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Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Minority Report: The social effects of poverty

AMY HOANG / AGGIE
AMY HOANG / AGGIE

Understanding who’s living in poverty is the first step to alleviating its effects

Hillary Clinton released a child tax plan last week that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a progressive Washington, D.C. think tank, has estimated will help over 14.2 million families currently living in poverty.

Clinton proposed a change to the Child Tax Credit, which aids working families with children. Currently, families need to earn an income of at least $3,000 a year to qualify for the credit, so those making less than that are not able to benefit. The maximum credit is $1,000 per child under 17 years old. Clinton’s plan would eliminate this $3,000 threshold so families could benefit as long as they had an income. Clinton also wants to double the maximum credit to $2,000 for every child under five.

Although there are some skeptics, this plan has the potential to help millions of people living in poverty. While it isn’t going to get rid of poverty completely, Clinton’s proposal is an acknowledgement of this perpetual issue that plagues millions of families across the nation. More than that, Clinton has a clear plan to do something about the issue.

Clinton’s proposal has a high chance of succeeding, and it would benefit many families. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t more that could be done to effectively combat poverty. Even if Clinton becomes president and gains enough support to make this tax change, it will take time to be put into effect.

And the extra income can only go so far. For families in deep poverty — making less than 50 percent of the poverty line income — that income may not help them very much. And even if it does, they may still be hovering just above the poverty line. Clinton’s tax plan is promising, but not enough to guarantee financial, health or food security.

We also can’t just throw money at people and expect them to rise above poverty, or expect people to just “work hard” to escape it either. There are always other factors. Looking at the demographics of those living in poverty reveals patterns that may help us alleviate the seemingly intractable problems that come out of poverty.

According to the United States Census Bureau, 43.1 million people living in the United States were living in poverty last year. Compared to other groups, whites had the lowest rates of poverty, at 9.1 percent. The report also showed that 11.4 percent of Asians, 24.1 percent of African Americans and 21.4 percent of Hispanics were living in poverty in 2015.

When you consider gender, it also becomes clear that women experience far greater rates of poverty than men. These numbers also don’t take into account that people barely above the poverty line are struggling as well.

Educational attainment also proved to be a factor in whether a person was impoverished or not. In 2015, 26.3 percent of those 25 and older without a high school diploma lived in poverty. Compare this to the 12.9 percent of those with a high school diploma and the 4.5 percent of people with at least a bachelor’s degree who lived in poverty. That’s a significant difference.

It’s not a coincidence that the dominant group in society has the lowest poverty rate, nor is it a surprise that education — the “great equalizer” — plays a role. Given the social, economic and systemic privileges that whiteness affords, there are fewer external forces that prevent white people from obtaining an education and career.

We can say lack of education is the sole reason that people live in poverty, but that would ignore the fact that often, those in poverty simply don’t have the time or opportunities to pursue a college degree.

The fact is that education is not always an option. If you’re living in deep poverty, getting into the college of your dreams may not be your top priority. There are more pressing things to worry about, and schools aren’t created equal nor do they treat everyone equally. When there are actual systems of discrimination and oppression set up against minority groups, this can discourage people, who already have other stresses, from attaining an education.

We shouldn’t forget that there is a significant relationship between poverty and social dominance. The exact causes of poverty are ambiguous, and there is no concrete solution yet, but the more we begin to recognize different factors, the closer we will get to finding a solution that extends beyond just handing out money.

Written by: Jeanette Yue —jyyue@ucdavis.edu

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