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Implications of high poverty rates

Jennifer Warlick | Thursday, September 15, 2011

Your recent coverage of increasing poverty rates in the U.S. (“Poverty rate increases in 2010”) focused narrowly on whether the economic resources of American families and individuals should be measured by their annual income or by their consumption expenditures. I fear that your readers will lose the forest for the trees in this debate.

Rather than argue which concept best measures the material deprivation of those at the bottom of the income distribution, your coverage should highlight the broader implications of falling incomes for millions of Americans, specifically the loss of health insurance care, forced residential moves, abandoned educational plans for lack of tuition, and the psychological harm, loss of work motivation, skill and self-confidence that frequently accompanies unemployment.

America cannot afford to wait for the engines of economic growth to lift the poor. We need to act swiftly to expand access to medical programs that will ensure that every pregnant woman receives prenatal care thereby lowering the chances that their children will suffer the lifelong consequences of physical and cognitive developmental delays.

We need to invest now in programs that provide every poor child with a high-quality early childhood education to preempt the achievement gap. We need to make sure that all children receive the medical care they need so that they can attend school every day ready to learn.

We need expanded income supports so that no teenager should ever have to choose between staying in school and supplementing family income. We need to enact legislation that protects low-income families from predatory lending and enables more families to negotiate favorable mortgage extensions and stay in their homes.

If we do not insist upon such actions, Americans can expect to read headlines about increased rates of infant mortality, higher numbers of low-birth weight babies, epidemics of asthma and diabetes, rising numbers foreclosures and of families living in homeless shelters, a widening of the achievement gap and higher dropout rates, exacerbation of racial tensions, rising crime rates and even greater rates of incarceration. These are the realities of a higher poverty rate that readers should contemplate and that your article should have revealed.

Jennifer Warlick

Director, Poverty Studies Minor

Associate Professor of Economics

Sept. 14