29 August 2014

Poverty: Measuring U.S. Poverty

A few days ago we looked at an introduction to the history of how the U.S. measures its own poverty in Poverty: The [U.S.] History of a Measure. Today, we'll be taking a brief look at how we actually measure poverty in the United States. To get the complete history of the measures and how they were developed you will have to read The Development of the Orshansky Poverty Thresholds and Their Subsequent History as The Official U.S. Poverty Measure. You might find evidence that our ideas of what it means to live in poverty rest largely on our collective cultural understanding of acceptable standards-of-living (i.e., what do we think we need to survive and live quality lives vs. what we actually need to survive and live quality lives). This may be one of the reasons we distinguish between poverty and "extreme poverty" globally, and why Americans generally do a bad job of perceiving whether someone lives in poverty while we take our luxurious vacations to other countries. Based on our standards, everyone outside of the Western world appears to live in poverty.

According to current statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • In 2012, the official poverty rate was 15.0 percent. There were 46.5 million people in poverty.
  • For the second consecutive year, neither the official poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty at the national level were statistically different from the previous year’s estimates.
  • The 2012 poverty rate was 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession.
  • In 2012, the poverty rate for people living in the West was statistically lower than the 2011 estimate.
  • For most groups, the number of people in poverty did not show a statistically significant change. However, between 2011 and 2012, the number of people in poverty did increase for people aged 65 and older, people living in the South, and people living outside metropolitan statistical areas.
  • The poverty rate in 2012 for children under age 18 was 21.8 percent. The poverty rate for people aged 18 to 64 was 13.7 percent, while the rate for people aged 65 and older was 9.1 percent. None of these poverty rates were statistically different from their 2011 estimates.1

The following infographic demonstrates how the U.S. measures its own poverty:

how census measures poverty infographic image [Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

Did you notice that, after an initial decrease in poverty from 22.4% in 1959 to around 15% in 1965, our poverty rate has fluctuated between 11-15% ever since? Did you notice that children experience the highest rates of poverty? Are government programs the only thing keeping people out of poverty in the U.S.? Do you wonder how we compare to the rest of the world? To look more closely and answer these questions we will need to look at some more ways people and organizations fight and measure global poverty, inside and outside the United States. Next time...

27 August 2014

Poverty: The [U.S.] History of a Measure

Have you ever wondered how we measure American poverty and where we came up with the system that doesn't seem to match up with what poverty looks like in the rest of the world? Me too. The following infographic gives part of the answer provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. Apparently we didn't start caring enough about poverty to measure it until the 1960's, which also happens to be when we started caring about a lot of other things for the first time. And, of course, this brings up a lot of other questions in my mind. How did the U.S. perceive it's own poverty before we started to measure it on a large scale? How much did we know about poverty in the rest of the world? Is poverty the same as it used to be? How did our American ancestors view, experience, and deal with poverty? We'll dig deeper in some later posts to answer these and other questions, since you're obviously longing to know.

History of the poverty measure infographic image [Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

25 July 2014

Why Marriage is Like a Sculpture

Oh, ok. Not exactly. But hopefully, I got your attention. And trust me, the quote will be worth it. It does involve a few marriage analogies...and a sculpture.

I mentioned last week that one of the books I'm reading through this Summer is The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. If you're not familiar with the author, Tim Keller, he's a pastor in New York who has great thoughts on the integration of faith and work, an understanding of the practical applications of the gospel in all areas of life, and an ever-increasing number of extremely useful publications. He took a long break from writing after his first few books, but high demand for his ideas has sparked a resurgence and we have the benefit of listening to his years of pastoral experience and deep meditation on a wide range of issues. The following section from the book has been swirling around in my mind for the past week and I believe it contains some beautiful analogies for the complexities of marriage, what it causes in us and for us, and the perspective we need if we are to ever fall in love (or fall back in love) if you feel like you're not quite there at the moment.

Have you ever traveled to a mountainous part of the world when it was cloudy and rainy? You look out your windows and you can see almost nothing but the ground. Then the rain stops and the clouds part and you catch your breath because there, towering over you, is the magnificent peak. But a couple of hours later the clouds roll in and it has vanished, and you don't see it again for a good while. This is what it is like to get to know a Christian. You have an old self (Ephesians 4:24). The old self is crippled with anxieties, the need to prove yourself, bad habits you can't break, and many besetting sins and en-trenched character flaws. The new self is always a work in progress, and sometimes the clouds of the old self make it almost completely invisible. But sometimes the clouds really part, and you see the wisdom, courage, and love of which you are capable. It is a glimpse of where you are going. 
Within this Christian vision for marriage, here's what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating and to say, "I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be a part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, 'I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!'" Each spouse should see the great thing that Jesus is doing in the life of their mate through the Word, the gospel. Each spouse then should give him- or herself to be a vehicle for that work and envision the day that you will stand together before God, seeing each other presented in spotless beauty and glory. 
My wife, Kathy, often says that most people, when they are looking for a spouse, are looking for a finished statue when they should be looking for a wonderful block of marble. Not so you can create the kind of person you want, but rather because you see what kind of person Jesus is making. When Michelangelo was asked how he carved his magnificent David, his reply is reputed to have been, "I looked inside the marble and just took away the bits that weren't David." When looking for a marriage partner, sac must be able to look inside the other and see what God is doing and be excited about being part of the process of liberating the emerging "new you." - Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, pg. 114

If you choose to embark on the journey of marriage as a Christian, you will soon find that it can be the most treacherous, beautiful, and adventurous undertaking of your life. You will not always see the beauty of the towering mountain peak or have the constant clarity to know exactly where you're going, but you will gain the confidence of knowing that you are becoming more than anything you could have attained by traveling alone, and you are helping someone else do the same.