Thinking like a social worker

…any questions? Yes. I have plenty.

Monday Morning Share: Happy Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day!

Over the past couple weeks, I have been following a beautiful labor movement –  The fast food protests to increase the minimum wage.  I also had the opportunity to watch pieces of the 50th anniversary of the March of Washington.  When I hear about people coming together to fight inequality, I ALWAYS cry, because it gives me hope for America’s future.  So while I share many articles on the politics of poverty and studies about poverty in Virginia and around the nation, I am hopeful that together we can demand opportunity for all Americans.

Poverty in Virginia – summer 2013:

  1. Virginia Scorecard shows poverty is worsening.  The poverty section gives more detail about the score.  It also reports that the state has limited influence on poverty.  What?!  I think my multiple articles below shows that the government can have a huge impact on poverty.
  2. Voices for Virginia’s Children report on VA’s Kids Count Profile.  This report also shows setbacks in economic well-being.  Child poverty  has increased by 15 percent since 2005.
  3. Richmond’s Mayor talks about Restructuring Municipal Budgets to Fight Poverty in Spotlight on Poverty.
  4. Virginia Poverty Measure (VPM) gives Virginians a more accurate picture of economic distress.  Its an poverty measure similar to the SPM that I wrote about in January, but focuses on individual-level data.
  5. I just learned about a new blog: through The Commonwealth Institute.  It covers economic issues in Virginia.


  1. A couple articles focus on the Cato Institutes report on welfare: Right-Wing Media Have No Clue How Anti-Poverty Programs Work and Think tank says poor Americans have it too good.
  2. Republicans Are Wearing Driving Millions Into Poverty as a Badge of Honor discusses the sequester’s effect on individuals in poverty.
  3. Expert Testimony from Tianna Gaines-Turner, who is living in and fighting poverty, that was not heard in Washington.
  4. Poverty & Policy blog explains attacks on SNAP program in Congress.
  5. 80 percent of U.S. adults face near poverty, unemployment: Survey is a recent survey through AP.  There has been much discussion around it’s findings.
  6. Our growing racial wealth gap talks about a recent study from Urban Institute.

Please share with me other articles that I may have missed this month.  If you are interested in more up-to-date posts, I retweet articles on my twitter feed throughout the month.

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National Poverty Panel: Not inclusive, but important start

I typically hate panels.  They consist of “important” people talking without respect for time or content.  With that being said I thoroughly enjoyed the intensity and clarity of thought at the “Vision for a new American” panel.  The beauty of the panel was that the soliloquies (which I typically hate) produced some great quotes and sound bites!  In the end, it was just refreshing to spend 2 ½ hours listening to passionate people talk about poverty in the U.S.

I am typically skeptical of too much talk (not enough action), but around poverty, we need more talking.  The government needs more input from individuals living in poverty, working to fight poverty, and researching poverty, so that as a nation we can improve our current approach.  There are great programs, data, and practices being used all over the country (and other countries) that should be supported at a national level.

The problem: poverty is complex. So where do you start on a national level? Housing? Health care? Criminal justice? Education? Food? Safety net programs? Jobs?

Tavis and the panelists were focusing their attention on child poverty, especially around quality of education.  I was disappointed that other populations and factors did not come up.  I did not hear any talk of men, mental health, housing, or substance abuse – topics that are often associated with lack of personal responsibility.  Children living in poverty is an easy sell.  They are seen as vulnerable and innocent to the failings of their parents and of the system.  So maybe we start there – focusing on education, social safety net, and health care to make sure that children have a “sidewalk” out of poverty.  But eventually we need to move to a discussion about “the guilty ones”, the single adults who also deserve a chance at social mobility.

For now, I am glad that this panel sparked more conversation around poverty, and I want to see the conversation continue.  The panel discussion is available at  You can also learn more about the project and sign a petition to the president at

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New poverty measure and a trip to the hospital

I had the misfortune of spending a portion of my Christmas in the ER.  My trip led to few hours of waiting, a couple bottles of pill, and (thankfully) one much happier and healthier me.  All I have to worry about now is taking my prescriptions on time and paying the bill.  I have insurance and a savings account so I will be fine, but my trip to the hospital made me realize how quickly medical expenses could bring (or keep) a family in poverty.

The federal government has an official poverty guideline it uses to form policies, administer programs, and conduct research, but the US Census Bureau now also uses the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) to research poverty.  SPM is a more accurate and comprehensive measurement of poverty than the official poverty measure because it subtracts expenses that reduce income including medical out-of-pocket expenses (MOOP).  Individuals above the official poverty line still experience financial pressures like missing bill payments and unstable child care.  The SPM begins to study at these hardships by including not just the cost food, but shelter, utilities, taxes, work related expenses and child care costs into the measurement.

The SPM brings up some interesting links between health care and poverty.  Individuals and families only covered by public health insurance have lower poverty rates.  On the other hand, MOOP increased poverty rates, especially for older adults.  So, public health insurance lifts people out of poverty while medical expenses force people into poverty. SPM paints a new picture of poverty in America where the number of poor is higher, but public programs able to lift families out of poverty – including programs like public health insurance that may not be labeled at “anti-poverty”.

SPM vs. Official Measure: More details

The U.S. has an official poverty guideline that was implemented in 1969 to show the number of people with incomes to low to pay for food and other needed goods and services.  The problem is that the poverty threshold that determines those in poverty is an outdated tool that only looks at food cost.  In 1955, a survey determined families spent about one third of their income on food (which no longer true).  So the poverty threshold multiples the cost of the Department of Agriculture’s economy (a.k.a. cheapest) food plan by three.  Anyone below the poverty threshold is considered living in poverty.

Starting in 2011, the US census bureau also uses the SPM to research poverty.  The SPM determines its threshold by using the 33rd percentage of average cost of food, clothing, shelter, and utilities for a family multiplied by 1.2 for other necessities.  Individuals are measured to this threshold by totaling all income and benefits (i.e. EITC, SNAP, school lunch program, housing subsidies, and home energy assistance) then subtracting taxes and expenses that reduce disposal income (i.e. work related, child care, and medical out-of-pocket expenses, child support paid, and income and payroll taxes).

To learn even more about the SPM read The Research Supplement Poverty Measure:2011


Community programs: Put it on their tab

The Daily Caller recently published the article, “Cash value of welfare spending to households in poverty greater than median household income”.  This calculation was determined by turning federal spending on 83 programs into “cash payments” and then dividing these payments among households in poverty.  In this scenario, households in poverty are being billed for educational initiatives like Title I and Head Start.  The 83 programs include some big names like Medicaid, TANF, SNAP, and EITC, but also includes programs like “Improving teachers quality state grants”, “Water and Waste Disposal for Rural Communities”, and “Adoption Assistance” that the term “welfare” seems far fetched.  Why are low-income families being blamed for these costs?

While these programs support low-income communities, individual families do no see any direct financial rewards from the majority of the programs.  In that case, what is the cash value of programs targeting middle class or high income households?

For anyone curious like me, here are the 83 programs being referred to as welfare: 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Academic Competitiveness and Smart Grant Program, Additional Child Tax Credit, Adoption Assistance, Adult Basic Education Grants to States, Breast/Cervical Cancer Early Detection, Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program (lower income components), Child Care and Development Fund, Child Support Enforcement, Commodity Supplemental , Community Development Block Grants, Community Service Employment for Older Americans, Community Services Block Grant, Consolidated Health Centers, Developmental Disabilities Support and Advocacy Grants, Earned Income Tax Credit (refundable component), Education for Homeless Children and Youth, Education for the Disadvantaged—Grants to Local Educational Agencies (Title I-A), Emergency Food and Shelter Program, Energy Assistance Weatherization Assistance Program, Family Planning, Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Federal TRIO Programs, Federal Work-Study, Foster Care, Foster Grandparents, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR-UP), Grants to States for Low-Income Housing in Lieu of Low-Income Housing Credit Allocations, Head Start , Higher Education—Institutional Aid and Developing Institutions, Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), Homeless Assistance Grants, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, Indian Education, Indian Health Service, Indian Housing Block Grants, Indian Human Services, Job Corps, Legal Services Corporation, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Maternal and Child Health Block Grant, Mathematics and Science Partnerships, Medicaid, National School Lunch Program (free/reduced price components), Neighborhood Stabilization Program-1, Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico, Nutrition Program for the Elderly, Older Americans Act Family Caregiver Program, Older Americans Act Grants for Supportive, Public Housing, Public Works and Economic Development, Reading First and Early Reading First, Rural Education Achievement Program, Rural Rental Assistance Program, Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, School Breakfast Program (free/reduced price components), Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, Services and Senior Centers, Single-Family Rural Housing Loans, Social Services and Targeted Assistance for Refugees, Social Services Block Grant, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Summer Food Service Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), SNAP (employment and training), Supplemental Security Income, Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities, Supportive Housing for the Elderly, Tax Credit Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) (cash aid), TANF (Employment and Training), TANF (social services)The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), Title I Migrant Education Program, Transitional Cash and Medical Services for Refugees, Voluntary Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit—Low-Income Subsidy, Water and Waste Disposal for Rural Communities, Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Adult Activities, WIA Youth Activities

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