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Poverty comes in many forms

November 6, 2011
By CATHY BROWNFIELD - Family Recovery Center , Salem News

What is poverty? When you think of it, what do you perceive it to be? Have you ever lived it? Do you know anyone who has lived it? What have you seen of poverty with your own eyes?

Poverty is an elderly person who has to go to a nursing facility (not home) because they can't live alone any more. They have to spend down every financial resource they have in private pay, say $4,000+ per month until they are impoverished. That is double room occupancy in a space possibly smaller than a bedroom in your house. But, the basic needs are met: roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and a bed to sleep in, as well as someone to make sure they take their medications properly. But is that really poverty?

Poverty is an older couple, their children grown up, but they are still paying off debt incurred as they raised their family. And then that driver ran the red light and totaled one of the couple's vehicles. Now they have a monthly car payment, a higher insurance bill and when the Gallop Poll people called and asked if they ever had to go without food, the wife answered there were times when she worried about that happening. But they have a roof over their heads that presently doesn't leak. They have a safe bed to sleep in. And they eat, even if it isn't good nutrition from the food pyramid. But is that really poverty?

Poverty is the family that gets evicted from their rental unit and goes to live in a motel, paying the bill with a credit card. How does that work exactly? Is that really poverty?

Poverty is the middle-aged couple, both limited by disability but also denied Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Their credit card debt is so heavy they will likely have to file bankruptcy and lose their nearly 20 acres of woodland acreage. Is that really poverty?

Poverty is the couple living on the husband's disability. His wife, also disabled, was short on work credits so she does not qualify for Social Security benefits. He is on the heart transplant list. Their living conditions are humble, to say the least. The water heater died and they don't have the money to replace it. He says they will heat water on the stove to bathe. Is that poverty?

The face of poverty in America is not necessarily homelessness, although there are homeless people. In July of this year an article appeared on The Heritage Foundation website, The 28-page report, Air Conditioning, Cable TV and an X-box: What is Poverty in the United States, describes inequality rather than poverty.

"Each year for the past two decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that over 30 million Americans were living in poverty. In recent years, the Census has reported that one in seven Americans are poor," advises the article.

Though the term "poverty" may, in your mind, mean destitutionhomelessness, hunger, unable to meet basic needs, "The average poor person, as defined by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines," advises the article at the Heritage Foundation website.

There are some connections between depression and poverty. Poverty affects people's lives on all levels. The chronic issue of lack of money is incredibly stressful and grinds people down.

People with disabilities are also more likely to be poor and more likely to suffer from depression. In addition, we live in a culture where success is measured by how much we earn. People with low income are often stereotyped and assumed to be unsuccessful, which impacts their self-esteem.

The Residential Energy Consumption Survey for 2005 admits the numbers of poor have increased, but "the increase in poverty during the recession is, to a considerable degree, the result of working-class families losing employment." Expectations are that when the economy improves and these workers return to the workforce the poverty level will drop again.

But does the Census Bureau information provide information about actual living conditions? The article says no. In counting the monthly household income, the Census Bureau does not count any welfare assistance, things like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SSI, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, WIC (Women, Infants and Children) food program, public housing and Medicaid.

So, what is poverty in the United States? Who are the people who go without the things they need, like medical care, dental care, basic essentials like needed appliances for cooking, bathing, keeping warm in winter and cool in the hot summer? Research completed by the Family Recovery Center shows that women and children represent approximately 75 percent of the U.S. population that is considered to be poor. Some researchers are exploring the possibility that poverty is one of the "pathways to depression." Low economic status brings with it many stresses, including isolation, uncertainty, frequent negative events, and poor access to helpful resources. Sadness and low morale are also more common among persons with low incomes and those lacking social supports.

Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities. For more information about our education, prevention and treatment programs contact us at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, FRC is funded, in part, by United Way of Northern Columbiana County.



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