Culture & Society

  • Issue 91 / January - February 2013

    Helping Hands

    Sevim Karabulut

    With half the world living on less than $2.50 per day and with 46.2 million people
    in the United States living below the poverty line, poverty is a growing concern.

    The United States is known all over the world to be a very powerful and rich country. It is not just American people who believe in the American Dream, but also many people from other countries have been dreaming of coming to the US to live in better conditions. Although the US is thought to be a rich country, we still see hungry and homeless people, especially women and children in the streets. Women, who are either married or unmarried, whether supported by their husbands or single mothers with no support, struggle to earn money for food, clothes, safe shelter, and other intangible needs such as love and happiness. When observed closely, it is easy to understand the reasons why this is so. It is because of the wage gap between men and women, the decreased amount of opportunities in having high income jobs, and the fact that more women are the head of their household compared to men, means that the ratio of poor women is rising, and the increased need for governmental help makes “welfare” necessary.
    Understanding the definition of poverty becomes very important because it categorizes people into groups which are poor and wealthy. Richard Ropers states that poverty can be understood and described in numerous ways, and that people will not understand the meaning of poverty if they do not recognize the situation of the poor. To be poor means to not have any sustenance, shelter, or any support from family. However nowadays, living alone, or being pushed out of society, being under depression of unchanging destitution also describes poverty. Being fired from a job, losing self-esteem, having no power, or being away from cultural values are also other parameters to describe poverty (Ropers, 25). Ropers also describes “widespread poverty” as a disloyalty to the democratic values’ failure to gain optimism. Successful leaders must aim to provide economical comfort for their citizens. If the majority of the people are not happy because of poverty, it means the government is not as strong to deal with the problems.
    The official poverty line is inadmissible as an accurate system to determine the number of poor people. “The US government identifies the poverty line by multiplying the cost of a minimally nutritious diet by three,” then the number of people who live in the same house is calculated (Popers 35). According to the Census data for 2011, 46.2 million people in the United States lived below the poverty line. According to Peter Edelman, a law professor in Georgetown University, even though there are so many hard working people, they are still living in poverty or just barely above the poverty line (Bilitteri, 723). These people are not given the necessary governmental support. There is also a huge gap between the poor and the wealthy people in the US (Cooper, 337). The highest income is $102,000 for households, just 1% of the population, and the lowest earning is $250 for people, who make up 90% of the population, explains Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez (Bilitteri, 723).
    One given image portrayed in the media is that “the poor have only themselves to blame” (Mantsios, 638). The problem of poverty is not just one individual’s problem. There is a strong connection between the poor and society. How can a defenseless child be responsible for being poor, not having shelter, and for not earning any money? How can a single or divorced mother with a little baby, without any family help, be expected to work full time without feeding the little one for hours. The term “poor are eyesores” (Mantsios, 637) is not a responsible and thoughtful depiction, rather, it is a way of not being able to see the problems of the people outside and breaking away from the realities of the poor.
    More and more women, especially single mothers, are experiencing poverty at a higher rate than the rest of society. Ropers notes that 58% of women are facing poverty, and in this category 48% of the women are the head of their household. According to Albelda and Tilly, 50% of single women are below the poverty line with no support of a husband. In 1993, while 16% of families struggled against poverty, simultaneously, 52% of single mothers, bereft of husband or family support, experiences real difficulty to provide for their basic needs. Most women work at least two jobs at the same time. On the one hand they work at home without earning any money, and on the other hand work outside to earn money (Albelle & Tilly 307). In 1947, about 38% of women were working mostly in paid labor jobs; however, in 1954, the number of working women who were African American, doubled to 54%. Then in 1996 the ratio of working women rose up to 88%, as reported by Albella and Tilly. Even though the number of hard working women is increasing year by year, they are still, except for a small percentage, earning low income and their situation still remains below the poverty line. According to Albelda and Tilly, “women’s earnings are considerably lower than men’s, approximately 70 cents to the man’s dollar.” This difference makes women’s lives miserable as they try to work outside and head the household all at the same time.
    For so many years, women have been endeavoring to have the same rights, opportunities, and benefits as men have in their working lives. Although women’s working situations are not as bad as some years ago, women still face graceless and unpleasant discrimination when they look for jobs. Even though women are more educated nowadays and have more opportunities to get a job, there are distinctive wage gaps between men and women. Being the head of the family (Bernstein, 370), giving birth to a child, being under differentiation of occupation, and being sexually abused by employers are some of the common reasons as to why women are behind men when it comes to the benefits of the jobs (Wage Project, 373).
    Family responsibilities are one of the most common reasons why women work in a part time job instead of having a full time job (Bernstein, 371). There are so many married or single women who do most of the household responsibilities while trying to work in a job. It is hard to deal with the chores and manage the expectations at work at the same time. For this reason, women in these kinds of situations prefer to work in part time jobs. According to Bernstein, only 25% of women are able to work full day, for the rest of the women cannot dedicate their whole day for work. This being the case, women cannot get the equal remuneration like other women who work in full time jobs. Interestingly, there is also a huge payment gap between women who work full time and men who work full time. Bernstein explains that “on average women work a lot less than men: 1,498 hours a year, vs. 2,219 worked by the typical man.” According to The Wage Project, part time women employees make only 38% of men’s full time yearly salary. Bernstein also mentions the Hartmann and Rose’s data which shows that women employees can have the same benefits if they leave all the family responsibilities behind and come to work behaving like a “traditional man.” The continuation of such unfair treatment is sure to wear down woman, a situation that’s already strained them enough.
    Another reason for the wage gap between men and women is the choice a women makes to have a child (Wage Project, 378). Bernstein says after quoting Bergland that after delivering a child, women have to work part time or stay away from work for a while because they do not receive the necessary help from the society.
    Nowadays, the position of women employees is assumed to not be as powerful as men’s by most bosses (Wage Project, 377). Even if men and women have the same educational level (Bernstein, 372) and women show more talent, the suggestions made by women are mostly not considered important until, of course, there is no other choice but to accept (Wage project, 375). Bernstein states that women’s yearly salary is much less than men’s, even when they are at the same educational level.
    Sexual harassment is another important factor for women to leave their jobs (Wage Project, 377). Sometimes in situations like these, women are unfortunately seen as sexual means by their bosses. If the women, even if they are educated, do not accept the advances of their bosses, they have no choice but to leave or drop out of their jobs, benefits, emotional solidity, and sometimes even their lives (Wage Project, 377). Women encounter such discriminatory situations at the same time while they are dealing with difficulties which they have in their personal lives.
    Some people think that people are getting welfare because they are too lazy and they don’t want to work. This theory can be true for just a few people. Making this kind of generalization for all people who are in poverty is derogatory against them. Albelda and Tilly say that the reasons for the poverty experience by single mothers and their families is not because of their laziness or lack of ambition. They are in poverty because they don’t have parent support, they face job discrimination, they earn less than men, and they have the added responsibility of taking care of their children. Blaming the poor is so easy, but being aware of their situation and helping them out of it would be the best thing for all.
    Making reforms on the welfare program will make it work well. Some malicious people display themselves as poor to get support from welfare. Under the welfare program, the situation of the applicant must be clarified through an attentive investigation. Determining the really needy persons, eliminating their needs, and opening free high qualified career courses will make welfare a more beneficial program for the poor and will reduce the complaints made against the program.
    Being in poverty is mostly not a personal choice. People in poverty don’t just lack food or safe shelter, but they have also lost their hope and happiness. Women, especially single mothers with no support, encounter the most difficult situations of all. Having an income less than men, taking care of their children without any support, facing job discrimination, and heading the family are the most common adversities faced by women today. Receiving no government support will not help reduce their problems; on the contrary, having access to effective government support will let people in poverty know that there are people with helping hands, people who care about them and who think about them. Poor people need helping hands, at least to not let them give up their hopes and dreams.
    Albelda, Randy.,& Tilly, Chris. 2001. “‘Women, Income, and Poverty’: There’s a Family connection.” Race, Class, and Gender in The United States. Ed. Paula S. Rothenberg. New Jersey: Worth,. 305-314.
    Billitteri, Thomas J. “Gender Pay Gap.” CQ Researcher 18.11 (2008): 241-264. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Elisabeth Sturn Library, Reno, NV. “Domestic Poverty.” CQ Researcher 17.31 (2007): 721-744. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Elisabeth Sturn Library, Reno, NV. Cooper, Mary H. “The Working Poor.” CQ Researcher 5.41 (1995): 969-992. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Elisabeth Sturn Library, Reno, NV. 5 Nov. 2008 “Income Inequality.” CQ Researcher 8.15 (1998): 337-360. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Elisabeth Sturn Library, Reno, NV. 5 Nov. 2008
    Glazer, Sarah. “Welfare Reform.” CQ Researcher 11.27 (2001):601-632. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. Elisabeth Sturn Library, Reno, NV. 5 Nov. 2008 Berstein, Aoron. 2007. “‘Women’s Pay: Why the Gap Remains A Chasm.” Race, Class, And Gender in The United States. Ed. Paula S. Rothenberg. NJ: Worth. 370-372. Mantsios, Gregory. 2007. “‘Media Magic: Making Class Invisible.’” Race, Class, And Gender in The United States. Paula S.Rothenberg. New Jersey: Worth. 636-643. Ropers, H. Richard. 1991. Persistent Poverty, New York: Plenum. Rothenberg, Paula S. (Ed.). 2007. The Wage Gap And Its Costs. Race, Class, And Gender in The United States. NJ: Worth. 373-378.


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