.7% (2nd lowest) Like a majority of states where poverty is worse than it seems, Hawaii residents aged 65 and older were more than twice as likely to live in poverty when supplemental measures were considered, according to a 2013 Kaiser Family Foundation study. Hawaii’s exceptionally high costs of living explain the difference between poverty rates under the official and supplemental poverty measures. Hawaii’s average cost of rent in 2012 was 60% more expensive than the average nationwide and the highest of any state. Because of geographical constraints, Hawaii’s utility costs are also among the nation’s highest. Electricity is supplied primarily by power plants fueled by petroleum, which is imported into the state.
1. California >> Supplemental poverty rate 2011-2013: 23.4% (the highest) >> Official poverty rate: 16.0% (15th highest) >> State price level:4th highest >> Pct. without health insurance: 17.2% (8th highest) In no state was the gap between the official poverty rate and the supplemental poverty rate wider than in California. Between 2011 and 2013, an average of 16% of residents earned incomes below the poverty line, one of the higher rates in the nation. Once taxes, cost of living, and non-cash income were taken into account, the poverty rate rose to 23.4%, the highest supplemental poverty rate nationwide. California’s high cost of living is the largest force pushing state residents into poverty. The cost of rent relative to the rest of the nation was higher than in every state except for Hawaii in 2012. Every day items are also more expensive in California than in the vast majority of states. And despite a wide-ranging need for government assistance, just 9.4% of households received food stamps last year, one of the lowest rates.
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