Poverty Prevention: Has the United States Made Progress?


Congressman Paul Ryan, vice-presidential running mate to Mitt Romney in 2012’s presidential election, offers his opinion on the effectiveness of government organizations with the intent to assist those in economic crisis while Bread from the City, a Washington relief organization, discusses his speech.

Over the past decade, modern developed countries have taken great leaps in order to lessen the percentage of their population under the poverty line. Significantly, Latin America has made tremendous progress in reducing extreme financial crisis among the Latin population. The World Bank, a United Nations financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital investments, defines people in poverty as living on less than $1.25 a day. This absolute destitution has fallen by half to 12.3% among Latin American countries, with middle class currently at 34% of the population and growing. For the first time in South American history, the middle class demographic is surpassing the demographic of those living in financial crisis.

As for America, about a half-century ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty. Since then, the percentage of citizens living in poverty has decreased, but 46 million American citizens remain impoverished as of April 2014. In the US, the near-poor are more likely than those below the poverty line to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit and less likely to be covered by public health insurance.

“One thing we learned most clearly from the Arab spring is that if you have GDP growth but you ignore a large proportion of your population, you are building political instability into your country,” said Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of World Bank.

Although most American political leaders and would agree with Dr. Jim Yong Kim, there is currently great debate in Washington over the effectiveness of poverty prevention programs, which the federal government spend nearly $800 billion on annually. The question that has risen is, how bad would things be without these prevention programs and are they really preventing anything in the long run?

Although these questions are certainly a good start to lowering the percentage of those below the poverty line, as the United States attempts to figure out the answer to their increasing poverty, the nation as a whole comes stagnant in economically focused demographic progress.