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

Poverty Law
Professor Flocks
Spring 2017
Absolute measure
Relative measure
Poverty threshold
Poverty guidelines
Poverty rate
Income inequality
Individual discrimination
Institutional discrimination
Structural discrimination
Income inequality
Wage stagnation
The “great divergence”
Wage theft
Underground economy 
Minimum wage
Living wage
Unemployment insurance
Hoffman plastics
Community benefits agreement
Worker centers
What is Poverty?
What is Poverty Law and how is it different from other areas of law?
Poverty law is the study of addressing legal problems of the poor. It is different from other areas of the law because all areas of the law may affect poor people. Poor people probably have more experiences in legal settings than most middle income people. The law impacts a poor person daily; however, they rarely have input in creating and shaping those laws.  
There is no objective definition of poverty. It is what we say it is depending how how it is measured. It varies according to culture and place.
Difference between absolute and relative measures of poverty:
Absolute –an understanding of poverty relies on a basic needs framework: how much food does it take to survive or work, and if it is possible to obtain minimally adequate shelter. It’s based on costs of basic certain needs and is a monetary line with a constant real value. The monetary line is independent of others’ wealth.
Issues with the official, absolute measure:
Remains the same, except for inflation adjustment, even as spending patterns change.
Political debate because changes how poverty is calculated.
Doesn’t reflect poverty across population group/time
No account for childcare, health insurance, or regional variation
Doesn’t account for changes in family structure
Doesn’t adjust for rising standard of living
Considers only market basket food budget
Budget for shelter and other necessities unrealistic
Determined by Census (doesn’t account for ALL poor people – those in prisons, institutionalized, homeless, etc.)
No distinction between poor and severely poor
Biggest problem is that it undercounts people living in poverty in the US
Why is an absolute measure still used?
Because if you change how poverty is measures, means you change how it is calculated. This brings a political debate into the mix. If poverty is calculated to include more people, then more benefits would need to be available. This would include raising taxes to account for the change.
Relative – Designed to take into account relative wealth of the community. It sets the line at some average of the wealth of the community to determine what you need to be a solid member of your community. It’s how much you need to function and not fee poor compared to other people in your community. The relative measure explicitly designed to take into account the relative wealth of others in the community of interests and set the poverty line at some level below the average income of that community.
What are some alternatives to the absolute measure and how are they different?
Poverty should be defined in terms of those who are denied the minimal levels of health, housing, food, and education that our present stage of scientific knowledge specifies as necessary for life as it is now lived in the United States. (Harrington).
Supplemental poverty measure – used by Census and accounts for noncash government benefits and living expenses when determining who is poor. Takes into account government benefits and taxes. It also counts some unrelated people. It uses actual consumption data and considers regional variances.
Capability approach – uses a blend of absolute and relative measures of poverty. Under this approach, poverty is an absolute notion in the space of capabilities, but often will take relative from in the space of commodities or characteristics. It considers how much an individual need not to be ashamed in their own society. 
How are poverty measures used in the United States? The United States uses an absolute measure of poverty. We measure poverty to determine who is eligible to receive governmental benefits to alleviate the poverty and it is also an indicator of whether the programs are working.
Poverty in the United States
What are:
Poverty threshold
Created in the 1960s based on Mollie Orshansky. We didn’t know who many people were impoverished before 1964. It is used to measure how many people are living in poverty. It is based on an absolute value of income needed for food. It was developed by looking at the food budget for an average household, and made different levels what you could spend on food. The food budget is based on 1/3 of household expenditures, then it multiplied by three.
Poverty line
The line above or below to determine whether a person is living in poverty. It is set by the Department of Health and Human Services based on family or household size, and those who pretax income falls below the poverty line are considered poor.
Poverty rate
Percentage of people who fall below the poverty threshold
Poverty guidelines
Used to determine eligibility for services, and based on the poverty threshold. It is prospective and issued in January for that year. Certain programs don’t use the poverty guidelines, including TANF, SSI, Section 8, and parts of Medicaid.
What is the current official poverty rate in the US?
In 2015, 13.5 percent of people were living in poverty.
What demographics describe who is poor in the US?
Blacks and Hispanics have higher rate of poverty but there are more whites because there are more which in the total population.
Higher for women
Lower for elderly, highest 18-64
Higher for foreign born, disabled, and single parent households
What is the link between geography and poverty?
Higher number of impoverished concentrated around the Mississippi Delta, Appalachian Mountains, Mexico boarder, and Native American lands. These areas don’t change overtime. Concentrations of poverty create a policy problem because so much resources need to be funneled into these areas to create change. This could be why there hasn’t been significant change over time. Additionally, this could be due to lack of industry in the area, higher minority and marginalized populations move to these areas for low-wage work, and those living this are less educated.
What is significant about concentrated urban poverty?
Happened largely from the 50s and 70s when industry began to leave the inner city for the suburbs and white flight, so fewer job opportunities, transportation, education.
What is “meritocracy” and what are the effects of our belief in it?
United States inequality is linked to societal values of merit and worthiness. Our society is based on the idea of meritocracy. Meritocracy is the idea that if people work hard enough they can climb the ladder of success. This is essentially picking oneself up by the bootstraps to obtain the American dream. It is based on the allocation of goods and services in accordance with individual merit. It has been used to justify the increases of wages of the already wealthy. However, opportunities are not the same for every person. There are significant positive correlations between parents and their children in terms of where they fall on the income scale. This implies that income mobility is at least somewhat restricted because one generation’s position in the income scale is partially dependent on its parents’ position (Bernstein). This means the idea of meritocracy is false. Your place in society is somewhat dependent on the opportunities you are given at birth, not on the hard work you contribute to your success.
What is the difference between poverty in the US and poverty in developing countries?
Compared to other countries we are higher on the income inequality scale and on poverty rate after taxes and transfers. This reflects that American accept poverty more than other countries. This could be because American believe in meritocracy and some believing that living in poverty is choice.
Economic Mobility and Living with Poverty and Law
What factors contribute to poverty?
Education and health care have been shown to be reasons why people can’t be mobile and elevate themselves out of poverty.
What is income inequality?
Income inequality refers to the extent to which income is distributed in an uneven manner among a population. In the United States, income inequality is the gap between the rich and everyone else. It’s not that we have a lot of poor people, it’s that we have a disparity between rick and poor and it continues to grow in the US.
What is the relationship between economic mobility and poverty?
Economic mobility is the ability to transcend the class you’re born into. The class you’re born into is a very good indicator of where you’ll be on the income scale because mobility between income scales is unlikely.  Opportunities for advancement are limited for those with fewer economic resources. For example, children from wealthy families have much greater access to top-tier universities than children from lower-economic families.
What are the characteristics of inter- and intra-generational economic mobility in the United States?
Intergenerational mobility is the degree to which a child’s position in the economy is determined by that of his or her parents. If class barriers are such that children’s economic fates are largely determined by their family’s position in the income scale, then the likelihood that a poor child will be a middle-class adult is diminished.
Intragenerational mobility is the economic mobility of families from different generations. Based on data from Bernstein’s article, families in the bottom fifth quintile were the same from generation to generation. Additionally, large transitions are uncommon, and the share of families moving form the poorest to the riches fifth never exceeds 4.3 percent.  Also, the share of families staying

rving poor. Then there are economic arguments regarding how much assistance the government should give to someone who is dependent on the state, or those that are “undeserving.” Work and morality is always at the center of the rhetoric for these arguments. It controls the effects on policy.
Moral and economic arguments, with our assumed value of “work” at the center have resulted in what two types of public assistance?
Moral and economic arguments, with our assumed value of “work” at the center results in insurance type programs, commonly known as contributory, and “welfare” type programs, commonly known as non-contributory. Contributory programs are program an individual pays into. People that receive benefits from these programs are those that are viewed as “earning” the right to receive the benefit. These people are categorized as “deserving.” Alternatively, there are non-contributory programs that you don’t pay into. These programs are viewed as taxpayer paid programs. They are means-tested, meaning you must qualify for them based on your economic situation. People that receive these benefits are categorized as “undeserving.”
What rhetoric or views from the pre-1930s have been carried into current views of the poor?
Pressure from Southern politicians to control labor force and limit anti-poverty programs because they are dependent on cheap labor.
Battle between federal control/state control of programs. States want to control the program to control their labor force. They want to determine who is eligible to receive assistance.
How did the events of the 1930s and 1940s influence US society’s perception of poverty and anti-poverty policy?
In the 1930s and 1940s, poverty was seen as everyone’s problem. Everyone was struggling because to the Great Depression, so being poor was seen as a general problem. The programs were different during this time because of how people perceived poverty. By the 1960s, anti-poverty efforts were targeted to help more specific groups.
What were the components (types of programs) and significance of New Deal anti-poverty policy?
Public work programs (work relief) – subsidized programs which the federal government was paying for to put people to work. These were controversial but successful because it put lots of people to work and lifted them out of poverty.
Unemployment insurance – you don’t want to push unemployed people out of the work force and putting them on welfare programs. You should give them transitional pay until they find more work. It is given to those who are pushed out of work to no fault of their own. It’s a contributory program.
Social security for the retired – contributory program; pushing those out that shouldn’t be working because they compete with the younger workforce.
Grants in aid programs – bunch of different programs, including Old Age Insurance that have not contributed enough for SSI (used to help out poor people)
Who is excluded from some programs and why?
 Most New Deal programs discriminated against blacks because of southern politicians.
What is the significance of Helvering v. Davis (1937)?
Helvering v. Davis
Issue: Was it within the power of congress to impose taxes to help others?
Result: Yes. The scheme of benefits set forth in Title II comes from Congress, not the Courts. Contributory social insurance is constitutional.
Congress may spend money in aid of the general welfare unless arbitrary.
The line between one welfare and another is within the discretion of Congress.
Unemployment is an ill not particular but general, which may be checked, if Congress so determines, by the resources of the nation.
The problem of unemployment is national, and states and local governments are often lacking in the resources necessary to finance an adequate program of security for the aged.
Should move older Americans out of the workforce but don’t want to impose burdens on younger people to take care of the elderly
Case brought the elderly into those that are “deserving poor.”