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Poverty Law
University of Florida School of Law
Flocks, Joan D.

University of Florida
Poverty Law, Spring 2016
Prof. Joan Flocks
Poverty Law Outline
Introduction to Poverty
What is Poverty?
How to Measure Poverty
There is no objective definition. Poverty is what we say it is and varies according to culture, place, etc.
The definition depends on the purpose for which the measurement is made.
In the US we measure poverty b/c;
we have government programs to alleviate poverty need to know who qualifies
Need to know whether the programs are effective.
Standards of measuring
Absolute measure (Developing Countries AND USA):
Costs of certain basic needs
Monetary line with a constant real value
Based on theory that there is a bare min. level of meeting basic survival needs
Independent of others' wealth
Relative measure (Developed countries):
Designed to take into account the relative wealth of the community
Ex. Would set the line at some average of the wealth of the community
Commonly used in developed countries
Created in 1960 based on an absolute value of income needed for food, adjusted for inflation each year
The POVERTY THRESHOLD is the line above or below which you would fall to determine if a person is living in poverty
Census bureau uses this for statistical purposes
The POVERTY GUIDELINE is based on the threshold but is prospective
Based on costs of adequate diet as determined by Dept of Ag then multiplied by 3.
Used by HHS
Slightly higher than threshold
Indexed every year using the CPI
The % of people who fall below the poverty threshold
Problems with the absolute measure
Doesn’t account for geographic differences in housing, healthcare, taxes, age, childcare
Doesn’t adjust for the fact that people cant eat at home a lot
Doesn’t reflect changes in family structures that have evolved in 1960 (ie unrelated children living in household_
Doesn’t include benefits as part of income
Census doesn’t count ALL poor people (prisoners, institutionalized, homeless, etc)
No distincition between poor and severely poor
Biggest problem with official measure is that it undercounts people in poverty in the US
The census bureau came up with a supplemental measure (not official)
Takes into account govt benefits and taxes
Counts some unrelated people
Uses actual consumption data
Regional variances
Programs that don’t use poverty guideline
Parts of medicaid
Section 8
The Capability Approach
Poverty is an absolute notion in the space of capabilities, but often will take a relative form in the space of commodities or characteristics.
How much do you need to not be ashamed in your own society
Poverty in the United States
2014 Poverty rate: 14.8% , 46M people in poverty
2014 Poverty Threshold: $24,008 (nuclear family)
Characteristics of people in poverty
Blacks and Hispanics have higher rates of poverty but there are more whites because there are more whites in the total population
Higher for women
Lower for elderly, highest 18-64
Higher for foreign born, disabled, and single parent households
Persistent poverty highest in the south, native american reservations, mississippi delta, appalachia, immigrant populations
lack of industry?, high minority/marginalized populations, less educated?
Concentrated poverty in the inner cities
Happened largely from the 50s to 70s when industry began to leave the inner city for the suburbs and white flight, so fewer job opportunities, transportation, education
US poverty compared to poverty in other wealthy countries
Poverty is tolerated in the US more than in other countries because…many other countries have high poverty rates before taxes and transfers but also have higher social welfare programs so the adjusted poverty rates are smaller
Gini coefficient is a measure where 0 is absolute equality and 1 is maximum inequality
US is higher than other wealthy countries
Income inequality is the difference in income between the lowest and the highest income quintiles
US Inequality is linked to societal values of merit and worthiness
Our society is based on this ideal of meritocracy which may have been true for white people back in the day but isnt true for a lot of people to

value judgements, so instead we use the ability to work.
Historically the categorization of who is deserving of public assistance has changed
Deserving today of being excused from the workforce
Disabled veterans (federal benefits typically)
Disabled non-veterans
Children (post child labor laws)
Elderly (Social Security, Ssi)
Not always based on compassion, soc sec given to get them out of the workforce to give younger workers jobs
Undeserving of being excused:
Single Mothers especially minorities
Working age
Persistently poor
How do we define work?
Society doesn’t consider parenting and family caregivers as “valuable work”
Created in exchange to response to industrialized market economy
Valuable work is:
Formal job with compensation
Are you providing something to society and contribute to the market economy?
Intellectual/creative output
 Race/Ethnicity, Gender and Poverty
How has discrimination caused poverty?
Black, hispanic and female headed households are more likely to be poor.
Institutional racism left over from slavey
Less social capital. Unequal education opportunities, Language barriers
What does discrimination look like?
Unequal access to opportunity
A lot of people confuse the idea of individual and structural discrimination and the impact
Individual racism
Individual/small group speech or action
Racism is intentional
Racist ind/group has discretion to be racist or not, if they are, the words or actions are race-targeted
Institutional racism
Manifest in rules, organizational culture
Doesn't depend on individual participation
Racism is intentional, Race targeted and procedural
Largely illegal