March 14, 2007

POVERTY AND PUBLIC HEALTH: THE SCIENTIFIC DATA, plus an Iraq factoid and another instance of the passive voice

A poor chicken is a sick chicken.

OH, MY PROPHETIC SOUL! Monday's post was about the Bush administration's use of the passive voice when it royally screws up.

Here we go again. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales demonstrated his mastery of the passive voice by stating "“I acknowledge that mistakes were made here" to members of congress over the latest scandal.


Medical researchers have long known that poverty is a public health issue, although that awareness hasn't seemed to trickle down to policy makers.

Maybe it's time.

The American Journal of Preventative Medicine recently published a very well documented article by Steven H. Woolf (MD, MPH), Robert E. Johnson (Ph.D.), and J. Jack Geiger (MD, MS) titled "The Rising Prevalence of Severe Poverty in America: A Growing Threat to Public Health."

The problem, according to the authors, isn't just the growing number and percentage of people in poverty (from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 12.7 in 2004), but the growth severe poverty, which means 50 percent or less of the federal poverty level. This population grew by 20% between 2000 and 2004.

By contrast, the article reports that the proportion of Americans living below the poverty line declined by 25 percent between 1993 and 2000.

The mean income deficit, i.e. the difference between income and the poverty level, increased by 14 percent for families (from $6820 to $775) and by 20 percent for unrelated individuals (from $4388 to $5259). The biggest growth, however, was among those with an income deficit of $8000 or more. "The population experiencing severe poverty was over-represented by children, African Americans, and Hispanics."

So what? Well...

A rise in poverty rates is important because of the enormous difficulties faced by the poor in meeting the most basic human needs (e.g., food security, clothing, housing, health) and in obtaining the means to escape their conditions (e.g., education, jobs, higher earnings). This suffering alone is sufficient cause for concern among those who advocate social justice, but rising poverty rates are also relevant to those who reject a moral duty to help the poor. The global competitiveness of the U.S. economy suffers if workers are too poor to obtain an education and modern job skills, the government loses tax revenue and spends more on public assistance because of poverty, and communities fall victim to urban decay, crime, and unrest.

The study also found that severe poverty may be producing a "sinkhole effect on income for other Americans:

Just as a sinkhole causes everything above it to collapse downward, families and individuals in the middle and upper classes appear to be migrating to lower income tiers that bring them closer to the poverty threshold.

Next time: the health consequences.

IRAQ WAR FACTOID. On a not entirely unrelated note, Foreign Policy magazine notes that we are now spending about $250,000 a minute on the unnecessary war in Iraq.

WV WALKOUT? it's not yet clear how widespread it will be, but at least some counties will have a one day teacher's strike today.



Anonymous said...

"Poverty happens."

This demonstrates just one of the wonderful uses of the passive voice. If it just happens, nobody is responsible; if nobody is responsible, nothing can be done; since nothing can be done, there's no reason to worry our pretty little heads over it. Problem solved.

El Cabrero said...

How come they do that, Kevertt?