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Imagine if the whole world worked like a game of musical chairs. Every time the game is played, the number of players pacing around the circle would always outnumber the chairs to sit on. The only certainty in life would be that, when the music stops, some are going be left without a place to sit.
Mark Rank, a professor of social welfare at Washington University in St. Louis, argues that this is exactly how the world works. With the country's labor pool always larger than the number of job opportunities available, U.S. economic and political structures guarantee that a certain number of players "are bound to lose," he said.
Rank was the keynote speaker at a panel discussion about American poverty held at the Kansas Union today. Also invited to the discussion were Krissy Clark, a reporter for American Public Media's "Marketplace," as well as William Emmons of the Center for Household Financial Stability. Joining them were David Smith, a Kansas University professor of sociology, Derrick Darby, a KU professor of law, and Deb Adams, a KU associate professor of social welfare.
For Rank and others, high poverty levels in the world's largest economy represent a moral injustice and failure of U.S. social institutions, one that affects everybody. He and a colleague found that workers between 20 and 75 have a 60 percent chance of living at least a year below the poverty line. Along with the risk of becoming poor are high levels of public spending "on the back end" to address the effects of poverty, including health issues, crime and incarceration.
The Kansas University School of Social Welfare sponsored the panel. It was the first in a KU speaker series on the subject of poverty that will span the school year. Spaces are free to the events, which will be held Nov. 7, Feb. 5 and March 28. Those interested can RSVP at reimaginingpoverty.com.