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  • Whatever you think poverty today looks like...

  • ...it probably doesn't look much like this

  • In one of the most affluent counties in America...

  • ...people are queuing for handouts...

  • ...of diapers

  • We've had clients come to us that have said...

  • ...I've rinsed out a diaper and I've re-used it...

  • ...I've turned a diaper inside out and I've re-used it

  • Sometimes I've left my child in a diaper for far longer than I should have

  • There is no government support in America to help pay for diapers

  • And many poor families struggle to afford them

  • America is the richest big country in the world

  • Its unemployment rate couldn't be much lower

  • So why does it have so many people living in poverty?

  • In America almost 40m people are living in poverty

  • That's nearly one-eighth of the population living...

  • ...on less than $26,000 a year for a family of four

  • Here's the thing though...

  • ...poverty in absolute terms has actually decreased in recent years

  • But the nature of poverty is changing...

  • ...and that change is making it much harder to fight

  • Poverty used to be more of an inner-city phenomenon

  • But as housing costs rocketed, poverty exploded in the suburbs

  • Now there are 3m more poor people in suburbs than cities

  • Yet suburban counties spend one-tenth as much...

  • ...to support poor residents as urban counties

  • Which is why some residents of Lake County, Illinois...

  • ...depend on charity handouts for diapers

  • Our schedule for the rest of the year

  • So you can come twice a month, just not twice in the same week

  • Ann Marie Mathis is a local mum

  • She set up the charity nine years ago in her basement

  • Initially she distributed second-hand children's clothes to poor families

  • But soon she found there was an overwhelming need for diapers

  • Diapers costs $70-80 a month per child

  • So that's an expense that many, many families struggle to afford

  • People are faced with you know not only diaper need...

  • ...but by hunger, homelessness

  • It's very prevalent even here in what's considered a wealthier community

  • Xavier has been using the diaper pantry for the last few months

  • For her it's a lifeline

  • Our budget goes on rent and food...

  • ...anything that's not covered by health insurance

  • Let me take this shirt off, you've got another one on

  • Clothing is a big thing for five kids

  • There's a programme, they help out a lot with healthy food

  • And you can get some vouchers with beans, cheese, milk

  • I cook a lot of spaghetti because it usually lasts longer

  • Poverty in America is becoming more concentrated

  • We know that the effect of being poor and living in a poor neighbourhood...

  • ...is much worse than being poor and living in an integrated neighbourhood

  • Especially for children, in terms of the kind of school that they go to...

  • ...or their exposure to crime

  • And it's children who are affected the most

  • One child in every six in America is poor

  • I see other families and they're out enjoying this and they're at the mall...

  • ...or they're at these events

  • My kids ask and I had to keep saying I can't, we can't

  • How did it come to this?

  • To understand we need to go back to the 1960s

  • President Lyndon B. Johnson went on a poverty tour of America

  • And he was so shocked by what he saw he launched an ambitious plan

  • And this administration today, here and now...

  • ...declares unconditional war on poverty in America

  • That war involved an array of programmes...

  • ...designed to create a safety net...

  • ...many of which still exist in some form today

  • These included expanding both the cash benefit for the elderly...

  • ...called Social Security, as well as food stamps...

  • ...which help poor families buy food

  • And largely they were successful

  • If we look at the datawithout the safety-net programmes...

  • ...roughly the same number of Americans would be as poor today...

  • ...as they were in the 1960s

  • But if you include the effect of the safety-net programmes...

  • ...that number comes right down

  • Elder poverty in the 1950s was a huge problem...

  • ...but along the way Social Security hugely reduced...

  • ...the amount of poverty among the elderly

  • Sounds good, but not if you compare America's efforts...

  • ...with other wealthier countries

  • Before the benefit of safety nets is applied...

  • ...America's poverty rate is comparatively low

  • But with it included, it's one of the worst performing...

  • ...only slightly above Costa Rica

  • In part, that's because America's safety-net programmes...

  • ...have tended to benefit the elderly more than other groups...

  • ...like working-age adults and children

  • Those programmes are not doing as much as they might...

  • ...in a country like Finland, for example

  • Finland has a child-poverty rate before taxes and transfers...

  • ...that are on par with America

  • And after its safety net kicks in you cut that down to about 3%

  • In America you don't do that at all

  • Child poverty in America is remarkably high...

  • ...for an advanced, developed democracy

  • You have to ask yourself what is the future of a society...

  • ...that doesn't invest in its children?

  • The problem is food stamps, for example...

  • ...can only be spent on specific things...

  • ...which doesn't always include the most obvious items

  • Unlike Social Security for the elderly...

  • ...whose recipients are handed cash to do as they please

  • It's lunchtime and back at the pantry it's been a very busy day

  • We've given out 5,925 diapers so far...

  • ...with an hour and a half left to go

  • Since Ann Marie started the charity...

  • ...she says they've given out 1.2m diapers

  • And every week more and more families are registering

  • The safety-net programmes that exist in the United States in general...

  • ...do not cover diapers and that's a common misconception in the community

  • The problem is safety-net programmes are targeted...

  • ...so that many people don't qualify

  • They are restrictive. There are behavioural conditions...

  • ...increasingly attached to them...

  • ...and all of this can lead to a bureaucratic nightmare of red tape...

  • ...from which it's almost impossible to escape

  • In America there's an ongoing debate about whether...

  • ...giving poor people cash leads to dependency

  • Yet the evidence from other countries...

  • ...shows that cash benefits can really help dent poverty

  • Since Canada implemented a child benefit of a few hundred dollars a month...

  • ...they have seen their child-poverty numbers decline by about a third

  • It's reasonable to expect that a programme of similar magnitude in America...

  • ...would also generate the exact same effect

  • One candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination...

  • ...has even made this a central part of his campaign

  • I'm Michael Bennet from Colorado...

  • Colorado senator, Michael Bennet, has proposed monthly cash transfers...

  • ...of $300 for each American child...

  • ...as part of wider proposals to help poor people

  • School kids all over this country, they're living at a time...

  • ...when we have got the worst income inequality that we've had in 100 years

  • You've probably never heard of him...

  • ...which tells you a lot about America's political appetite for reducing poverty

  • Poor people are much less likely to vote...

  • ...so their issues are rarely vote-winners

  • If you're working two jobs...

  • ...and trying to make sure your kids are walking safely to school...

  • ...in a gang-infested neighbourhood...

  • ...are you going to the block party for your member of Congress...

  • ...and making a campaign donation so that he or she will listen to you?

  • The pantry's closing for the day

  • For the families who use it, poverty does not need to be inevitable

  • There is a way out. Other countries around the world have done it

  • It's really possible

  • Presuming you're a wealthy country with the resources...

  • ...and you have a reasonably strong economy

  • The choice is a political one

  • I know that there's something better coming...

  • ...and then we'll look back on it like we got through it

  • We're strong. We're going to be stronger because of it

  • I'm Anna, the director of this film

  • If you'd like to see more of the journey that brought us to the diaper journey...

  • ...you can watch the story behind American poverty...

  • ...by clicking on the link opposite

  • The other link will take you to some of the resources that we used...

  • ...when we were researching this film...

  • ...including other exclusive material

  • Don't forget to subscribe so you can see all our latest releases...

  • ...and if you hit the bell button it will notify you whenever we post a new film

  • Thanks for watching

Whatever you think poverty today looks like...

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B1 US poverty america safety net poor diaper safety

Why is there still poverty in America? | The Economist

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    李柏毅 posted on 2020/07/12
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