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50 Years after the War on Poverty, Poor People Are Not Better Off

The article “50 Years after the War on Poverty, Poor People Are Not Better Off” was published in the Bloomberg Businessweek magazine on January 13, 2014 by Charles Kenny. In this article, the author describes and compares changes in the poverty levels that occurred during the last fifty years in the USA. There are also many economic determinants being used throughout the article in order to explain the poverty situation better. This year marks the fiftieth year of President’s Johnson war on poverty. Even though the majority of the US living standards have been raised above the poverty line with the help of various government programs, the country has not experienced much economic growth compared globally.

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Also, the poverty line has not shown much change since it was first established in 1963, and the author proceeds to analyze such economic measures as the consumer price index, GDP, income distribution and taxes. The measure of the CPI does not take into account the innovations that happened in the last fifty years; therefore, what may have been a luxury then is a necessity now. It is further shown that the war on poverty has been helped by various government programs as well. However, if the US should be compared on the international scale, it will be noticeable that it has not made much progress in reducing the poverty rates.

The author mentions the fact that the GDP per capita has increased greatly over the last fifty years; still, income stayed at the same level for the low-income population. The immigration of low-income people to the USA is also considered as a negative determinant of the poverty level, but it represents a very small percentage as further described. There are no positive explanations to why the poverty rates remain negative, and no matter what the cause is – a decline in the value of the minimum wage or excessive government regulations, one thing is obvious: changes must occur in order to improve the population’s quality of life (Kenny, 2014).

Theories of Poverty and Anti-Poverty Programs in Community Development

In order to understand the existence of poverty, the degrees of its severity among different countries, and the various methods of combating it better, there must be some detailed economic explanations attached to the issue. There are five known theories for fighting poverty that may be used accordingly to explain it. All these theories originated from personal inferiority, some cultural beliefs that back up the existence of poverty, political instabilities, and geographical location. The explanation of poverty is an issue that might be best addressed by policy makers, economics professors, and other scientists. The simple definition of the term is a shortage of daily essentials for any individual. These necessities usually include food, housing, medical assistance, and a safe living environment.

However, diverse views on what necessities mean to different persons will ultimately distort the basic definition of poverty. Usually, needs differ from one individual to another based on the social status, life experience, and other attributes. Therefore, the most accurate measure of poverty would be provided by the federal government in terms of a minimum income that is needed for any family to live on. No matter how poverty is analyzed, it is always essential to keep in mind the fact that its idea and policies are created by political powers. In this case, the choice of the theory of poverty is influenced by different political agendas (Bradshaw, 2006).

Now, the five theories of poverty are to be presented and explained in some details. The first theory states that poverty may be caused by individual deficiencies. Thus, every human is responsible for his/her welfare. The supporters of this theory think that if a person would work harder and would make better choices in life, than they could avoid many problems. The role of genetic intelligence is also attributed to this theory, arguing that the more intelligence one person has, the better life position he/she will achieve. The economic theory argues that the poor have very little motive for bettering life conditions because the existing welfare programs do not encourage self-improvement and shelter individuals from the results of their negative experiences. However, this theory is rather connected with certain beliefs and does not apply to the case.

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Another economic theory related to the explanation of the state is the theory of poverty being caused by the cultural belief system. This theory is closely interrelated with the individualistic theory mentioned above; however, it is characterized by the belief that poverty is dispatched from one generation to another through a variety of set skills and values. According to this theory, individuals are not at fault for being poor because they inherited this condition from their culture. There are many anti-poverty social programs designed to help the poor financially within a limited period of time. During this period of time, a person must actively search for a job; hence, the programs have a proactive helping approach.

The third theory to be examined is characterized by economic, political, and social distortions. According it, the main reason for poverty is not the individual’s capabilities, but the social, economic, and political situation that he/she lives in at that particular time. Most of the time, the political regime can be considered as a major cause for poverty. The political and economic systems are currently organized in such a manner that less fortunate people will stay behind no matter how intelligent they are. The issue of the minimum wage does not permit many families to be economically stable since there are structural barriers that prevent poor people from getting better paid jobs.

On the other hand, the research has shown that the low-income jobs availability has been constant, but the problem remains to be that wages have stayed the same or in some cases have fallen. The lack of promotions and benefits related to low income jobs has also added a burden to the poor while contributing to the existence of more personal problems for these families. Nevertheless, the political barrier between the rich and the poor demonstrated the connection between power and wealth. Poor people are less inclined to participate in political events, or they are even eliminated from the political system (Bradshaw, 2006).

The Forest and the Trees: Sociology as Life, Practice, and Promise

Therefore, the lack of participation in the political system diminishes the opportunity of taking advantage of any economic benefits related to the political influence. The need for extensive changes in the political system, the distribution of economic power, and the distribution of wealth fairly represent fundamental processes that must occur before anything will get better for the average person.

Researching the article that was chosen for the analysis, this theory closely identifies the key points why the changes over the fifty years have not created opportunities to better the level of development for the average person who is still struggling to survive. It once again demonstrates that the political system is the main enemy of the average family. Even though political leaders claim that there is a financial crisis on the planet, it should be clear to anyone that it is all created purposely. In fact, they do not care about the majority of the population whom they want and need to stay poor (Johnson, 2008).

The next theory of poverty claims the presence of poverty due to the geographical location. The geographical theory of poverty was framed on other concepts; however, it connects poverty with the idea that certain areas do not have access to the necessary resources in order to bring about prosperity and higher standards of living for their population. The explanation of the theory may have to do with the inequality of distribution of financial resources by the government to certain areas, lack of investment, high density of the population, which leads to a scarcity of available jobs, and many other factors that, if taken as a whole, contribute to poverty.

Anti-poverty programs designed to eliminate poverty in various geographical regions are focused not only on businesses, government, or cultural factors, but also encourage the use of resources that will help these regions become self-sustainable. It does not matter how miserable the geography of places might be, programs try to find ways in which these communities can use everything around them to their advantage.

Poverty and Economic Growth

The last analyzed theory is the theory of cumulative and cyclical interdependencies which incorporates the key points from the other four. This economic theory has its roots in the research of Myrdal, who worked on explaining the process of economic development and underdevelopment. The main argument of the theory is that if a person or community has been experiencing problems, then the spiral effect will continuously create more problems in the future. The cycle can happen at the individual level as well as at the community level, stating that one problem will lead to the creation of another issue that may be more complicated.

Historically, the US economy has been through times when even though the country was in prosperity, an essential part of low-income people were still living in poverty. It is projected that this number will significantly decrease in the future; however, looking back at the last fifty years, one can notice that the situation has not changed much. One of the reasons is the inefficient economic policy implemented by the government that has rarely achieved any success in the process of redistribution of income (Solow, 1990).


The fight against poverty has been a major social, political, and economic problem for a long period of time. The majority of the population is stuck in poverty due to political instability and frequent changes in the state of affairs all over the world. Living in the capitalistic system, it is known that a small number of the upper class people are in control of everything that creates wealth. Therefore, poverty is still widespread everywhere and remains to be a huge problem because the capitalist system allows the accumulation of wealth on one end while keeping low-income individuals in poverty.

It is not limited to scientific work to explain and solve the issue of poverty; however, the important thing is not to give up and try to achieve higher standards of living in any case. Even though there may be many theories that explain the causes and potential solutions for poverty, the only way things will get better and poverty could be eliminated is if the political systems all over the globe will be changed. If the governments would operate on the principles of honesty and not just greed, then better days will come, and no individual would live in poverty.

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