Real poverty numbers and how cynics hate progress

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This article may not seem to relate to Hip Hop Kulture, but it does. In this post, I will set up the first part of a larger argument that includes a discussion of Hip Hop. That subsequent post will be the conclusion to what’s introduced here. To understand Hip Hop’s real place in the World economically, we have to first examine the idea of financial progress. What does it mean for a culture to make financial progress? How do we measure that? How can we tell if “people” have made progress and how can we back up the assumption with facts?

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When I observe the World we live in today, I see prosperity, wealth and opportunity liberally mixed in with the decay, poverty and despair. In the grand scheme of the things, it’s probably balanced or engaged in the constant process of balancing as we speak. But to many, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like everything is getting worse and more corrupted. Still, maybe it’s just very easy to say “everything’s bad, everything sucks!” It’s not as easy to say things are getting better when the mainstream encourages the cynic. Cynicism is steeped in sarcasm, mockery, and what has become known as ‘snark’, something modern entertainment thrives on. Because “the cynic takes a negative attitude toward action, (michaelteachings.com)” snark becomes the ultimate weapon for the passive-aggressive types. Some people are cynical as way to feel superior to those who see benefits in subjects they disagree with. Cynics believe “that only selfishness motivates human actions and disbelieves in or minimizes, selfless acts (dictionary.com).” Who’s right? Is everything getting better or worse?

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There are numbers to support both assumptions, because while numbers don’t lie, people do. People can make numbers say anything. Numbers can be used to back up a truthful argument, or sometimes mislead you into a false argument. As an example, we can look at poverty in America from the big picture.

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Of all the people in poverty in the U.S., most have always been so-called white people. That’s because the population in America consists mostly of people who are considered “White”. However obvious this fact might be, the media paints a narrative which makes “Black” people seem like the “most” impoverished group in America. The facts say something different though.

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Today, around 62% of the population is “White”, 17% “Hispanic”, 13% “Black”, 5% Asian, 2% mixed, 1% Indigenous. Unless there is an elimination of poverty altogether, the balance would or should reflect the percentage of that population overall. So if 62% of the people in a group are “White”, 62% of the people in poverty should be “White” to reflect the balance of all things being equal. The numbers in reality say something different though. Still, the picture is not as dim for the ones who seem to have been complaining the most. So-called whites and blacks are the most vocal when it comes to railing against the rigged systems of “the establishment” and their disproportionate amount of pain received because of it. While “Blacks” made up around 12% of the population, in the 1970s – 1980’s they made up around 27% of those considered poor. That number has been steadily decreasing in contradiction to what some may say.

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Under President Jimmy Carter, the number was 28% and decreased by 1 point to 27% by the time Reagan was elected in 1980. By 1990, after George Bush Sr. first term, the rate was 25%. After each 4-year term under Republicans the rate dropped by 1 point for “Black” people. Then after two, 4-year terms under President Bill Clinton, the rate didn’t drop by 2 points like normal. It dropped by 4 points down to 21% of the population considered poor in 2000. After 8 years of President George Bush Jr., and two years of President Barack Obama, in 2010, the rate was 19%. It was back to dropping only 1 point every 4 years. Since these stats are taken by the Census Bureau we won’t have the next overall numbers until 2020. In 2014, the rate of “Black” poor people remained 19%, which is still disproportionate because of the 13% total population. However, only a pessimist wouldn’t recognize two things; 1) Poverty has been steadily DECREASING for “Blacks” since the 1980s, 2) Poverty for “Blacks” decreased the most under President Bill Clinton.

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Another thing these numbers say contradicts the amount of complaining by “White” Americans. While it is true that most people in poverty in America are “White” (54%) that number in 2014, is disproportionately less than the 62% of the population for their group. Since 1970, when the percent of poor people in this country was 64% “White”, the number of poor among “Whites” has decreased the most for any group judging by the most recent stats. Poverty among “Whites” decreased by 10 points, from 64% (1970) down to 54% (2014). The only other group who saw a decrease in poverty rate were “Blacks” who decreased in percent of poor people by 9 points from 28% (1970) down to 19% (2014).

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The change in the rate of decrease is also revealing as to why Reagan is so beloved among “Whites”. From 1970 to 1980 the poverty rate for “Whites” was decreasing at twice the rate of “Blacks”. It went from 64% to 62%, a jump of 2 points in 10 years, while at the same time it went from 28% to 27% of poor people in America who were “Black”, a decrease of 1 point. Under Reagan in the 1980’s, the poverty rate among “Whites” went from 62% to 57%, the biggest decline in poverty over 10 years, for any group in the past 44 years. The decline was by 5 points, only 1 point more than the decrease for “Blacks” under Clinton, but significant none the less. Similarly, so-called “Whites” have a reason to dislike Bill Clinton because their rate of decrease was the least it had ever been at just 1 point. Although the percentage of “Whites” in poverty continued to decrease, the rate now mimicked the 1 point decrease experienced by “Blacks” in the 1970s.

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When Bush Jr. took over in 2001 and proceeded to wreck the economy, the number of poor “Whites” still decreased by 2 points from 56 to 54 percent. In effect, it seems that the anxiety in seeing Democrats lead is a fear of the loss of privilege. In long gone years, privilege enabled the poverty rate among “Whites” to decrease by double the amount of “Blacks” which was usually 2 points versus 1 point. Then Bill Clinton came along and “White” poverty decreased by only 1 point like it had for “Blacks” in the 1970s. In addition, poverty decreased 5 points under Reagan/Bush Sr. in the 1980s during the Wall Street financial boom, which was seen as a financial Renaissance for some. Similarly, “Blacks” experienced somewhat of a renaissance in the 1990s under Clinton when the poverty rate decreased by 4 points instead of 1 or 2. That is still just part of the missing picture.

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A reason that some “Whites” still feel that other people are getting more than them can almost be justified. On one hand, poverty has decreased in general for both “Whites” and “Blacks” in America. “Whites” however, suffer from two little talked about set-backs. One problem is that the total population of so-called white people includes the ultra-rich, the “1%”. These few families of multi-billionaires skew the real wealth of average “Whites” who probably make similar wages to most “Black” families. A special note to make might be that a disproportionate number of “Blacks” live in cities which are more expensive than rural areas because the cost of living is higher. So even poor “Blacks” living in cities may seem to have more wealth than rural poor “Whites” who live in a trailer park or on a farm.

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Another part of the problem reveals where the jealously towards “Blacks” from “Whites” may fester. Corporate thievery was mastered in the 1980s and the wealth that decreased the poverty rate for “Whites” may have been skewed toward the top earners. Although less “White” people were in poverty after Reagan, the majority of the wealth generated at that time didn’t go to the bottom earners. It went to the top earners. Conversely, among “Black” people, the overall wealth among the group was not so severely skewed toward top earners and average “Black” people did experience a renaissance under Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

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This difference has become more visual as “Black” people seemingly get wealthier while the average “White” person doesn’t seem to excel as fast. Coupled with this is the socially explicit way many “Black” people like to flaunt wealth. In other words, “Black” people on videos or on TV may portray an image of money that they don’t see among their poor “White” relatives who work hard and lead less visually-wealthy lifestyles. The slightly justified jealously comes with the notion that “Black” wealth is less skewed from rich to poor, than it is among “Whites”. When “Whites” see “Blacks” getting wealthier yet still complaining, they get jealous because masses of average and poor “Whites” haven’t experienced the same increase in wealth recently. In terms of numbers, “Black” poverty has decreased by 5 points since 1990 but only by 3 points for “Whites”. Therein lies the weak justification for jealously. Lately, since the 1990s, “White” people have not been leaving poverty as fast as “Black” people overall. It’s really some cynical bullshit, but that’s it.

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The problem with this jealously reflects badly on the complaining by so-called blacks and whites. Poverty levels should theoretically be dropping for everyone but they’re not. They are declining for both “Blacks” and “Whites” where you can find vocal groups justly screaming for political relief, but poverty on the other hand, has been increasing for Hispanics and Asians as their respective populations have grown. Even there the complaint factor decreases when considering that the percent of Hispanics in poverty went from 9% to 23% (1970 – 2014) while the population increased by around 655% from 9 million to about 68 million (including 11 million undocumented). In 1980, Hispanics made up 6% of the US population. In 2015 they were 17% of the total population. This leaves the Hispanic population 6 points out of sync with the poverty level of 23%. “Blacks” are 6 points above as well with a population of 13% and a poverty level of 19%. “Whites” are 8 points below the balanced level of poverty with a population of 62% and a poverty level of 54%.

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With all that said, we might reflect on the idea that there are reasons backed by numbers which enable people on any side to justify anger or resentment at their station in life. Still, without a change in perspective, we might never see progress. We might always complain about the faults and moan because we haven’t reached perfection. Meanwhile, the numbers have always shown progress. It’s not enough progress to stop a stride toward better things, but at some point it should be enough to acknowledge an accomplishment.

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Additional Reference:

Year Percentage of people in poverty who were white Percentage of people in poverty who were black Percentage of people in poverty who were Hispanic Percentage of people in poverty who were Asian
2014 54 19 23 4
2010 54 19 24 3
2000 56 21 20 3
1990 57 25 15 2
1980 62 27 11 NA
1970 64 28 9* NA

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Kurt Nice

Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE’s National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at info@hiphoplives.net

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