Is Poverty Obsolete ?
I’ve been reading Clive Hamilton’s Growth Fetish on which quite a few bloggers have already commented. I agree with some of the points Clive makes and disagree, sometimes strongly, with others. I may do a full length review some time, but for the moment I’ll post a bit at a time.
I’ll start with a point of disagreement. Clive dismisses traditional social democratic concerns with absolute deprivation as being relevant, at most, to those in the bottom 10 per cent of the income distribution.
Taking food as the most basic necessity and the US as the developed country where social democracy has lost most ground, I looked for stats and found this briefing by the US Department of Agriculture. The key finding:
89.3 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout calendar year 2001. “Food secure” means they had access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The rest (10.7 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, meaning that they did not always have access to enough food for active, healthy lives for all household members. In 3.3 percent of all households, one or more household members were hungry at least some time during the year. The remaining 7.4 percent obtained enough food to avoid hunger using a variety of coping strategies such as eating less-varied diets, participating in Federal food assistance programs, or getting emergency food from community food pantries.
The figure is close enough to Clive’s 10 per cent, but this is a one-year snapshot. Since people move into and out of poverty, it’s clear that the proportion of Americans who have problems feeding their families at some time in a given period of say, five years, is well above 10 per cent. And this is using a very tight definition of deprivation at a time when the US economy, though past the absolute peak in 2000, was still doing very well by the standards of the last two decades. I’d say that the traditional social democratic concern with poverty is not yet obsolete.