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The History And Changes To Support People In Poverty In America

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Supporting People in Poverty

Andrew Carnegie (2019) said, “The best means of benefitting the community is to place within its reach the ladders upon which the aspiring can rise…” On any particular day in America, over 600,000 individuals are homeless (Gaines, 2019). Despite the common vision to aid in economic and social equality, there is skepticism about community driven social change (Dorius, 2009). The role of community development organizations and philanthropic reporters is to identify and analyze the impacts of social change and community development, but due to the lack of evidence and comprehension, people are concerned with the actual magnitude of the community programs (Dorius, 2009).

History of Poverty

The negative view on low-income people has been negative for over 400 years, dating back to the English poor laws in the 15th century (Williams, 2019). People feel the burden of being poor. Many individuals are distanced on interpersonal and institutional levels in workplaces, schools, and social gatherings due to their lack of resources (Williams, 2019). Stereotypes for low-income people are taught and displayed at a young age through parental views and actions, and this is why people in poverty also have negative views on themselves and their outcomes (Williams, 2019). In 1980, the top 1% of wageworkers owned about 11% of the nation’s income while the bottom 50% owned about 21%. In 2016, the top 1% jumped to owning 20% of the nation’s income and the bottom 50% dropped to 13% in the same time (Williams, 2019).

Those especially susceptible to poverty include women, people of color, people with special needs, and children, which make up 36% of the poor population (Cox, 2019). An increase in homelessness hit after the 2008 Great Recession in which housing increases drastically, unemployment exploded, and foreclosures increased (Cox, 2019). Losing a job when the unemployment rate is greater than 8% raises the chances of long-term unemployment by three and a half times than when the rate is 6% or less (Williams, 2019). A one-point increase in the unemployment rate raises the chances of becoming long-term unemployed by 35% (Williams, 2019). With higher rates of economic inequality, health outcomes become more prevalent, for example: living with chronic diseases, struggling with substance or alcohol use disorders, dying sooner than counterparts outside the income inequal community, and mental health issues (Williams, 2019).

More support is available for non-cash assistance programs, such as subsidies that are designated for specific things and homeless shelters. Supporters can become skeptical of those seeking assistance, because cash assistance is pleasing to many and those who do not truly need the assistance may attempt to receive a share in the distributions (Cambell, 2017).In a survey conducted on Amazon’s MTurk, less than 10% of participants supported cash assistance, over 1 in 5 supported food stamps and subsidies, and support for housing assistance is somewhere in the middle. Participants supported income equality, and equality in providing the basic needs such as food, shelter and transportation, but preferred to show support in terms of policy and advocacy rather than support such as subsidies and government programs (Cambell, 2017).

The word “welfare” reduces community support because it signifies reckless government programs and conjures images of unpredictable recipients (Cambell, 2017). When one thinks of assistance to the poor, they think of homeless shelters and soup kitchens, and when they think about welfare– housing assistance, food stamps, and cash assistance programs come to mind. People support an increase in budget for assistance to the poor but provide little support for increasing the welfare budget (Cambell, 2017). Currently there are about 46 million individuals on food stamps, which provide to children, elderly, people with special needs, and those below the poverty line (Cox, 2019).

In Kentucky, work requirements were installed in the Medicaid expansion requiring those who sought help to be working or volunteering at least 20 hours per week. Those who failed to follow this requirement were “locked out” of services for up to 6 months. In its success, emergency room use for regular care and trouble paying medical expenses significantly decreased and over 40% of people reported an increase to excellent health and overall well-being. This addition is based on the belief that if people worked harder, they could overcome poverty and be able to stabilize themselves long term, which is not entirely correct (Williams, 2019).

Changes to Support People in Poverty

Kroft, Lange, and Notowidigdo sent fabricated resumes to real job openings and discovered an “unemployment cliff” in that of applicants for the same job. Similar resumes were sent to the same job application with differences in unemployment rates and job history. The applicants with over 6 months of unemployment were significantly less likely to get the job than a person with a similar resume but with a smaller period of unemployment (Williams, 2019). Even if employers are not thinking the thought directly, most people see an employment gap of over 6 months and wonder why they have been unemployed for that length of time. Due to the cliff, many skilled and ambitious workers are out of work, depressing our economic growth (Williams, 2019).

Studying people that come from or live in poverty is the best way to understand poverty and their injustices. People believe it is the individual’s responsibility to become successful, work hard, and provide for their families. While others believe society plays a role and should assist with accommodating their hardships (Cox, 2019). Increasing economic security and understanding social constructs will help combat poverty and create a thriving community. Governmental programs, economic and political, are defective, exploitive, and biases to people in poverty. There is need to review and advocate regularly for policies and programs that set to reduce poverty (Cox, 2019). Federal property rates, disposable income, and rate of employment are areas not often thought of needing social change because most practitioners are concerned with qualitative details, but change is essential in all areas to accomplish the change. Many social workers focus on solving social problems on a person-focused level, not evaluated by experts (Dorius, 2009).

In low-income areas, there is little housing, transportation, and job opportunities that make it harder to move out of the community. Often times transportation is not offered out of the area to higher paying jobs, and the jobs within the community are low paying, not nearly enough to provide for a family. There needs to be not just local change but regional change to support areas of poverty. Putting these ideas into organizational and thorough terms to encourage mutual and measurable outcomes and objectives has been more difficult to understand (Dorius, 2009).

People attribute their success to hard work, taking risks, perseverance, talents, and drives (Williams, 2019) and believe that people are in poverty because of low work ethic, low ability, immoral behavior, or adverse cultural beliefs and practices (Cambell, 2017). But white women only make 77 cents to the male dollar, and the number decreases for African American and Latino women, so success is not determined on ethics and values alone (Cox, 2019). Getting people to take part in their own situation is one of the basis of social change and it can be hard to engage individuals in their own change (Dorius, 2009).

Andrew Carnegie published “The Gospel of Wealth” and gave definition to redistributing wealth from few to many hands. He believed the antidote for the unequal handling of wealth was “returning their surplus wealth to the mass of their fellows in the forms best calculated to do them lasting good” (Williams, 2019). There is a humanitarianism belief that ties helping those in need and improving others progress to self-sufficiency. When it comes to acts of giving, the intention and attempts matter more than the outcome. There are reasons giving of time or money may not result in the outcome we had hoped for, but as long as the gift was pure and meaningful, then the act is not wrong (Policy, 2018).

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In order to value everyone equally and eliminate means test, a universal basic income program that provides support to obtain all basic needs has been considered. Over 50% of recipients who can work worked in the same month they applied for benefits, and over 74% worked that year. Over two thirds of the benefits go to children, elderly or people with disabilities. Recipients should not have to be deterred from accepting a raise, working more, or finding a better paying job and anticipate losing their benefits. When there is an increase in income, food stamps and programs alike will reduce the amount of support provided. This makes it difficult to maintain their standard of living and ability to “pull out of poverty.” People need support transitioning to a higher paying job, such as transportation, uniforms, and training (Gaines, 2019).

By introducing the US Department of Agriculture’s Low-Cost Food Plan, the true cost of food can be considered and provide a more accurate amount for food stamps. Making changes to the way food stamps are calculated include using the median cost of housing and reducing penalties for domestic partners within a home and will encourage honest reporting (Gaines, 2019).

How Change Will Happen

Local development projects and programs in education, employment and wealth are being created to empower low income individuals and impact agendas of local organizations (Dorius, 2009). 91.9% of social workers expect to initiate or complete social change while working in their current organizations. Most of these social workers support change by providing support to clients and advocating for local agendas and programs. By teaching low-income families how to become self-sufficient and providing services not easily accessible, social workers believe they are leading social change and stabilizing their communities (Dorius, 2009).

An idea that “staring over again” and bringing the middle class into an impoverished area will stabilize the economy was considered. The idea is that the middle class would bring back money and businesses, which bring jobs and income to low-income households. It is time we create a policy framework that supports communities for people of all incomes while providing new experiences and chances to “start over again.” The definition of community change is complicated because there are many approaches to developing low-income communities and the sure outcome is not clear (Dorius, 2009).

In an interview of social workers, six empowerment ideas were used to explain initiating social change. For example, “achieving economic self-sufficiency,” by teaching people how to access assets in an unfavorable world. Continuing education for low-income individuals and families, possible barriers they might face, and for those who need assistance to control their own economic destiny. Community development programs and projects can help support those living in poor conditions with a focus on dignity and respect for their clients. Supporting low-income people to build self-confidence, recognize common values, create a vision for themselves, and use community action to take control of their life again can benefit the society overall (Dorius, 2009).

Although there is no definite path to overcome poverty, there is lack of accountability for the behavioral requirements for social change along with the policy and support (Dorius, 2009). Referring clients to other social assistance agencies and providing opportunity to receive the services they need such as health care, protection from financial abuse (high interest rates on credit cards and loans, payday loans, cars or houses), mental health services, and insurance options helps create a more economic equally society (Cox, 2019). Working with other organizations to provide a high level of support, advocate for change, and access knowledge are part of assisting people to address all aspect of their lives and maintain well-being (Williams, 2019).

How These Changes Will Increase Social Justice

Most salaried employees would not be seen as a social problem, but they want to focus on growing in “self-interest” instead of redistributing to those in need (Williams, 2019). Surveys have shown that wealthier people are less generous than low-income people. When people from different socioeconomic statuses are exposed to each other, the wealthier person is less inclined to supporting redistribution. When low-income people manifest within a society, the wealthier person is less willing to support policies and safety nets for those that are homeless and in poverty (Sands, 2017). White people respond negatively to other white people but not to other races (Sands, 2017).

Regardless of race, gender, age, or abilities, everyone deserves economic and social rights and opportunities fairly (Cox, 2019). With an increase in counseling and interaction with people in poverty, they start to trust and open up to professionals about their needs and whether they are being met or if they need some assistance with providing basic needs (Crumb, 2019). Professionals who work together can overcome oppression, discrimination, and marginalized status for their clients. They can advocate and provide resources for whatever assistance best fits their needs (Crumb, 2019). It also creates a sense of self awareness for clients and professionals and assist in identifying goals and values.

Less than 70% of affordable housing is in low-access areas with high unemployment rates, low wages, and high crime (Gaines, 2019). The US Department of Housing and Urban Development have estimated over 12 million households spend more than 30% of their income on housing (Plassmeyer, 2018). These households are considered cost-burdening. Households that are cost-burdening violate their lease most often due to late or nonpayment of rent. The change in affordable housing will increase the economy and give people stability in their homes (Plassmeyer, 2018). Providing support and care to low-income families will stabilize the communities such that the needs of their people are successfully being met (Dorius, 2009).

Poverty is not alone caused by economic resources but also the ability to access education, tools, and resources that would benefit their situation (CARE, 2013). By advocating for fair labor policies, such as ratifying living-wage policies, supporting family leave, and equal, family centric labor laws, more working parents and families are able to spend more time together and be more financially stable and able to influence their own situation (Gaines, 2019). An essential, public form of advocacy are petitions which is less costly than other ways of political involvement and are a path to potential political participation (Sands, 2017).

Advocating for people is rewarding and can influence others in the long run. Getting to know people and supporting them by providing education and options based on their situation is what social work is all about. Bettering the lives of other people individually, in groups and as a community whole is overall benefiting to the society.


  1. Campbell, C., & Gaddis, S. M. (2017). “I Don’t Agree with Giving Cash”: A Survey Experiment Examining Support for Public Assistance. Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell), 98(5), 1352–1373.
  2. CARE’s Poverty & Social Work Definition. (2013, October 22). Retrieved December 3, 2019, from
  3. Cox, L. E., Tice, C. J., & Long, D. D. (2019). Introduction to social work: an advocacy-based profession(2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  4. Crumb, L., Haskins, N., & Brown, S. (2019). Integrating Social Justice Advocacy into Mental Health Counseling in Rural, Impoverished American Communities. Professional Counselor, 9(1), 20–34. Retrieved from
  5. Dorius, N. (2009). Understanding Change in Poor Communities: What Is It and How Will We Know When It Happens? Journal of Urban Affairs, 31(1), 97–109.
  6. Gaines-Turner, T., Simmons, J. C., & Chilton, M. (2019). Recommendations From SNAP Participants to Improve Wages and End Stigma. American Journal of Public Health, 109(12), 1664–1667.
  7. Plassmeyer, M., Brisson, D., & Lechuga-Peña, S. (2018). Impact of services on retaining subsidized housing. Journal of Urban Affairs, 40(2), 261–273.
  8. Policy, M. G. P. of P., & Associate, A. T. P. (2018). Doing Well and Doing Good? How Concern for Others Shapes Policy Preferences and Partisanship among Affluent Americans. Public Opinion Quarterly, 82(2), 209–230.
  9. Sands, M. L. (2017). Exposure to inequality affects support for redistribution. PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(4), 663–668.
  10. Williams, W. R. (2019). Considering Carnegie’s Legacy in the Time of Trump: A Science and Policy Agenda for Studying Social Class. Journal of Social Issues, 75(1), 356–382.

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