Tag Archives: poverty

Criminalization of Poverty in America

Does the criminalization of poverty exist in America? Have you ever wondered why the poor people are the ones most likely to be incarcerated or face steep fines and penalties as opposed to a higher social class? According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006. Also, a Pew Center Study released in March 2009, found states spending a record of over $50 billion on corrections, an amount that the center judged, with an excess of moderation, to be “too much” (Ehrenreich 2009). In the following article I will explain how poverty affects criminalization and possible ways to stop criminalizing poor people for petty crimes.

Criminalization of Poverty

Poor people are being criminalized

To begin with, I believe there are certain laws like truancy and trespassing that are set up to target poor people or individuals who can’t afford to pay hefty fines. For instance, in Los Angeles, the fine for truancy is $250. This is an ingenious anti-truancy policy that discourages parents from sending their kids to school (Ehrenreich 2009). Poor people, especially Blacks and Hispanics are the main ones who face these fees and thrown in jail if they fail to pay these outstanding costs. Can you imagine serving 12 months in jail for stealing a can of beer worth $2? In Augusta Ga., a judge sentenced Tom Barrett to 12 months after he stole a can of beer worth less than $2 (Balko 2014).

Another way poor people are criminalized is by the government welfare system. Government welfare policies increasingly treat poor people as a criminal class, and the treatment of low-income woman as criminals has occurred at all levels of government (Gustafson 2009). Welfare recipients and section 8 participants go through a vicious evaluation cycle and are subject to drug tests and random home inspections. A welfare recipient has likely signed documents informing her that her welfare grant will be reduced or terminated if she has someone move in without notice, fails to vaccinate her kids, or is convicted of a drug charge (Gustafson 2009). This is known as welfare cheating and this has been going on for as long as welfare reform was created. Government welfare policies increasingly treat poor people as a criminal class, and the treatment of low-income women as criminals has occurred at all levels of government.

Welfare & Poverty

Working low paying jobs and staying on welfare will keep you in poverty.

Next, public housing and court costs from traffic tickets can be a means of criminalizing poor people. A yearlong NPR investigation found that the costs of the criminal justice system in the U.S. are paid increasingly by the defenders and offenders. It’s a practice that causes poor people to face harsher treatment than others who commit similar crimes and can afford to pay (Balko 2014). Can you imagine paying nearly $300 just to appeal a $20 traffic ticket? Massachusetts’s highest court upheld the state’s $275 fee to appeal traffic tickets as low as $15 (Balko 2014). Laws like these seem to go against our constitutional rights of not being assessed excessive fines or punishment; the punishment must fit the crime. Now that we know that criminalization of poor people does exist, what can there be done to stop it?

Many states are starting to slow down on the criminalization of poverty – for instance, by instructing drug offenders to treatment centers instead of jail, early terminating probation and decreasing the number of individuals locked up for technical violations like missed court appearances (Ehrenreich 2009). This will not only help offenders transition back in the community but also save the state money by decreasing overcrowded prisons or jails. Laws like criminalizing the act of sharing foods with the homeless should be eliminated and underpaying working people for high-productive output needs to come to an end (Ehrenreich 2009). Creating public programs that would realistically alleviate poverty, allowing workers to organize and protest for better wages, and not doing the other things that keep poor people down seems to be the only options to help stop the criminalization of poverty.

Leeman Taylor
Senior Criminal Justice Major at Florida A&M University
Real Estate Investor. Internet Marketer.

Sources:

  1. Ehrenreich, B. “Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?” The New York Times 9 August 2009 freedom-school.com
  2. Gustafson, K. “The Criminalization of Poverty” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Spring 2009 law.northwestern.edu
  3. Balko, R. “The Criminalization of Poverty” The Washington Post 23 May 2014

Welfare and Low Wage Jobs Don’t Work

Welfare was created by government to assist poor families in need and create job-training programs to increase the skills of the uneducated. Single moms could get child care assistance while they either work or enroll in some form of educational institution. If recipients took advantage of these state-created programs, they should be well on their way to obtaining the skills and knowledge they need to keep a good job. Unfortunately, poor decisions by recipients, failure of the states to create necessary programs, and low wage jobs, have kept the poor in poverty.

Welfare & Low Wage Jobs

Welfare was created by government to assist poor families in need and create job-training programs to increase the skills of the uneducated.

It has been over 15 years since President Clinton signed the law that “ended welfare as we know it”, in which a 5-year time limit on federal cash assistance was opposed on poor families. This law allowed states to set shorter limits on assistance and this is why the social safety net is failing to keep pace with the needs of struggling Americans, many experts say. Millions of single mothers are falling through the cracks, scrambling to support their families with neither paychecks nor government aid (Holland 2014).

Although welfare has disincentives, I don’t believe they work because some mothers will get to comfortable with government benefits such as food stamps or cash assistance and they don’t feel they need to work. In some cases a single mother on welfare with kids could be living better than a woman working a full-time minimum wage job. This may be why some mothers become discouraged while receiving welfare. Rep Paul Ryan, R., Wis. , chairman of the House Budget Committee, says “Many of these programs end up disincentivizing work – telling people it pays not to go to work because you will lose more in benefits than you gain in earning wages.” (Stossel 2014).

When a welfare recipient meets her deadline and still don’t have the skills to find a job, then she ends up in a worse position than before. White people receive less strict programs than blacks and they face lesser punishment if they do break a rule. In a study conduct by Joe Ross, just 5 years after the passage of the Welfare Reform Act, 63% of families in the least stringent programs were white and 11% were black. Also, in the most restrictive programs – that is the ones with the toughest penalties and most stringent requirements for eligibility, 63% were black and 29% were white ( Holland 2014). This creates a big gap between the white and black economic status and well-being.

When single mothers reach there benefit time limit and can’t find employment, this makes it very difficult for them to maintain a prosperous life with their kids. Peter Edelman, a Georgetown University law professor who resigned from the Clinton administration, says “You have so many people who were pushed off welfare who didn’t find work in the beginning, and today there are people who can’t get welfare at all.” (qt. in Ross 2011) In this situation I can agree with Edelman and say that welfare is “useless” to some degree.

Welfare & Poverty

Working low paying jobs and staying on welfare will keep you in poverty.

I do agree that if an “abled-bodied” individual is on welfare, that they should be required to either be working, attending school, or actively looking for work while receiving benefits for a 5 to 7 year time limit. This should encourage single moms and poor persons to at least engage in some form of education for a career or keep a steady job to maintain. The problem with a regular low paying job is that they don’t pay enough to even live a simple lifestyle and pay bills. I believe single mothers should make smart decisions and take advantage of all state programs that will teach them the skills and give them the tools to succeed.

Although some may argue that it’s all the government’s fault that there are still millions of Americans in poverty, we can’t undermine the fact that poor people do make poor personal decisions sometimes. For example, purchasing an Xbox gaming system or paying for unnecessary cable TV when you are past due on your electric bill (Rector & Sheffield 2011). I do believe that society and individuals themselves are responsible for the persistence work. For one thing, the government has a duty to provide equal opportunity and the welfare for everyone. On the other hand, an individual must take advantage of all the resources and tools available to them for their success.

Poor decisions can be independent due to an individual lacking education or just bad judgment but it can also be connected to social issues. Many individuals try to be like to next person who live luxurious or they associate themselves with peers that influence them to purchase things they know they can’t afford.

To say the least, if the government provides you with all the job training programs, resources and tools you need to succeed, you must take advantage of them. Being on welfare for ever will not lift you out of poverty and working low paying jobs won’t either. Education and professionals skills are what secure you with a promising career or a very profitable business. Poor decisions and social issues are connected so you can’t put all the blame on just the individual and not the society he or she lives in.

Leeman Taylor
Senior Criminal Justice Major at Florida A&M University
Real Estate Investor & Internet Marketer

Sources:
1.Holland, Joshua “How Bill Clinton’s Welfare Reform Created a System Rife with Racial Biases”, www.huffingtonpost.com 12 May 2014. Web
2.Stossel, J. “Why welfare, minimum wage make it harder for poor Americans to succeed” www.foxnews.com 8 October 2014. Web
3.Rector, R., Sheffield, R. “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today? www.heritage.org 19 July 2011. Web
Ross, J. “Welfare Reform Leaving More in Poverty” www.huffingtonpost.com 23 Aug. 2011. Web