The Doable We Refuse to Do: End Poverty, Confront Privilege

Since I have recently challenged the word magic behind claims that education is the one true path out of poverty and that the free market can ever address poverty and inequity, I want to highlight that the unwillingness of political leaders and the public to acknowledge the importance and potential of the Commons results in a refusal to end directly poverty and confront privilege.

Austin Nichols offers a powerful argument that We can end child poverty. Or, at least, do more:

We could effectively end child poverty now, at least in the short run. The question is whether we’re willing to do that.

If the United States offered cash benefits to children in poor families, we could cut child poverty by more than half. According to calculations using the 2012 Current Population Survey, poor children need $4,800 each, on average, to escape poverty. That’s $400 a month for each child.

If we issued a $400 monthly payment to each child, and cut tax subsidies for children in  higher-income families, we would cut child poverty from 22 percent to below 10 percent. If we further guaranteed one worker per family a job paying $15,000 a year, and each family participated, child poverty would drop to under 1 percent.

A child benefit is now common across developed countries, with amounts of about $140 a month in the UK, $190 in Ireland, $130 in Japan, $160 in Sweden, and $250 in Germany.  A smaller child benefit of $150 per month would chop child poverty from 22 percent to below 17 percent. Adding the job guarantee would lower child poverty to 8 percent.

As important as the need and ability to end poverty directly is the need to face the power of privilege, as detailed by Richard Fry’s The growing economic clout of the college educated. Note specifically the following data displays:

Fry explains the growing disparity:

For the first time on record, households headed by someone with at least a bachelor’s degree received nearly a majority (49.7%) of aggregate U.S. household income; nearly one out of every two dollars went to the college educated.  In 2012 one-in-three households was college educated, so, put another way, half of the aggregate U.S. income goes to one third of the households.

Buried in the strong correlation between level of education attained and household income is the very real causational relationship between privilege and access to that education (both the quality and attainment). While it remains statistically true that higher earning is associated with higher educational attainment, it is also likely that higher educational attainment is simply a marker for the privilege that led to that attainment.

In other words, identifying any person’s educational attainment may be more about that person’s relative privilege or poverty and not that person’s effort, ability, or genuine achievement. (Please note Bruenig’s recognition that birth-wealth without college still has higher income potential than birth-poverty and college attainment.)

The evidence is overwhelming that poverty and affluence are destiny, that inequity is growing in the U.S., and that the best and most effective methods for ending poverty and closing the equity gap is through direct action by our publicly funded institutions (and not waiting on the magic of the Invisible Hand).


2 thoughts on “The Doable We Refuse to Do: End Poverty, Confront Privilege”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s