Martin Luther King was undoubtedly a great man, a Great Man even. He was also flawed as all humans are and ever will be. When discussing him though it’s worth actually understanding what it is that he was calling for and how far we’ve come in reaching those targets. I’d not even attempt to argue that the US is as colour blind as he hoped it would be but I’d insist that it’s vastly better today than it was back then. Equally, when discussing his hopes, demands, about poverty and matters economic we really must acknowledge how far we’ve come.
Something in desperately short supply I’m afraid as most of the people doing said discussing are simply ignorant on the subject of poverty. Take this at Salon:
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, while fighting for a 10-cent wage increase for garbage workers. These efforts by King were part of a broader and more sustained initiative known as the Poor People’s Campaign.
King was working to broaden the scope of the civil rights movement to include poverty and the end of the war in Vietnam. King and his leadership team planned to bring thousands of poor people to Washington, D.C., where they would camp out on the National Mall until Congress passed legislation to eradicate poverty.
King was convinced that for the civil rights movement to achieve its goals, poverty needed to become a central focus of the movement. He believed the poor could lead a movement that would revolutionize society and end poverty.
OK, I too think it would be a great idea to eliminate poverty. I would argue that we actually have in reference to any global or historical meaning of that word poverty even if all too many don’t want to think about it that way. But I do insist that we must measure what we’ve already achieved in that elimination:
MLK’s vision matters today for the 43 million Americans living in poverty
There aren’t 43 million Americans living in poverty you see?
With over 43 million people living in poverty in the United States today, King’s ideas still hold much power.
It’s simply not true. And the reason it’s not true is because everyone did indeed listen to King, agree that alleviating, possibly eliminating, poverty was a really great idea. And it’s one that the US spends some $ trillion or so a year attempting to do as well. The only problem being that we don’t count that trillion as alleviating poverty when we go out to measure poverty.
No, really, this is true. We have a measure for what poverty is. Then we give people in poverty lots of stuff. And then we ignore all of what we’ve just given them and shout that they’re still in poverty!
Joshua F.J. Inwood
Associate Professor of Geography Senior Research Associate in the Rock Ethics Institute, Pennsylvania State University
We’d hope that an academic would know this but apparently not.
In detail the American poverty line is the cost of a simple but adequate diet, as worked out in the early 1960s (Molly Orshansky being the author of it), adjusted for household size and upgraded for inflation since then. That’s how we get that cash income number which is the poverty line. But here’s the important point – it’s only that cash income. It doesn’t include anything that comes as goods or services and it also doesn’t include anything happening through the tax system. So, it will include, in that estimation of cash income which puts you above or below the poverty line, any cash welfare payments anyone gets. But it doesn’t include Medicaid, the EITC, SNAP (food stamps), Section 8 housing vouchers, free cellphones or anything at all that isn’t just straight cash. And the US spends $1 trillion or so, certainly no less than $800 billion, on those poverty alleviation programs each year. That poverty alleviated which we don’t count when we count the number of people who are still poor, still living in poverty.
Just to illustrate the effects of this when we measure child poverty we see that some 20% of American children are living in families below the poverty line. When we add back in the value of all that poverty alleviation we do then the percentage falls to perhaps 2% of American children living in poverty.
That is, we’ve got to recognise, at least we damn well should, that the US has largely achieved Martin Luther King’s aim and desire of abolishing poverty. It’s only that we don’t count what has been done. And anyone, even an Associate Professor of Geography, who tells us that there are 43 million Americans living in poverty is spouting dangly bits, great big hairy ones to boot.