Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Noted Economist Amartya Sen Urges Stimulus Focus on Poor; New York State Poverty Rate Hits 14%

During this national economic crisis, responses to stimulate the economy should have a major emphasis on addressing needs of the poor. As recently observed by Amartya Sen, it is not enough to rely on market results or to use federal economic stimulus money as a general economic "pump priming" Keynesian spending strategy without also addressing poverty and inequality:
The most immediate failure of the market mechanism lies in the things that the market leaves undone. [Adam] Smith's economic analysis went well beyond leaving everything to the invisible hand of the market mechanism. He was not only a defender of the role of the state in providing public services, such as education, and in poverty relief (along with demanding greater freedom for the indigents who received support than the Poor Laws of his day provided), he was also deeply concerned about the inequality and poverty that might survive in an otherwise successful market economy.
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While Keynes was very involved with the question of how to increase aggregate income, he was relatively less engaged in analyzing problems of unequal distribution of wealth and of social welfare.... Since the suffering of the most deprived people in each economy-and in the world-demands the most urgent attention, the role of supportive cooperation between business and government cannot stop only with mutually coordinated expansion of an economy. There is a critical need for paying special attention to the underdogs of society in planning a response to the current crisis, and in going beyond measures to produce general economic expansion. Families threatened with unemployment, with lack of medical care, and with social as well as economic deprivation have been hit particularly hard. The limitations of Keynesian economics to address their problems demand much greater recognition.
Capitalism Beyond the Crisis,
New York Review of Books, V. 56, No. 5, March 26, 2009.

In its 2009 New York State Poverty Report, the New York State Community Action Association (“NYSCAA”) reports New York has a poverty rate of 14 percent, the 16th highest poverty rate in the nation, exceeding the national poverty rate of 13.3 percent and the rates of all Northeastern and Midwestern states.

NYSCAA found that more than 2.6 million New Yorkers are living below the official poverty line, including more than 860,000 children. In addition, the poverty rates in upstate cities have increased and now more than 40 percent of children in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica are living below the poverty line

Poverty also disproportionately impacts people of color: NYSCAA found that while one of every 10 Whites live in poverty, more than one in five African Americans and one in four Latino New Yorkers are poor.

In addition, nearly 2.5 million individuals New Yorkers under the age of 65 do not have health insurance.

Denise Harlow, CEO of NYSCAA, noted that while these numbers are stark, “without real numbers, it can be difficult to frame the issues, structure solutions, and work to create change. This report offers the public an easy-to-use resource that is readily available. We know that many New Yorkers live in communities where the cost of living far exceeds the national average. Housing and energy stressors only increase the economic burdens facing New Yorkers and the daily struggles to feed and house their families.”

NYSCAA and other community groups recently joined with PULP in opposition to the proposed settlement in the pending Niagara Mohawk natural gas rate case, seeking improvement in low income rates and programs designed to reduce energy burdens of those living in poverty.

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