Pop Quiz: What Percentage of Our Children in Poverty are in Welfare-Receiving Families?

    I'm fortunate to be working with a terrific editor, Elizabeth Langosy, as I prepare a number of my social justice essays for publication. (Elizabeth is Executive Editor at www.talkingwriting.com, among the very best e-magazines for readers and writers.) Among the tasks that terrific editors do is to check and triple check (and get a writer's collaboration as she checks) statistics writers, and the press, can so easily throw about. I'm grateful that great editors are tenacious sticklers.

     In an essay about poverty a few years back, I wrote that Americans often conflate what they imagine to be

          . the percentage of American children living in poverty with

          . the percentage of our children in welfare-receiving families,

thinking that there's something close to a one-to-one correspondence.

     There isn't.

     In my original essay, When She Was a Filthy Turn of Phrase: On the Dole, I said that the percentage of poor children living in welfare-receiving families here was roughly 12%. I had used a secondary source for that, a source in the popular press, and, in any case, no longer up-to-date. Elizabeth thought, and I agreed, that we should get a newer and more rigorous source. I was surprised to learn from the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University's  School of Public Health --  a lead researcher there was kind enough to look through his data over several days  --  that the percentage of American children in poverty who live in welfare-receiving families was, in 2011 (the latest data he had) 4.4%. This is to say that not only was my original source in the popular press pretty off-base, but that we really need to alter our understanding of what poverty is if we're interested in making a positive diference.

     This is also to say that whether or not one subscribes to government definitions of a poverty-line, of what constitutes families-living-in-poverty, we must realize that the great majority of adults who are poor do not qualify for welfare because they are the working-poor and, ironically, earn too much to receive welfare...and so their kids do not benefit from welfare at all.

     It's a hell of a bind our poorer kids are in.

Views: 111

Comment by Jaime Franchi on April 3, 2013 at 4:28am

This whole system is set up against poor people. We encourage them to work, yet keep wages so low that they can't make ends meet, and then disqualify them for social services. You're right - the children bear the worst of the brunt. We need to change the cultural idea of who a welfare recipient is - it the big business on Wall Street that's reaping the government handouts. Excited for your project, Jonathan. Keep on keeping on.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 3, 2013 at 4:36am

Jaime   you're so right. Thans!

Comment by BUD CLAYMAN on April 3, 2013 at 5:32am

It's interesting that the popular press got this wrong, but not surprising.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 3, 2013 at 5:35am

Bud   it is. I am convinced that even in error, the pop-press writer tht he had it right.

Comment by JMac1949 Memories on April 3, 2013 at 9:11am

The vast majority of children "living in poverty" are children of  "working poor" parents, many of whom are undocumented "illegal aliens" and most of whom hold down more than one low paying job.  This is the result of  Welfare to Work programs that systematically deny benefits to families so that the government can report that only 4.4 % of  "children in poverty live in welfare-receiving families."   We're cooking the books so we can feel better about progress in welfare reform, but that doesn't even begin to change the sad sick realities of poverty in America.  R&L

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 3, 2013 at 9:14am

jmac  ty   i am fairly clear from what the researher told me that the stat does not include kids of "illegal aliens" bc they wouldn't be eligible for assistance from jump.

Comment by lorianne on April 3, 2013 at 9:19am

 most  people do seem to think that the poor are just basking in the benefits of social service programs and living high off the hog of welfare.  i'm not surprised at any of this, having spent my time as one of the working poor with children.   perhaps its just too difficult for many people ... the press included, to really look as how appalling the numbers are.

From the NCCP:  "Nearly 16 million children in the United States – 22% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level

Because percentages are so deceiving to the eye and mind. that is  16 MILLION!

and a mere 4.4% of that 16 MILLION! are in families receiving welfare benefits?  and the rest are what?  hungry?  we should be ashamed.

and yet all i see on my damn FB page is people asking me to 'like' some bullshit message about drug testing welfare recipients as though that will make some sort of difference in the cost/impact of welfare programs? as though that will help... anything?

yeah... we should all just STFU and go feed someone.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 3, 2013 at 9:20am

Bless you for this, Lorianne.

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