Thursday, January 30, 2014

Poor and poorer: Arkansas is still poor, but not as poor as before the War on Poverty

Posted By on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 12:28 PM

MOVING UP: The situation has improved from conditions reflected in Ben Shahn's powerful Ozarks photos in the 1930s. But the safety net is fraying.
  • MOVING UP: The situation has improved from conditions reflected in Ben Shahn's powerful Ozarks photos in the 1930s. But the safety net is fraying.

Stateline  provides an interesting report on the state of poverty in America 50 years after LBJ launched his  War on Poverty.

A failure? Not at all, though the effects aren't even across the country.

Take Arkansas. In 1959, its poverty rate was more than 47 percent. In the most recent Census, it was 20.1 percent. In 1959, the average rate of poverty nationally was 24 percent. Today it's 14 percent. Arkansas still lags, but not so far. And thank goodness for Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico. It could be worse. (The poverty rate in current dollars is $23,800 for a family of four. This is right around the $10.10/hour minimum wage proposal President Obama has made.)

The bad news is that Arkansas is in the throes of a political revolution that is aimed at replicating conditions that the War on Poverty addressed. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps. All these things eased the pain of poverty and helped families to a greater shot at the stability necessary to improve their lot. These are the very "entitlements" under attack by Republican politicians. Tom Cotton, the extremist Republican given a strong chance to beat Mark Pryor, just voted against a farm bill because it spends too much money on food stamps.

From Stateline:

Experts say that in some regions, the same factors that caused poverty decades ago persist today. Among them are a less-educated workforce, lower rates of health insurance, low participation rates in safety-net programs and long distances to major cities and metropolitan areas with plentiful jobs.

Cotton and Co: Unemployment benefits? Cut them off. Health insurance?. If you can't save enough to pay for it on your $6/hour job you aren't working hard enough. Food stamps? Everybody on food stamps drives a new SUV and buys lobster and T-bones with the stamps. Workers comp? Only deadbeats claim compensation for workplace injuries. Unions? Bad for business. Social security? Privatize it. Military pensions? Privatize them.

To the extent Arkansas made any progress the last half-century it's in large part because the prevailing political winds didn't pledge devotion to every single element of that agenda. In Republican orthodoxy, no exceptions are allowed.

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