The unassisted poor

And yet, they talk about austerity. There’s something very wrong with this country:

The U.S. federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on aid to the poor. There isn’t enough to go around for Shaun Case.


The 34-year-old Indiana native has learning disabilities and endured a childhood of abuse. Relatives say he was thrown through a plate-glass window by his grandmother when he was a teen, leaving him with a permanently numb left hand. Social workers consider him well enough to work, though, and he never qualified for disability benefits.


So, in the past decade Case has scraped by in temporary jobs, never making more than $10 an hour. Now, he’s out of work again. He gets no unemployment benefits; he wasn’t in his last gig long enough. He can’t get Medicaid because he has no dependent children at home. Until October, his only help was $200 a month in food stamps. Because of a paperwork error, the government cut him off. With or without food stamps, he has to scrounge for cash, selling plasma at a blood center twice a week for $30 a pop.


“What’s out there for people like me?” said Case. “There’s nothing.”


The reasons are complex, but it boils down to this: American society has decided that people like Shaun Case, the able-bodied poor, don’t deserve much help. As a result, and despite record spending, a growing number are falling through the gaps in America’s patchwork of welfare programs.


Case is one of 12.2 million adults of working age, with no children at home, who were living below the poverty level in 2011. That’s up nearly double from two decades ago. And of those, 5.6 million received no assistance from any of the major five federal programs, a Reuters analysis of Current Population Survey data found. That’s the highest number since 1992, the first year for which comparable records are available. Then, there were 4.3 million unaided poor adults.


Another 1.4 million able-bodied adults received only food stamps, up from 732,000 in 1992. That program keeps people from going hungry, but doesn’t help pay for other necessities such as rent, heat or dental care.

The population of unassisted poor adults is growing at a time when the United States is grinding through a prolonged stretch of rising poverty and income inequality.


The number of Americans below the federal poverty level – $22,350 a year for a family of four – hit 48 million in 2011, 17 million more than in 1989. Indiana has seen the second-largest increase in poverty of any state in that time, according to a Reuters analysis of Census data. Sixteen percent of the Hoosier State was poor in 2011, up from 11 percent.

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