Authors and Essays 2008

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Welfare Queens or Courageous Survivors? Strengths of Women in Poverty

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The number of people living in poverty in the United States is staggering and yet to most of us those people are just statistics. A growing body of social science research clearly documents the negative consequences for the physical and mental health of people struggling to meet their basic needs (e.g. Recker Rayburn, 2007). Absent critical analysis of the historical and social factors that contribute to poverty, negative stereotypes and victim blaming arguments flourish – further perpetuating the problem (e.g. Bullock & Lott, 2001). This proposed position paper confronts and discourages this trend by shedding light on one of the largest categories of those struggling with poverty – women. The paper draws on social science research which focuses on what these women say about their lives. Their voices are particularly clear about the tremendous strengths many women bring to their struggle to overcome the stress of living in poverty – their attempts to find another route toward opportunity for themselves, and frequently their children as well. Such strengths, all too often hidden behind media stereotypes, offer valuable lessons for all of us and a fundamental base of knowledge for policies and programs that aim to support the movement of these women beyond survival to thriving.

Victoria L. Banyard
Department of Psychology

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Who Shall Assist the Poor? An Inquiry into the Role of Markets, Private Charity and Government

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The paper uses the writings of Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments) to frame some of the economic, psychological and ethical issues regarding how best to assist the poor. First, the competitive free market perspective that economic growth provides a "rising tide that lifts all boats" is considered and related to contemporary China. This "Invisible Hand" perspective is juxtaposed against a less well known problem that Adam Smith recognized, namely the tendency of the poor to conceal their poverty (for fear of social disapprobation) and the rich to segregate themselves from the poor. This creates what I call an "Invisible Poor" problem and has implications for whether or not private charity is sufficient for assisting the poor. Finally, the role of government in providing assistance to the poor is considered, an option that Smith did not rule out although he was critical of the government policies in existence during his time yet relevant to the current U.S. welfare policy debate. Using Smith’s own economic and ethical thought and invoking the work of modern economists (e.g., the concept of "public goods") a case is made for the government to assist the poor although the precise type of assistance and the complementary role of private charity and markets is a fertile topic for debate.

Tom Birch
Business Administration
University of New Hampshire, Manchester

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Poverty and Plenty: The Divided American Plate

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"Poverty manifests itself differently in different places, but it is universally difficult and unappealing to those who must live with it every day (1).

Pervasive hunger and food insecurity extend into all American communities affecting families, the working poor, and a disproportionate number of minority citizens and children (1) There is ample food production, a sophisticated transportation system, and extensive distribution networks , yet 35.6 million individuals experience food insecurity (2). This is not primarily a food production problem, but one of inadequate incomes impacting access.

In 2006, 12% of Americans lived in poverty, with annual incomes of $ 20,000 for a family of four (3). Nearly 25% of workers earn low income wages that keep families in poverty (4). Poverty guidelines underestimate livable wages. Low-income (up to 200% of poverty level) is considered a better indicator of economic risk. Nearly one-third of Americans are low-income, including 40% of America's children. There is a widening gap between the haves and have-nots; indeed, 'the top 1 percent of households received 70 times as much in average after-tax income as the bottom one-fifth of households in 2005 ...(5)."

What are the economic, social, political, community and individual actions needed to address short and long-term solutions of food insecurity and poverty? This paper will consider hunger and poverty terms, trends, health and nutrition impacts, as well as consider proposed local, regional, and national intervention solutions and strategies (1, 6). (references available upon request)

Joanne Burke
Nutirtional Science Program

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Perspectives about Occupational Justice: Can Poverty and Occupational Deprivation Influence Child Development?

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Imagine what it might feel like to be unable to participate in many of the day to day activities that most of us take for granted. Brushing our teeth in the morning, making breakfast, engaging in a job or classroom, taking care of our home, family and pets, enjoying a book or newspaper, preparing meals, preparing a place to sleep. These sample just a few of the life activities in which humans typically participate....referred to as occupations in the field of occupational science. Occupations vary substantially from culture to culture and also depend on access to material and political resources. Occupations in which people engage contribute to their health, identity, and sense of purpose. Occupation in its purest form can be simply termed as the purposeful act of doing something or conceptually defined as the performance of meaningful activities with a set goal in mind. In this paper we will explore the concept of occupational justice, a term that describes a basic human right to have the opportunities and rights to participate in those activities and occupations that define us as individuals, family and community members by providing meaning and purpose to our lives. Conditions of poverty preclude the ability to participate in a wide range of activities and occupations that support well-being. An anticipated outcome of our paper is to explore how poverty negatively influences engagement in those activities and occupations that support health, productivity and life satisfaction.

Barbara Prudomme White
Sajay Arthanat
Elizabeth Crepeau
Occupational Therapy

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Poverty and Community: Understanding Culture and Politics in Poor Places

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Scholars in the US have made real progress in advancing our understanding of the causes of poverty, especially persistent poverty, in recent years. We also have much better evidence about what policies work most effectively to lift individuals and families out of poverty. For example, we know investing in early childhood education results in good outcomes, and that supporting working families improves work effort, stabilizes marriages, and improves children’s performance in schools and overall well-being.

We have moved beyond ideological debates. In the 1970s and 80s poverty research was mired down in worn-out politicized debates about whether the poor were victims of larger political and economic factors shaping the structure of opportunity or were handicapped by their own "culture" or irresponsible behavior. But work in the 1990s began to recognize the complex, but understandable, ways in which structure and behavior are interrelated. Scholars recognized that communities without a middle class and the institutions a middle class supports do not have the capacity to provide poor families’ opportunities for upward mobility. In places with concentrated poverty and no middle class, there is little trust and little investment in the common good and social order of the neighborhood. Low income families do not, as sociologist Peter Townshend puts it, have "adequate resources to participate in the accepted ways of society," in the mainstream. Many accept the status quo, others leave for opportunity elsewhere, and few become mobilized to bring about change – in development economist Hirschman's words, choosing "loyalty" and "exit" over "voice."

This lack of participation, low trust and failure to invest in community wide institutions allows corrupt politics to emerge in poor inner cities and rural communities, and then that bad politics in turn becomes an obstacle to change and development. Those in charge see schools and local government as sources of patronage jobs and political power rather than as public institutions to serve the common good. Politics and political forces become part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Only investment and organizing can turn the poor community around and provide real opportunity for low income residents to succeed.

Mil Duncan
Carsey Institute and Department of Sociology

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Owning Your Own Home: Reality or Myth

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With the following headlines in the news everyday:

  • Banks may lose $325 billion over mortgages
  • First-time home buyers struggle to find down-payment money
  • FBI Eyeing Countrywide in Criminal Probe
  • California prices could plunge 35%, costing $2.6 trillion in lost wealth

one begins to wonder whether the ability to obtain the American Dream, the power to buy your own home, is real or a myth.

Here are some of the cold hard facts:

  • Between the years 2000 to 2006 the median housing price in the United States increased 54.8% and in New Hampshire it increased approximately 90%. During the same period of time the median household income in the United States increased only 15.4% and in New Hampshire is increased only 20.7%.
  • The percentage of people in New Hampshire spending more than the recommended 30% of gross income on housing related costs rose from 28.3% in 2003 to 39.0% in 2006.
  • In 2002, 96.7% of current renters could not qualify to purchase the median priced house in New England.
  • The percentage of working families with children in the United States that owned their own home dropped by 6.6% between 1980 and 2001.

The focus of the white paper will be to highlight the housing challenges that people in the New England region and in the United States face. Affordability, sustainability, people needs, societal needs, environmental needs, economic incentives and impact of government policies are just a few of the topics that will be explored. References available upon request.

Robert M. Henry, CEPS Dean's Office
Charles H. Goodspeed, Civil Engineering

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The Vicious Cycle: Poor Children, Risky Lives

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The proposed essay will address the question, "What are the short and long-term effects of poverty on the development, educational experiences, and life chances of young children?" There is extensive and widely corroborated evidence that young children who experience significant lack of material resources (food, shelter, clothing) and have limited access to social support systems (high quality early education programs, effective elementary and secondary schools, quality health care, intact social networks) are at much greater risk for developmental disability than their working and middle class peers. From conception to birth to infancy through the preschool years, children whose families live in poverty are more likely to be born with or acquire cognitive, sensory-motor, social, and emotional impairments. The vicious cycle of poverty, poor developmental and educational outcomes, increased exposure to challenging and disrupted social environments, and subsequent compromised adult lives is well understood yet our social policy responses have been sporadic, limited, or sometimes even punitive.

The essay will describe this vicious cycle and its consequences on individual children, families, and society. Past efforts at public policy solutions will be analyzed, including Head Start and related federal programs, state-level early intervention services for very young children, family support programs aimed at increasing family literacy and parenting capacity, and programs intended to improve the health status of young children living in poverty. The underlying rationales of those efforts will be critiqued and the characteristics of effective programs will be described. Readers will be invited into a series of questions about the correlations between race, ethnicity, and childhood poverty, how to mitigate the developmental consequences of childhood poverty, how to generate the political will to do so, and how their own lives compare to the experiences of children living in conditions of significant poverty.

Bruce L. Mallory
Department of Education

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Poverty, Money, and Happiness

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Abstract: In this paper I plan to ask some potentially disorienting questions about the relationship between poverty, money, and happiness.

Social scientists have reached a near consensus that one's wealth has very little relationship to one's happiness, and therefore cliché that money cannot buy happiness turn out to be more or less true.

Why, then, are we concerned with poverty? Many of us who are most troubled by economic injustice appreciate that a life driven by money is ultimately hollow and that it would seem especially ironic to "cure" local and global poverty by replacing it with the sorts of one-dimensional consumerist wealth that destroys both our spirits and our planet. If choosing between "living simply" and being "hyper-consumers," the richer life may be the one that requires less money. Many religious traditions require vows of poverty as a means of achieving true wealth, glorifying material indigence as a kind of virtue.

What, then, do we mean by wealth? Should these considerations inform our understanding of poverty, or are they too dependant on value judgments or the guilt of those with the luxury to worry about the side-effects of their affluence?

These issues have personal gravity for me. Before I came to UNH I worked as an attorney at a very large Manhattan law firm. If I had stayed there, I would now make approximately $350,000 per year. Instead, I earn about $65,000 as a philosophy professor. I am married with a small child. Am I wealthier now than I would have been if I have stayed in my old job? Is my family wealthier? Are my concerns in any way relevant to those of the global poor?

Nick Smith
Department of Philosophy

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How's Your Health? What's Your Zip Code? Poverty and Health

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For centuries it has been known that there is a relationship between one's status within a social system and health. The poor and disadvantaged have traditionally carried the larger burden of disease and disability. An oversimplification of the argument is that the disadvantaged (as measured by multiple indicators) are more likely to be sick and die at an earlier age. Others have stated the concept as "the poor have poor health" (Marmot M. G., 2006). However, the relationship is more than that.

Poor social and economic circumstances affect health throughout life. People further down the social ladder usually run at least twice the risk of serious illness and premature death as those near the top. Nor are the effects confined to the poor: the social gradient in health runs right across society, so that even among middle-class office workers, lower ranking staff suffers much more disease and an earlier death than higher ranking staff. Both material and psychological causes contribute to these differences and their effects extend to most diseases and causes of death (World Health Organization, European Regional Office, 2003).

The social gradient, which has been the subject of much recent research in Europe and more recently the United States, implies that the impact is not left to the poor alone. It is a world-wide phenomenon and it relates to all levels of society. A major contributor to your health is your socio-economic status. The focus on health inequalities and root causes of disease has been much further developed in European countries partially because this relationship persists after 50 years of universal access to medical care. During the past few years there has been an explosion of research examining the intricate relations between socioeconomic variables as root causes or upstream determinants and health outcomes. Upstream factors (including such factors as income, education, and social status) are being compared to "downstream factors" (behavior, exposure, genetic risks, etc.) (Mechanic, 2007). Those focusing on downstream factors as causal factors sometimes are accused of victim blaming, e.g., blaming the obese patient for eating incorrectly or not exercising without taking into account upstream factors such as income. This is not a new debate. As described by Hamlin, the disagreement between two of the founders of public health in England, Edwin Chadwick and William Farr, in the 1830's centered on the extent to which socioeconomic factors (poverty) could be used for the cause of mortality (Hamlin, 1995).

With the growing levels of inequality in the United States, especially compared with other OECD countries, this research has importance even if universal coverage becomes a reality in the United States. "Among the 30 OECD countries, the US ranks above only Mexico, Korea, and Ireland in gross public social expenditures as a share of GDP spending, and it does the least to target government taxes and transfers towards moving families out of poverty. Not surprisingly, outcomes such as infant mortality and life expectancy are worse in the U.S. than in most advanced industrial countries" (Yellen, Janet L., 2006). This has led some to argue for policies to counteract growing income inequalities in the United States (Marmot M. G., 2002).

How persuasive is the literature on the relationship between SES and health? What does this research mean for the United States? How should this research inform our debates on health care and access to medical care? References available upon request.

John Seavey
Department of Health Management and Policy

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See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Stop No Evil: How Do We Uncover and Combat the Loss of Educational Opportunity for American Poor?

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Education is one of the best pathways to ensuring opportunity and overcoming poverty in America. Yet breakthrough new research reveals that schools have become increasingly resegregated by social class and race. Schools in poor or racial minority areas tend to have far fewer resources, outdated facilities, less qualified teachers, lower performance rates, higher drop out percentages, and fewer graduates who pursue higher education (Kozol, 2005; Orfield, 2007). Despite this data, the poor grow poorer, while the wealthy are even farther removed from experiences of the struggling poor.

In my position paper, I will urge Americans to fulfill the promise of equal educational opportunity and to avoid further entrenchment of the cycle of poverty. Some residents of largely homogenous New Hampshire tend to be less knowledgeable about issues of racial resegregation, because racial difference is rarely seen and cries of racial inequality are not heard. Additionally some view social class struggles as a problem of remote northern NH or of particular dilapidated cities in the south. My paper will combat these shortsighted views by foregrounding the pervasive lack of educational opportunity for local poor. This will initiate conversation between students and faculty who must be prepared to live in increasingly stratified areas. This paper will also alert citizens to the punitive effects of tax-funded laws, like No Child Left Behind, which are closing down failing schools in poor areas, further abandoning poor children. Finally, it will point toward collective ways in which these problems can be overcome and will highlight relevant coursework as a starting point for concerned students.

Sarah M. Stitzlein
Department of Education

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Global Poverty & Global Politics

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The New Testament tells us that the poor will always be with us. And, early in the 21st Century, the statistics remain grim:

  • Over 1 billion people live in desperate poverty – on less than 1 dollar per day,
  • Between 50 and 60 countries are actually poorer than they were in the 1970s
  • Hundreds of millions have no access to clean water and experience hunger and malnutrition....

Must we accept that grinding poverty will always be with us? Often lost in the bad news about poverty, inequality and globalization is the fact that hundreds of millions of humans have moved out of poverty in the years since most current UNH students and professors were born – through a combination of economic growth and good government. A key challenge for 21st century citizens and policymakers alike is that, in general, the people who are escaping the worst kinds of poverty around the world live in different countries than the "bottom billion" (Collier, 2007) who live in countries without good government, economic opportunity, or much help from the international community. Too many, in other words, live without much hope.

In recent years, many policymakers and scholars supportive of globalization – but opposed to many things done in the name of globalization – have begun to draw lessons from policymaking, statistical analysis and the lives of everyday citizens about what can be done to meet the challenge of global poverty. This proposed discovery dialogue essay will attempt to outline some of their conclusions, and explain how they arrived at these lessons. They reject the notion that the desperately poor will always be with us, instead arguing that "another world is possible" (Stiglitz, 2006).

Stacy D. VanDeveer
Department of Political Science

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