Defining Poverty and Why It Matters for Children

The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) provides a variety of fact sheets and stats on child poverty through its Family Income & Jobs initiative.

In order to provide our children with a fair start in life, CDF’s Family Income & Jobs Division creates and sustains American communities that work to strengthen every family’s capacity to provide for its children. The division supports parents in securing employment that pays livable wages and receiving education and training so they may compete for better jobs.

One brief but enlightening report, “Defining Poverty and Why It Matters for Children” (PDF), notes the following:

In 2003 social insurance and means-tested public benefits lifted 27 million people out of poverty, including 5 million children. Despite the noteworthy success of public benefit programs … unacceptable numbers of families and children remain in poverty and poverty rates in the United States exceed those of other wealthy industrialized nations …

A report by the Urban Institute found that if families with children had full access to government programs … poverty would decline by more than 20 percent, and extreme poverty would be reduced by 70 percent. Instead, millions of families with children eligible for these programs do not receive the benefits and continue to live in poverty.

The CDF site features a wealth of advocacy information and links, including a timeline of victories since it was founded in 1973.

Most Low-Income Parents Are Employed

A November 2005 report issued by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) notes that “the number of children in low-income families with working parents is increasing, but low wages and lack of benefits continue to limit progress toward economic self-sufficiency.”

Among other findings,

Most children in low-income families have parents who are employed full-time and year-round.

  • 55% of children in low-income families—14.9 million—have at least one parent who works full-time and year-round.

and …

Most low-income parents who did not work at all last year were either disabled or taking care of their families.

  • Almost half (46%) of low-income parents with no employment reported they were not working because they were taking care of their families.
  • An additional 30% of low-income parents with no employment reported they were not working because they had an illness or disability that kept them from working.

and …

Low-income parents who work are more likely to be employed in service occupations.

  • Workers in service occupations are not only likely to have lower earnings and fewer opportunities for full-time employment, but they are also less likely to receive benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation, or holidays.

Another recent NCCP report, “Pathways to Early School Success: Helping the Most Vulnerable Infants, Toddlers, and Their Families,” highlights ten important strategies that communities can use to create positive outcomes for low-income families.

An executive summary and full report are available as PDFs.

The Isolation of Urban African Americans

Sociologist Rogelio Saenz has written a brief but eye-opening snapshot of life in the United States: “Beyond New Orleans: The Social and Economic Isolation of Urban African Americans.”

In large cities across the nation, African Americans are much more likely than whites to be living in communities that are geographically and economically isolated from the economic opportunities, services, and institutions that families need to succeed. These disparities have left African Americans disproportionately vulnerable to the next urban calamity, be it from terrorism or another natural disaster [like Hurricane Katrina].

The author prescribes specific strategies for fixing this disparity:

  • Skills-development, employment, and health-maintenance programs need to be targeted to and strengthened for African Americans.
  • Funding and access to education—including Head Start—should be increased for African Americans in order to bolster their social and economic well-being and competitiveness in the labor market.
  • Additional policies, resources, and investment are needed to promote the development and relocation of businesses (and thus jobs) to African American urban neighborhoods.
  • Government agencies responsible for responding to natural disasters need to factor into their planning the economic and geographic isolation of African Americans—especially the African American urban poor.

Where do libraries fit into this picture?

The Population Reference Bureau offers a variety of other poverty-focused reports.

Solving Poverty with Asset Policies

The Institute on Assets and Social Policy “is dedicated to the economic and social mobility of individuals and families, particularly those traditionally left out of the economic mainstream, and to the expansion of the middle class.”

While the United States is an affluent country, millions of individuals and working families are asset poor, a condition that limits their economic security and our prosperity as a nation. Assets are the financial and human capacities that enable individuals to enter into and stay in the economic mainstream.

The Institute works with a variety of partners and has recently published two important reports:

Innovative State Policies to Reduce Poverty and Expand the Middle Class” (PDF)

Across the nation, states with both abundant and lean fiscal resources, with urban and rural populations, and reflecting both liberal and conservative ideologies, are focusing their policies more and more on enabling residents to build educational and technical skills, an income base, and the financial wealth necessary for mobility and security.

and …

Minimum Wage: Creating an Asset Foundation

This report examines the significance of federal and state minimum wage laws, explores the impact of the minimum wage since its inception and the arguments for and against increases over time. This is the first of a series that will focus on the building blocks for an integrated asset policy framework emerging through state policies and practices that are advancing asset development at the state level and may drive change in federal policy.

The Institute’s Web site explains the asset policies framework and features state rankings, regular updates on recent initiatives, and more.

Homeless Youth: Resource Needs

The nonprofit Center for Impact Research (CIR) has published “Wherever I Can Lay My Head: Homeless Youth on Homelessness,” featuring an executive summary, a complete report, and a Homeless Youth Resource Directory.

The report “presents the data from CIR’s 2004 survey of 400 homeless youth to learn what the youth themselves identify as their needs, the resources available to them, and the ways that the various systems serving homeless youth might be improved.”

The study provides a good look at how homeless youth “get by” (or do not) and the variety of services that help them (or do not).

The finding of this study that merits particularly close attention is that there are particular groups of homeless youth who are at even greater risk than others because of their age, pregnant/parenting status, sexual orientation, or place of residence. Addressing the needs of these youth requires different outreach efforts and resources … New and expanded resources are necessary to help homeless youth become stable and safely housed and to prepare them for self‐sufficiency.

What can libraries do to help?

Other CIR publications are available here.

Library Service to the Homeless

The following resources are provided in conjunction with the Metropolitan Library System program “Library Service to the Homeless,” taking place today in Burr Ridge, Illinois. Featured speakers include Mary Minow, Tracie Hall, and others.

Please feel free to print and distribute this resource list.

Economic, Legal, and Human Rights Issues

Center for Law and Social Policy
CLASP’s mission is to improve the economic security, educational and workforce prospects, and family stability of low-income parents, children, and youth and to secure equal justice for all.

A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities
Produced by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, this annual report examines specific city measures from 2005 that targeted homeless persons, such as laws that make it illegal to sleep, eat, or sit in public spaces.

Facts About Street Rights
This is a sample civil rights card provided to homeless people by advocates in Washington, D.C.

National Health Care for the Homeless Council
The NHCHC strives to bring about reform of the health care system to best serve the needs of people who are homeless, to work in alliance with others whose broader purpose is to eliminate homelessness, and to provide support to Council members.

Poverty Law Library
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
This site offers over 500,000 case pleadings and other documents, analytical articles from Clearinghouse Review, the premier journal on poverty law and policy, over 1,000 research links, and much more.

A Roof to Start With
Cities are moving homeless people straight from the street into permanent housing—no questions asked. It’s controversial, but it’s showing results.

Shame of the City: A Special Report on the Homeless
San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan and photographer Brant Ward spent four months in the streets, parks and alleys with the homeless and those who deal with them. This site features a variety of related articles and themes.

Top 20 Meanest Cities
This list is compiled by the NCH as part of its annual report.

Local Statistics

American FactFinder
Use this U.S. Census Bureau tool to find stats on poverty in your community. Plug in location information and click “Go.” You’ll be presented with a Fact Sheet containing data on families and individuals living below the federal poverty line.

Poverty Guidelines, Research, and Measurement
U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services
This site features facts and FAQs, links to poverty research centers, and tips for finding answers to your questions.

Small Area Income & Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)
The U.S. Census Bureau’s SAIPE program provides more current estimates of selected income and poverty statistics than the most recent decennial census. The site features searchable data on school districts, counties, and states.

A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America’s Cities” (December 2005)
The U.S. Conference of Mayors / Sodexho Inc.
For the past 21 years, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has reported on the shortage of emergency services – food, shelter, medical care, income assistance and energy assistance – in the nation’s cities. This report brings national attention to the factors that impact hunger and homelessness in metropolitan centers in the United States.

Selected Readings for Librarians

Sanford Berman. “Classism in the Stacks: Libraries and Poor People.”
Counterpoise 9, no. 3 (Summer 2005).
This is a copy of Berman’s address at ALA Annual 2005 for the Sixth Annual Dr. Jean E. Coleman Library Outreach Lecture Series.

Sanford Berman. “A Long Struggle to Force Libraries to Serve the Poor.”
Street Spirit (January 2001).

Ariel W. Collins. Bibliography on Library Services to Poor People (2002).
This browsable online bib contains 110 articles organized into five different categories—a great resource!

Counterpoise 9, no. 4 (Winter 2005).
Forthcoming poverty-themed issue.

John Gehner. “Poverty, Poor People, and Our Priorities.” Reference and User Services Quarterly 45, no. 2 (Winter 2005).

Julie Hersberger. “The Homeless and Information Needs and Services.”
Reference and User Services Quarterly 44, no. 3 (Spring 2005), 199-202.

“Perspectives: Library Services in Low-Income Urban Communities.”
Hampton (Skip) Auld, ed. Public Libraries (Nov/Dec 2005).
This report compiles case studies and firsthand experiences from eight different urban libraries.

Kathleen de la Pena McCook. “Ending the Isolation of Poor People.”
American Libraries 31 (May 2000): 45.
This special issue contains several essays on service to poor people.

Kathleen de la Pena McCook. “Poverty, Democracy and Public Libraries.” In Libraries & Democracy: The Cornerstones of Liberty. Nancy Kranich, ed. (Chicago: American Library Association Editions, 2001), 28-46.

Kathleen de la Pena McCook. LIS 5937 / Librarians and Human Rights: A Seminar.
School of Library and Information Science, University of South Florida.

Poor People and Library Services. Karen M. Venturella, ed. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1998).
This book addresses the issues of ensuring access to information regardless of ability to pay and the practical means for meeting the needs of low income populations.

Social Exclusion and Libraries

While U.S. public libraries remain fixated on the issue of “odor,” libraries in England and elsewhere are creating new and novel programs to address “social exclusion.” This work is supported by government policy, public funding, and more than a decade of research.

Libraries and Community Cohesion
Authored by John Vincent for SEMLAC, this report “examines the social and national context, raises challenges, and offers ways for the library sector to move forward” on social exclusion.

The Network
This organization is a network of public libraries, museums, archives, other organizations, and individuals committed to tackling social exclusion.

New Directions in Social Policy: Communities and Inclusion Policy for Museums, Libraries, and Archives” (Word doc)
Published under the auspices of The Museums, Libraries, and Archives Council, this paper “explores the contribution museums, libraries and archives can make to neighbourhood renewal, community agendas, and social inclusion.”

Social Exclusion: The European Approach to Social Disadvantage” (PDF)
A useful primer, published by U.S. sociologists Hilary Silver and S.M. Miller in 2003.

Social Exclusion Unit
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
This government agency was established in 1997 to “create prosperous, inclusive and sustainable communities for the 21st century.”

Open Doors: Library Service to Excluded Groups

ALA Midwinter Meeting 2006 Announcement

Two ALA units are sponsoring an open discussion of library service to excluded groups, including low-income families and homeless people. Midwinter Meeting participants are invited to attend and to share program-planning ideas for the 2007 ALA Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

The program will be coordinated by the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS) Subcommittee on Library Services to the Poor and Homeless in conjunction with the Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force (HHPTF) of the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT).

Issues for consideration include resources for finding basic living needs (food, shelter, medical assistance); instruction for life skills (literacy, job hunting, internet use); library policies and access issues; specialized programs and funding strategies; partnerships with social-service providers; community-building initiatives; and other relevant topics.

This discussion will take place from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm on Saturday, January 21st, in Room 206B in the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center.

For more information, contact OLOS director Satia Orange at 800-545-2433 (ext. 4295) or via e-mail at or stop by Table 10 in the ALA office area during the ALA Midwinter Meeting.

Income Inequality: A Reading List

Too Much, a newsletter published by the Council on International and Public Affairs (CIPA), regularly reviews books that treat income inequality. Editor Sam Pizzigati has compiled a helpful archive of Good Reads.

The most recent addition to the list happens to be a book penned by Pizzigati himself, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality That Limits Our Lives.

According to publisher Apex Press (a CIPA program), the book

explores the most promising options for creating a less unequal America, then offers a practical political guide for moving forward incrementally on the boldest option of all, a “maximum wage,” a national ceiling on annual individual income that would rise if and only if the minimum wage rose first.

In Defense of Food Stamp Programs

When Congress recently threatened to cut support for food stamp programs, the Food Research and Action Center responded.

FRAC prepared a 117-page document, “Editorials, Columns, and Op-Ed Pieces in Opposition to Food Stamp Program Cuts,” which compiles nearly 80 articles from dozens of newspapers across the country.

The clippings treat a variety of issues, ranging from support for low-income people to Congress’ apparent disconnect from the needs of “average citizens.” Many, if not most, articulate sentiments like the following, from the Port Huron (Michigan) Times Herald:

Any budget, especially a national one, is a statement about priorities. How we spend money demonstrates what we really believe. The Congress of the United States needs to be reminded by people of good will that contempt for the poor and the neglect of those in need is not an American value.

In September 2005, FRAC published a report titled “Food Stamp Access in Urban America: A City-by-City Snapshot.” According to the report,

A recent USDA study shows that the costs to families to purchase enough food generally were higher in the cities than in their immediate surroundings or in non-metropolitan areas of the same state …

In a majority of the cities, at least one child in four lived below the poverty line in 2003, and in Atlanta and Detroit it was two children in five …

As of May 2005 in the 25 urban areas [examined by the study], approximately 5.4 million people were receiving food stamps. More than half of the households receiving food stamps contained children, and nearly 80 percent of the benefits issued were paid to households with one or more children. One in five urban food stamp households included an elderly person …

And in contrast to Congress’ proposal to cut benefits, FRAC argues that

[s]ince the nation’s big cities are home to a disproportionate share of poor and hungry Americans, expanding access to the Food Stamp Program in cities is a critically important step toward building an America free of hunger.

Congress Gets Pay Raise; Minimum Wage Unchanged

Members of Congress recently passed a pay increase for themselves to the tune of $3,100. Approved by President Bush and effective January 1, 2006, their base salary will be $165,200.

Congress’ annual pay bump stands in stark contrast to the federal minimum wage, which has not been raised for eight years … since September 1, 1997.

In its report Out of Reach 2005, the National Low Income Housing Coalition offers the following perspective:

In no rural county or metropolitan area can a renter with a full-time job paying the prevailing minimum wage afford even a one-bedroom unit priced at the Fair Market Rent. And in only 42 counties—representing less than 1% of renter households nationwide—does a full-time minimum wage job constitute sufficient income to afford an efficiency or studio (i.e. zero bedroom) unit.

A parent would have to work at least three minimum-wage jobs to afford a two-bedroom apartment in California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington D.C.—nearly four jobs in Hawaii and Maryland.

The Economic Policy Institute provides comprehensive data on the minimum wage, including some concise Facts at a Glance and answers to FAQs.

Q: Who are minimum wage workers?

A: An estimated 7.3 million workers (5.8% of the workforce) would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 by June 2007. Of these workers, 72.1% are adults and 60.6% are women. Close to half (43.9%) work full time and another third (34.5%) work between 20 and 34 hours per week. More than one-third (35%) of the workers who would benefit from an increase to $7.25 are parents of children under age 18, including 760,000 single mothers. The average minimum wage worker brings home about half of his or her family’s weekly earnings.

And what of the earnings of our Senators and Representatives? According to the nonprofit publication Too Much,

No one can say precisely how many millionaires currently sit in Congress, or how many millions these millionaires hold, mainly because the annual disclosure forms members of Congress must file don’t require them to report the exact value of their assets. Instead, the forms ask lawmakers to list each of their assets within a set of fixed value ranges.

If you would like to study financial disclosure statements for members of Congress, visit PoliticalMoneyLine’s Candidate Profile Search.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Type in all or a portion of a last name.
  2. Choose the most recent election cycle.
  3. Click Go Search!
  4. Click on the appropriate name to open a profile.
  5. In the lower right-hand side of the screen, look for the box titled “Annual Personal Financial Disclosure Documents”
  6. Click on the report of your choice (available as a PDF document).

When you’re through, why don’t you contact your reps in Washington? Ask them to raise the minimum wage to help working families.