Dear Members:  Here is what is in store for the meeting tomorrow night!

Kathleen will probably not be attending, so you are stuck with me (Larry) and Dan.

Here is the planned agenda for the meeting followed by some notes that I hope will be helpful for our discussion: “Compassion, Wealth Inequality and Government Assistance”.


  • 6:15PM Greetings and Welcome
  • Who is new to the group?
  • Description of group activities for benefit of newcomers
  • Newcomers introduce themselves
  • Book Club upcoming books and dates
  • News briefs from May Newsletter
  • 6:25PM Discussion/vote regarding rules of conduct during discussion session
    • Due to the size of the group and the noisy venue, we will conduct a show-of-hands vote on the following motion: Speakers will be recognized by the moderator. Speakers may take the floor only after being recognized by the moderator. Shouting out-of-turn will not be tolerated.
  • 6:30PM – 8-ishPM Group discussion regarding issues of Compassion and Poverty (See background information notes, below!)
    • What is the Social Safety Net?
    • Who Qualifies?
    • Does governmental support help or hinder individual initiative?
    • Does it help or hinder entrepreneurship and job creation?
    • What can be done to make the ‘safety net’ better?
  • Social hour discussions in small groups


What is our responsibility, as a nation, regarding helping those in our country raised and living in poverty? Is government aid to ‘the poor’ a compassionate gesture or does it enable indolence and stifle initiative?  Is it a ‘hand up’ or is it an impediment to personal responsibility?


  • Should we require work or social volunteering in exchange for government aid?
    • What about mothers with dependent children?
    • What about disabled, mentally challenged?
    • Can a recipient improve their economic circumstances (by going to school, job training, etc.) if they have to ‘work off’ their government benefits by volunteering or working a minimum wage job?
    • Is this simply ‘punishing the poor?
  • Should we simplify the process of applying for aid to make it more accessible to those who have poor education, mental illness, addiction issues, etc.?
    • What, specifically could be done?
  • Should the government provide minimum wage jobs instead of handing out cash and vouchers?
    • What about mothers with dependent children?
    • What about disabled, mentally challenged?
  • If those who technically live in poverty (as defined by the government…see notes below) have amenities such as microwave ovens, refrigerators, TV, washer/dryers, computers, etc. should they be ‘kicked off’ safety net programs?
    • Is it possible to have the above amenities and still be ‘poor’?
  • What material items are necessary to access ‘the good life’…what is necessary for people to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps?
    • What are bootstraps, anyway? Do the poor have them?
  • Can a person at the bottom of the economic ladder improve their lot in life on a minimum or near-minimum wage?
  • Is the Social Safety Net effective, given that we have a chronic poverty rate of 11% -15%?
    • 1964 War on Poverty lowered the rate of poverty from approximately 19% to 11% in ten years.
      • Since then, the poverty rate has varied up to 15%….lower rate in boom times, higher rate in recessions.
  • What aid programs would you cut? See list, below.


First, an overview of incomes in the US 1965 – 2013

01 household-incomes-mean-real (1) 04 household-income-real-decline-from-peak-table

Note on the graphs: Gray bars indicated periods of recession.  All income levels have seen reductions since the 2008 Great Recession, but the lower quintiles have suffered losses at or more than twice the rate of the top quintile.  What is your opinion of the following statement: Losses for the poorest Americans strikes at essentials such as food and shelter while losses at the top are more easily absorbed.

Not shown is that the wealth of the top .01% is equal in value to the cumulative wealth of the bottom 90% of the population.

03 household-incomes-growth-real-annotated

02 household-income-real-growth-by-quintile-since-1967-table

There are currently 13 ‘welfare’ programs (excluding Medicare) that comprise the ‘social safety net’, administered by 8 federal agencies: 

  • Negative Income Tax (aka Earned Income Tax Credit): Cash paid to families who pay no income tax
  • SNAP – Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (aka ‘Food Stamps’). These are debit cards provided to buy food
  • Housing Assistance: HUD rent vouchers, public housing and community development programs
  • Supplemental Security Income: Cash to disabled, blind, seniors over age 65
  • Pell Grants: Grants to students for tuition, room & board
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: Cash to needy families for support and to move them from welfare to work
  • Child Nutrition: School lunches, breakfast and after-school food programs
  • Head Start: Preschool program
  • Job Training: Various employment and support programs
  • WIC – Women Infants and Children: Provides high-protein food for pregnant women and children up to 5-years old
  • Child Care: includes after-school programs
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: Aid for heating or cooling residential dwellings
  • Lifeline (aka, ‘The Obama Phone’): subsidy for phones including cell service

TOTAL COST OF (13) ‘WELFARE’ PROGRAMS (2013):     $365B

MEDICAID (2013):                                                                                         $265B

TOTAL FEDERAL EXPENDITURE :                                                    $630B 


Poverty Thresholds:    2012                    2013

Single person household – $11,720                $11,888
Two person Household –    $14,937                $15,142
Three person household –  $18,284                $18,552
Four person household –    $23,492                $23,834

Five person household-          NA                       $28,265

Six person household-             NA                       $31,925

Minimum Wage Annual Incomes:

$15.00/hr. = $28,800

$10.00/hr. = $19,200

$  9.00/hr. = $17,280

$  7.50/hr. = $14,400


Income Qualifications by Program

EITC – $13,460 for individual, $35,535 for a family with one child.
SNAP – 130% of poverty threshold.
Housing Assistance – 50% of median income in a local area (50% of median income totaled $24,888 for the U.S. as a whole).
SSI – $17,196 for an individual and $25,284 for a couple.
Pell Grants – $50,000+ in family or student income, most awards under $30,000
TANF – Unique by state but generally 50% – 100% of poverty threshold.
Child Nutrition – 130% of poverty threshold, partial benefit below 185% of threshold
Head Start, Child Care, Job Training – Unique by state and program.
WIC – 185% of poverty threshold.
LIHEAP – 150% of poverty threshold or 60% of state median income.
Lifeline (Obama Phone)135% of poverty threshold or participation in numerous other programs.

From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:  SOCIAL SECURITY KEEPS 22 MILLION AMERICANS OUT OF POVERTY.

  • Although most of those saved from poverty are elderly, over 33% of SS recipients are under age 65.

Pew polls on poverty

Partisan Split:

Total who agree “Can’t/Shouldn’t do more to help the poor”:    R 73%      D 32%

High Income Households who sympathize with poor:  R 30%      D 73%

There is an interesting blip, in that low income Republicans favor more benefits for the poor by a 5% margin (low income Democrats overwhelmingly favor more aid for the poor:

Low Income Republicans who sympathize with poor:   50%

Low Income Republicans ‘Poor have it too easy’:   45%


  1. Work should be a requirement for receiving government benefits:  83% YES                   7%NO                  10% UNDECIDED
  1. Government Should Shift $$ Spent on Welfare Benefits to Jobs Programs for Poor:  80%YES         9%NO   11%UNDECIDED
  1. States Should Give Out Jobs, Not Welfare. That is, states should offer minimum wage jobs to persons who have lost their jobs and have been unsuccessfully looking for work for a year. 61%YES        21%NO          18%UNDECIDED      
  1. Support for Raising the Minimum Wage to $9.00/hour ($17,280/year)

ALL AMERICANS:        71%YES                     27%NO

DEMOCRATS:               90%YES


REPUBLICANS:             50% YES          

  1. Rasmussen Reports also shows the following:

67% think too many are dependent on government aid (2013 survey)

49% think that government programs INCREASE the level of poverty in US (2012)

52% think it’s ‘too easy’ to get food stamps (2012)

81% think aid recipients should prove legal US residency

  1. Pew Research reports the following:

37% say poor people have it easy, getting benefits without doing anything in return

62% say poor people don’t get enough government aid to allow them to live decently

27% would increase government spending on programs for the poor

24% would decrease government spending on programs for the poor

44% say that government spending on programs for the poor is ‘about right’

Should US cut aid to the poor to cut the federal budget deficit?

38% would reduce spending on programs for the poor to reduce the budget deficit

58% disapprove of reducing the budget deficit by reducing spending on the poor

Americans are not satisfied with the way the government deals with poverty:

gallup poll various issues and poverty

NBC poll on poor

I hope you find these background notes helpful and that they ignite a thoughtful conversation about poverty in America.  See you Wednesday night!




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