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Social Problem and Policy Analysis of Poverty

Final Policy Analysis

Topic: Poverty


As Nelson Mandela once said “As long as. Poverty, injustice, and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can  truly rest.”(Brainyquote). When I found that quote I felt that it fit this topic area so well. Over the course of this semester poverty has been seen in every time period, and this is what led me to choose this as my topic. I started to question why has this problem of poverty been around since the beginning of this country. And how come we have not been able to completely fix the problem over the past 350 years. So in this paper I will not only talk about poverty, what it is, but also the history of policies that apply to poverty. I will also speak about the great depression and the war on poverty, where poverty first was seen as a social problem and policy was put in place. I will also talk about current and recent policies that will help reduce or eliminate poverty from modern day society, I will analyze policies effectiveness and provide recommendations and final thoughts about them.

Social Problem

To begin, a social problem is not a set of objective conditions and there is not just one way to solve/address the problem at hand. According to Blumer, “Poverty was a conspicuous social problem…practically disappear from the sociological scene in the 1940’s and early 1950’s,and then to reappear in our current time.” (Blumer 1971),so from this I drew the conclusion that poverty has always been seen as a social issue. So what is poverty? Poverty can be “defined as the lack of sufficient income for people to play the roles, participate in the relationships, and follow customary behavior which is expected of them by virtue of their membership of society.” (Iceland J.,2013,CH. 1,p. 1). We can take this definition to mean that individuals are considered to be in poverty when they do not have enough monetary funds to provide themselves with basic necessities. Also, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, poverty is defined as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions” (Webster).

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Poverty can affect anyone however at times through history we see a lot of people of color have been affected. We also see that poverty can also affect anyone no matter the age or gender, in 2016 about “13.8% of men, and 16.3% of women lived in Poverty” (PovertyUSA) Poverty also can affect individuals labeled as disabled, “more than 4 million people living with a disability” (PovertyUSA) lived in poverty in 2016. According to Iceland, “in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, some middle-class and wealthy city residents began to build new homes in areas outside cities such as New York and Boston in order to avoid the poor who lived in the cities themselves”(CH. 1, p. 4), from this we can conclude that many but not all people stricken with poverty live in city environments. I feel that this is due to the fact that after the civil war many moved to cities because at the time there was jobs. However, around the time of the 1920s and the great depression, many began to lose their jobs and lost their savings.

According to Poverty USA and the Census Data in 2016, “highest poverty rate by race is found among Native Americans (27.6%), with Blacks (26.2%)” (Poverty USA).  Around the 1960s the government began to develop ways to measure poverty. Poverty thresholds help us understand how much a particular family needs to live. In 2016, the government deemed that the poverty line for one person is “$12,228” (PovertyUSA). Poverty does have some consequences it causes poor health which can lead to a shorter life span. By this I mean that due to the lack of income for the family, they are unable to afford food, medical care, and education. Without spendable income individuals cannot afford to purchase healthy food which could help them lessen the chance of them getting an illness such as a diabetes. From all the above I conclude that this social problem is a very significant issue. Poverty can impact anyone no matter the individuals age, race, or gender. I feel that due to the fact that anyone can be affected by poverty this issue is something that everyone needs to be concerned about.

Human Rights/Social, economic, environmental justice framework

The issue of poverty touches upon social justice, human rights and economic justice. Social Justice is “an ideal condition in which all members of society have the same rights, protections, opportunities, obligations, and social benefits.” (Finn& Jacobson 2008). The issue of poverty can be seen as a social justice issue due to the fact most of the individuals who are living in poverty are people of color. As previously stated, Native Americans and African Americans are two of the highest groups living in poverty. These particular individuals and other people of color in the past were not treated the same as white individuals during this time. People of color were not given the same rights and still are not offered the same opportunities. based on the three approaches to social justice our society today can be seen as a compromise of a Utilitarian and Libertarian, when really society needs be an Egalitarian one.

Poverty also touches upon human rights which can be defined by “rights which are inherent in our nature and without which we cannot live as human beings” (Reichert 2011). Human rights include freedoms that countries offer to individuals, these can range from freedom of speech to everyone being able to have an adequate standard of living. However, for those living in poverty they are not able to have this adequate standard of living. According to Desmond and Western, “For America’s poor, the conditions of life are indecent, and people live with something less than their full humanity, blunted from realizing their utmost potential.” (2018). Many people who are poor at times become homeless, these particular individuals don’t have anything and cannot afford an adequate standard of living. And due to their ragged appearance, many dehumanize them or look at the homeless as less than human.

History of the problem and policy response

Over the course of this class we can see that poverty began even before the founding of this country. It can be traced back to the Poor Laws from 1601, which was brought over from England by the colonizers. This law made it the community’s responsibility to help take care of the poor, they offered public assistance to those who lived in that particular town/village.  However according to Daniel Halloran, during this time “widespread poverty did not exist and the poverty which did exist did not put a serious strain” (1968) During this time there was indoor relief, “involved the widespread use of institutions, such as almshouses, workhouses, orphanages, and mental hospitals.” (Iceland 2013), this relief is one of the most well-known types.

In the early 1920s “legislation in this period supported extending aid to widows with children, a segment of the deserving poor” (Iceland 2013). This type of legislation supported those who were deemed deserving, the undeserving at times were considered people of color. As we continue our search through time, we see in the 1930’s the rise of poverty due to the great depression making poverty a big issue all over the country for everyone. In 1935 the government took the first steps toward social welfare poverty, the social security act became law, we also see Aid to Dependent Children develop. These new laws were put in place to help lessen the issue of poverty during the time period.

While the 40’s and 50’s are looked at as times in which many prospered, that is not the case for everyone. Due to the civil rights movement “national attention to the condition of these socially, economically, and politically marginalized groups” (Iceland 2013), during the 1960s after the assignation of JFK, President Johnson declared a war on poverty. During the War on Poverty many new laws and programs were introduced, the main one was called the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. This is one of the most beneficial polices enacted that helped fight the war on poverty. In the act many programs were introduced such as Job corps, Work Training Programs, Work Study Programs, Head Start, and Community Action Program. Many of the youth programs were designed to help young people of low-income families and minorities gain education, job skills, and job experience that many deemed necessary to help them escape poverty. This act brought about the concept of maximum feasible participation, which can be taken to mean that the citizens suffering from poverty needed to play a role in designing programs to help t=not only themselves but also other low-income individuals. Also, in 1964 congress passed the Food Stamp Act which helped provide the poor with food to meet their nutritional needs. With the new-found outlook on poverty it was believed that things would only get better after the enactment of Economic Opportunity Act, however that was not the actual case.


After the Economic Opportunity act was put into place in 1964, we saw more development of federal laws to help reduce poverty. In 1972, the Supplemental Security Income Program was enacted this social policy provides assistance to individual with mental and physical disabilities. Also, during the 70’s the Food Stamps program was expanded and reformed. With the revamped food stamps program and many other polices such as the Family Planning Service and Population Act, helped offer new service to those considered low income. Due to the many new services to aid those in poverty it was believed during that time that poverty had slowed or that the many were not suffering from it. According to Wood, “Government statistics show that between 1959 and 1978 the percentage of Americans who, after cash income transfers, were still below the official poverty level was cut almost in half – from 22.4% to 11.4%” (1982).

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In 1978, President Carter introduced, The Better Jobs and Income Program, this program was a “federal guarantee of minimum income was provided; benefit scales provided benefit scales provided work incentives; job training and child care were planned” (Stern&Axinn,2018,p.285) however it was not passed due to political parties unable to agree on how to make the program more realistic. In 1988, the Family support Act was passed however during this time the United States had fallen into a recession. Many individuals were applying and obtaining welfare which made it hard for the states to comply with federal standards and by the 1990s states began to reduce funding for the program which caused chaos.

In the 1990s, we see more steps toward reducing poverty due to the economic condition’s poverty was said to be reduced during this time. However according to research, the “poverty rate was 14.2 percent in 1991 significantly higher than the 13.5 percent poverty rate in 1990.” (PovertyintheUnitedStates,1996), even though it was only a slight increase it was one nevertheless. In 1996, a major welfare reform was enacted, it is called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.This act stopped “the entitlement to welfare would be ended and a host of welfare programs including AFDC, food stamps, federal child welfare spending, and Medicaid, would be transformed into a block grant to the states. (Stern&Axinn,2018, p.300), this law made it so that individuals who would be receiving services would need to find or have employment just to receive services.

With the new law enacted “poverty fell steadily; reaching 11.3 percent in 2000, its lowest level since 1979.” (Stern& Axinn 2018, p. 291), even within the African American population “rapid decline in poverty between 1990-2001, the rate falling from 32 to 23 percent” (stern&Axinn,2018, p.291). While this new found prosperity was very inspiring and made many believe that society perhaps was on the right track. From 2007-2009 America suffered from a recession, during this recession “43.6 million in poverty” (Stern& Axinn, 2018,p. 290),many were unemployed and searching for work. Even though it is currently 2018 many in the country still are impacted by the recession and are trying to escape poverty.

Current policy response

To continue, like I mentioned above even in our modern day society we still have individuals living in poverty. It may not be as severe as it use to be however with many living below the governments deemed poverty line which has yet to be changed since first established back in 60’s. Currently there are some policy being purposed however it has not been considered a priority of the governments. While searching for recent policies I came across The Hamilton Project from Brookings, this research suggested that poverty very much need to be looked at, at a national level and addressed as such. This research offers proposals such as the expanding and promotion of early childhood education and development, mentor and support programs for at risk youth, and about helping individuals build job skills. This proposal is just as I said is just a proposal, and originally released in 2014, I feel that this research probably helped pave the way for the Pathways Out of Poverty Act.

Another policy that was brought to congress is called  Pathways Out of Poverty Act of 2017. This policy wishes to strengthen and help develop more anti-poverty programs. The first section speaks about education specifically the accessibility to pre-kindergarten for low income and moderate families. The act also mentions a program called PROMISE, which is a program aimed at reducing at Juvenile delinquency, in the act it mentions how certain councils will receive funding and grants. It also mentions the expansion of Pell Grant, which is funding for higher education and many  people of color  depend on this grant to continue their education. In the bill it is mentioned that to preserve its funding for individuals now and those in the future, “the program should become a fully mandatory program that grows with inflation.” (PathwaysOutOfPoverty).

The next section is about Housing, one thing in this sections is the low income housing tax credit for Homeless youth. The third section is about how to improve TANF program or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. They mention how states need to provide assistance first to particular areas that are deemed the neediest. The policy also speaks about job training, reemployment programs, School Breakfast and Lunch Programs. Another important section is the policy  to help make wages a living one for Americans, this part of the bill is deemed as the Raise the Wage Act. This act wishes to raise minimum wage to $9.25,and increase about a dollar each year  after the act is put in place. This raise also applies to tipped employees, the act also includes an increase of wages for individuals with disabilities. The act also mentions that  by “reducing poverty, especially child poverty, not only reduces costs for federal, State, and local social serves and benefits programs” (PATHWAYSOUTOFPOVERTY).

When using the benefit allocation framework from Gilbert and Terrell, we can see some key details about this policy. When this policy is put in place many living below the federal poverty line will be eligible for the many programs this bill offers. However  everyone will be eligible for the wage increase mentioned in the policy. Like previously stated this policy will provide wage increases, increases in funding for programs for TANF and Federal Pell Grant. Many of the services mentioned in the act will be delivered from social service offices, state and federal government. Some of the programs will be financed by grant funds and inflation, This policy was developed due to the overwhelming fact that many are living below the poverty line, and it has started to effect federal and state government funds. I feel that this policy response is a really good response to the problem. However due to the fact that the bill has yet to be enacted raises the issue that poverty is still not given the attention it needs. Hopefully with the current movements for equality both racially and socially, soon the issue will soon be addressed and the policy enacted.

Evidence of effectiveness

As I previously mentioned the Pathways Out of Poverty Act has not become a law yet, however it was introduced to the house in October 2017. This bill has yet to be passed by the house or Senate, but with hope soon it will be reviewed and debated and passed. However I have found  some research that relates and shows that the items introduced in the Act will be beneficial and could be effective. So to continue according to Ghatak there are three categories that anti-poverty policies can be split into, “those that are aimed at enabling the poor greater access to markets, those that are aimed at improving the access of the poor to public services and infrastructure, and those that are explicitly redistributive in nature” (Ghatak 2015).  Based off the research done by Ghatak, policies that fall into the above categories will help eliminate the chance of individuals being caught in poverty. While looking at the Pathways out of Poverty Act, I feel that the programs in the act, actually fit into the last two categories mentioned by Ghatak. The act wishes to add more to already available social services this is to help improve the services, the act also spoke about increasing wages and grant funding.

I believe that majority of the policy if enacted could work, however I feel that due to the unpredictable economy some may not be able to be enacted as quickly and swiftly as possible. I feel that the expansion and improvement of the social services programs and federal programs is a necessity and is long overdue. That particular  part of the policy I feel would work and be most effective, while the possibility of minimum wage increase would be great however may not be as realistic. For those who receive or need social services this policy will be beneficial to them. This policy very much promotes social justice and human rights. By providing improved and better services to those who need it regardless of race, it helps make sure that everyone is given equal opportunities. Many of the programs that will be affected by this bill have shown their effectiveness, such as Head Start, they have shown it through research and improved methods. The raise of minimum wage would also promote human rights, because everyone would be able to afford adequate living arrangements.


Based off the above research I feel that the war on poverty is still going on and may still continue to do so. Like previously mentioned the above policies are not actually enacted into laws but are proposals. However just like in similar eras poverty has taken a back seat to other issues in which the government has deemed more important. While many have promoted and encouraged certain parts of the Pathways out of Poverty Act, specifically raising the minimum wage. My recommendation is to have the government invest in strategies  that help create more jobs. I also agree with the current polices which asks for minimum wage to be increased, due the increase of price of mostly everything. An adult making minimum wage can barely afford an apartment, food, and car payments. In states like New Jersey the poverty line is actually high, leaving many individuals who are only making in minimum wage extremely below the poverty line. I also feel that if we improve and invest in programs such as Head Start, this could possibly help future generations. Research has shown that individuals who are involved in programs such as Head Start, are more likely to graduate high school and may also pursue higher education. I feel that with the implementation of the Pathways out of Poverty Act, it will definitely effect the field of social work. With the improvement of many social services there will most likely be more position opening for social workers to help make sure programs are being run effectively and smoothly. This act is just one step of many more to come, with social workers and policy makers at fore front, looking at the effectiveness of this act in action and developing more laws to help rid society of poverty. As social workers we need to step up and become leaders and advocates, we the future social workers and politicians need to “transcend partisanship and start acting in the best interests of the American people.” (Joseph 2017).


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