Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reaction Paper on Food

Here is a decent reaction paper on hunger:

Ban Ki-Moon, the former United Nations General Secretary, wrote in a March 12, 2008 editorial (available at the Washington Post, editorial:

This is the new face of hunger, increasingly affecting communities that had previously been protected. Inevitably, it is the "bottom billion" who are hit hardest: people living on one dollar a day or less. When people are that poor, and inflation erodes their meager earnings, they generally do one of two things: They buy less food, or they buy cheaper, less nutritious food. The result is the same -- more hunger and less chance of a healthy future.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated in 2007 that 850 million people on the planet suffered from hunger, with 820 million of these living in developing countries.  One of the Millennium Development Goals was to get the number of persons experiencing hunger down to 400 million by 2012, but by 2009 the FAO estimated 1.023 billion humans suffered chronic hunger, and then 925 experienced this in 2010 (see FAO media release from September 14, 2010 at

As terrible as this hunger is in developing nations, I’m alarmed that there were 30 million people outside of the developing nations who experienced hunger in 2007. These were people living in developed nations; the rich nations. It seems to me ridiculous and unacceptable that in a wealthy food-producing place like our country there should be people experiencing hunger. In the United States our main policy to prevent hunger is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, still called “food stamps” although the name has changed and most people use electronic debit cards for their benefits rather than “stamps”).  Lately there have been over 44 million Americans getting SNAP benefits in any given month ( These numbers have increased dramatically since the start of the Great Recession, and costs for the program have doubled over what they were in 2007 (from $35 billion to $72 billion in 2011). And yet, we know that as recently as 2006, a quarter of persons who qualified for SNAP benefits didn’t get them, mostly because they never applied for them, or their parents didn’t apply (see the participation rate report at In America today we have 14.5% of households experiencing some food insecurity (see Why is this?

Persons in America who experience poverty have many potential services from the public to keep them from becoming hungry.  SNAP is the biggest program, but there are also school lunch and breakfast programs for children. There are food pantries and soup kitchens or bread lines. Households may qualify to get monthly benefits through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), or perhaps Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if someone in the household is disabled. Low-income families may get the Earned Income Tax Credit, and they may get medical care through Medicaid, and they may get help with energy bills through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). For housing, there are public housing units and vouchers for subsidized housing. And despite all this, there are still many Americans (over two million) who will skip meals or even go a whole day without eating because of their poverty in any given month.

I suppose these persons who go hungry are probably not using all the welfare benefits they could use.  They may be too embarrassed.  Or, perhaps they are ignorant of what they can get. There may be some people who have low incomes, but are not especially poor, and perhaps these people have too much income to qualify for many benefits, but then for some other reason they spend all their money on housing or medicine and have nothing left over at the end of a month to pay for food.  For example, a middle-class family that suddenly loses employment may still have too much income to qualify for food assistance, but they may have significant debt, or a someone may need very expensive medical care or medicine, and the family might choose to avoid becoming homeless or having their power turned off, or avoid dying from not taking expensive medicines, and those choices could mean that they run out of food.  Such families might be the most embarrassed and the most ignorant when it comes to getting welfare benefits.

How could social workers or food banks reach out to those who are ashamed or do not know where they can get assistance?  Outreach and publicity should be part of all the welfare programs and food bank missions. The goals for these programs and agencies should be to protect people against hunger, and that means they need to find anyone who might go hungry and convince them that everyone needs help now and then through life, and there is no shame in getting help for a period when one needs it. Food banks and food pantries should advertise more, both to collect more donations and to attract more “customers” to collect needed food. Low income neighborhoods may require the most advertising, but middle-class neighborhoods shouldn’t be overlooked. I believe if we do more to let people know about what help is available, and help them feel comfortable accepting the help after sudden layoffs or when they have exhausted their other resources, we should nearly eliminate hunger entirely, so that researchers will not be able to find the people who skip meals or go for a whole day without eating simply because they have no money for food. That should be our goal.

It is important for the United States to continue giving agricultural aid and food support to end hunger for the hundreds of millions of poorest people in the developing nations, but we also must work to eliminate hunger in our own society.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Student thinks healthcare is a right.

Here is a student reaction essay on the topic of universal healthcare. 

    The United States is one of the few, if not the only, developed nation in the world that does not guarantee health coverage for their citizens. 49.9 million people in the U.S. were without health insurance in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. I believe a right to healthcare would stop medical bankruptcies, improve public health, and reduce overall healthcare spending.

Healthcare is the largest industry in the U.S., employing more than fourteen million people. No one in the richest nation on earth should go without healthcare. A poll taken in June 2010 stated that 64% of Americans think healthcare should be a basic human right. Healthcare should be a right because it will promote equal opportunity by decreasing the number of people who are economically disadvantaged in society due to bad health and medically-related financial trouble.

   I think the lack of guaranteed healthcare has put an overall decrease on people’s health compared to other developed nations. The cost of healthcare has become increasingly unaffordable for the average family. Many families risk filing for bankruptcy due to medical expenses. Since 2000, health insurance premiums have raised three times faster than wages. Ensuring that all Americans have the right to healthcare will decrease costs by allowing people to receive regular and preventive medical care and not wait until they are chronically ill to seek treatment, when medical costs are much higher.

Implementing healthcare reform to provide universal coverage was first proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” in 1938. The reform was tried again by Harry S. Truman, Richard Nixon, and President Bill Clinton. All of these attempts were hindered by various groups, and our federal government was never able to pass universal health care, although the Social Security Act Amendments of 1965 did establish Medicaid and Medicare, public programs of health insurance covering many elderly and poor Americans. 

In 2008, President Barack Obama, said health care should be a "right for every American." I personally dealt with insurance problems for a few years and was happy to see our President trying to enact change for an entire country. On March 23, 2010, he signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which increased healthcare coverage to 32 million previously uninsured Americans.

    I would be willing to pay higher taxes to ensure everyone is getting health coverage. I think guaranteed healthcare in America is a moral issue in itself. Other countries offer healthcare as a basic right, while we look at it as a privilege. Only Americans who can afford health insurance can be granted access to adequate healthcare. Healthcare should in fact be a basic human right, instead of an unobtainable commodity. Providing the care needed to maintain overall health is a responsibility each person owes another. I believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with the resources necessary to obtain adequate healthcare.

    Health is a basic necessity to ensure prosperous human living and healthcare is a fundamental human right. Providing all citizens the right to healthcare is good for economic productivity. When people have access to healthcare, they live healthier lives, allowing them to contribute to society for a longer period of time. The right to healthcare should also be considered a civil right. People should not be discriminated against for being sick. Americans who are ill should not have to make the choice between financial struggles or paying for the medical treatments they need to stay alive.

I think healthcare should be a right for Americans because the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution states its purpose is to “promote the general welfare” of the people. What better way to ensure “general welfare” to all people than providing quality, affordable healthcare to all citizens!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Unemployment and Poverty

[Student reaction paper on race and unemployment, with my comments in red]
            Throughout the world we live in, there are people suffering everywhere in various ways. Much of this suffering results from problems of economics and finances. The issues of unemployment and poverty are widespread and devastating. Unemployment may lead to poverty and the two can lead to suffering in many ways such as hunger, lack of shelter, lack of medical care, and other forms of devastation. In discussing these issues in class, I was somewhat surprised by some of the statistics we explored.
            First of all, it is interesting to notice the differences in the recorded unemployment rate and the actual unemployment rate. I am glad to be able to know the difference when hearing information about unemployment. It is important to know this difference in order to accurately assess our economic state and understand political discussion. I was slightly shocked by the fact that the reported unemployment rate was 8.3 percent and the actual was 15.1 percent. I wasn’t aware that the actual unemployment rate did not include the underemployed and discouraged individuals. On a more positive note, it was promising to notice that the actual unemployment rate had not gone up from 2011 to 2012. 
            Important to my professional future is the unemployment rate for college graduates. In the past couple of years, I have heard several people say, “why even go to college when there is a good chance you won’t even get a job when you graduate?” After hearing about the unemployment rates for those without a college degree as compared to those with a college degree, I am happy that I have continued with my college education. The unemployment rate for college graduates is 4.2 percent as compared to 8.4 percent for those with no college education. That is twice the unemployment without a college education! That doesn’t mean that my worries are completely gone. I am concerned that many college graduates who are employed may be employed in positions they are not happy with, that they did not go to college for, or that is are not as high paying as they had hoped. Fortunately for me and my classmates, the outlook for social workers is fairly promising, at least in the long-term.
            Another issue to be discussed is the issue of race and unemployment. It is amazing that the unemployment rate for black Americans is 13.6 percent compared to white Americans with an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent. That is almost half the unemployment rate simply because of a different skin color. It really makes me ponder the issue of why the unemployment rate is so different. Is racism so prevalent still in our country that those with a darker skin color don’t have the same access to employment? This is one important question that we as future social workers should be asking regarding employment and unemployment.
            Also interesting to me was the median wage in Sangamon County. I was fascinated that the median wage is between 22.50 and 23.50 an hour. Minimum wage is only 8.25 an hour. That is a huge difference in the amount of money made by the median worker and the minimum wage worker. Those making only eight dollars and twenty-five cents an hour must have a much lower standard of living than those making the median wage.
            In general, it is important to explore and understand the concepts of unemployment and poverty. These concepts can be very devastating and require attention by those in the helping fields. These and others issues will be problems faced on a daily basis in our social work practices. Not only in social work, but in daily life these issues cause devastating effects on individuals and families.
In your first paragraph you set up some basic principles or fundamental observations.  Yet, I think if you consider what all those taken together mean, you might make an observation that is a little more profound than what you wrote.  I think you are saying that a significant quantity of human suffering could be removed if we had full-employment (unemployment rates of about 2-3% due only to residual friction unemployment, the bit of unemployment we get in normal economic churning as firms close or open, and workers move from one job to another). Whenever a government allows unemployment to exceed this natural floor, it’s not so much a problem that “the unemployment rate is too high” (which is, after all, a rather abstract and unemotional observation). Rather, the problem is that the government is allowing significant suffering and misery, the sort of suffering and misery that is preventable. That's what high unemployment is.

 Disease, accidents, human psychological weaknesses, relationship problems, and bad luck already give us enough emotional trauma, and of course our very short life spans are another source of grief. Certainly this is enough pain, and for governments to allow more suffering simply in order to obey some pseudo-religious devotion to ideals (some might call them "false gods") of an even greater abstractions such as “growth” and “efficiency” and “free markets” and “lower taxes” is a clear choice that elected leaders are making, a choice that increases suffering

You raise a good question about the differences in unemployment rates by ethnic background.  Explanations for the higher unemployment rates for African-Americans include:

1)    Employers still do intentionally discriminate against African-American job applicants, at least at some firms.  And, in addition to the intentional discrimination, there is significant subtle discrimination.

2)    Probably more important is the fact that African-Americans, in general, taken as a whole, tend to be poorer to begin with, which is a problem easily traced back to the enslavement of their ancestors and the very blatant and often legislative discrimination they faced for five or six generations after emancipation.  Poorer people get education of poorer quality, and are less able to get hired in jobs when employers prefer to hire better-educated workers.

3)   Forced segregation in society kept African-Americans geographically isolated, and excluded them from some areas.  Segregation has persisted after desegregation and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and is very slow to diminish.  Investments made in infrastructure and job-creation have been concentrated in areas inhabited by less marginalized groups (like middle-class European Americans in the suburbs).  Areas historically populated by marginalized groups such as Americans with African heritage received far less public and private investment, and have had fewer jobs created.  Thus, African-Americans tend to live further away from jobs.

4)    African-Americans may suffer in the job market not so much by racism motivated by negative feelings toward them, but by prejudices against persons from high-crime neighborhoods or persons from areas of concentrated poverty. That is, even a well-educated African-American job applicant seeking a job from someone who is genuinely free of racial prejudices might be at a disadvantage because of a geographic or class background.  The geographic or class background might influence the African-American’s personal presentation or self, speech patterns, or social networks in such a way that puts them at a disadvantage versus an European-American with a background associated with privilege. 
    For example, let’s imagine someone in a human resources department in Springfield has a pile of several equivalent job applications and resumes.  Some come from people who graduated from a high school known for many behavioral problems, a school with a high drop-out rate, a school in a high-crime neighborhood.  Perhaps the firm doing the hiring has had some employees who graduated from that high school or lived in the neighborhoods around that school, and those employees were seen as lazy and dishonest.  Other applicants attended the school in town with a reputation for having the smartest students, and the most well-behaved students. Students who attend this better school tend to live in middle-class or wealthier areas of the city.  The boss of the firm attended that high school, and the human resources person making a hiring decision knows many people whose children now attend that high school.  Even without knowing the race of the job candidates, a human resources person may slightly prefer candidates from the better background and the better high school. Let’s say the better high school has a student body that is 25% African-American while the school with the worse reputation is 60% African-American.  Simply by looking at neighborhoods and schools attended (holding grades and the personal behavior of the applicants constant) a human resources person might already have a non-racial bias that will lead to preferences with racial implications.

First reaction paper I'm sharing this semester: The Real Unemployment Rate

Here is the first reaction paper I'll post for this semester's examples of student reaction papers.

In class, we have been discussing poverty and the welfare programs that help those in need of financial assistance. Over the past few months, I have found myself more and more interested in politics and current events. So, I started having small political conversations with my roommates; particularly about unemployment and the current economy Yet, I soon realized that the environment that people grew up in greatly affects their views of the world around them. I wish there was a way to show people what it is really like to not be blessed with a stable income. I have always had an interest in how unemployment affects people and their families. My parents both lost their jobs when I was in high school, and even though they are both working now, the effects from their previous unemployment still linger.
            One of my roommates is from a very small town in southern Illinois. One time, we were having a conversation about unemployment, and I was talking about the lack of jobs available to people. She replied saying that people are just lazy. She said that there is plenty of work and she knows many people who just choose not to take those jobs. This angered me because it is [nearly] completely untrue. Yes, there are some jobs available. However, there are not enough jobs to accommodate all of the unemployed Americans. I knew she was just na├»ve to what is actually going on in the current economy. So, I chose to look up an article about unemployment in America for this reaction essay.
            I stumbled across an article entitled “Unemployment rate drops to 8.3 percent; but economy still struggling.” The article discussed how people were excited about the drop from 8.5 to 8.3 percent unemployment and the 243,000 jobs added in January. Yet, what article shared that politicians are not eager to talk about are the 1.177 million people who gave up their job search last month. Taking the disheartened people into account, the article explained that the unemployment rate is more [accurately described as being] around 9.4 percent. I do not like how people look solely at the unemployment rate and think it is an accurate description of how well the United States is improving. There are other factors to consider other than the calculated unemployment rate.
            Specifically, in addition to those who gave up looking for jobs, I think the article should have also mentioned the millions of people working unstable part-time jobs (often more than one) instead of full-time jobs. Such people, like my father, are not included in the unemployment rate. Still, these people have been greatly affected by the poor economic conditions. Their hours are cut, they cannot pay their bills, and the stress from all of this affects their happiness. What widely used monthly statistic accounts for those hardworking individuals? There isn’t one. Class today was the first time I heard that there was a “real unemployment rate” that is about 15.1 percent currently. This rate takes into account those who only work part-time jobs but want full-time or gave up looking for work. While I am glad this real unemployment rate is calculated, I still think it should be more widely dispersed. The media shows the public that the unemployment rate has gone down to 8.3 percent. However, the real unemployment rate of 15.1 percent is the same as last year and shows that not much has truly changed. This is the rate that government officials should be focusing their time on.


Shott, J.H. (2012). Unemployment rate drops to 8.3 percent; but economy still struggling. Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from: