391 posts categorized "Poverty"
Good jobs that pay a living wage are key to addressing U.S. income inequality. Photo: Roofers install solar panels on a home in the District of Columbia (Courtesy of Mt. Pleasant Solar Coop).
By Allie Gardner
The U.S. economy is continuing to slowly, steadily recover, but too many families are not sharing in the nation’s economic growth, according to a new report from Half in Ten.
“Resetting the Poverty Debate: Renewing Our Commitment to Shared Prosperity” finds that income inequality remained high even as the economy grew during the last year. This annual report tracks the nation’s progress toward cutting poverty in half over the next decade, and recommends a set of policy priorities that would help more families escape poverty and enter the middle class. The report cites job creation, boosting wages, and investing in family economic security as means of accomplishing this, and also calls on Congress to end sequestration, and invest in programs that keep Americans out of poverty.
Increasing the minimum wage would help narrow the gap between productivity and compensation, as well as boost the income of low-wage workers, the report finds. While the top five percent of U.S. income earners are the only group that has seen an increase in income since the end of the recession, poorly compensated workers have seen the largest declines in their wages over the last ten years.
The importance of federal safety net programs, such as SNAP (formerly food stamps) and Social Security, is also noted. The former has helped stabilize the food-insecurity rate in recent years, and the latter lifted the income of 25.6 million Americans above the supplemental poverty line. Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, stressed the importance of these programs at the launch event for the report. Beckmann explained that SNAP “is very vulnerable to deep, deep cuts,” as many members of Congress do not prioritize it. “All of us need to rally around SNAP,” Beckmann added.
Cutting poverty in half over the next ten years is an important mission. In order to achieve this goal, Bread for the World believes that hunger and poverty must be put on the national agenda during the next election. Additionally, we must continue to remind our members of Congress that our nation's budget has to be a moral document that reflects our nation's concern for the most vulnerable.
Allie Gardner is an editorial intern at Bread for the World.
- In the United States, single-parent households are the most likely to be poor. A snapshot from the National Center for Law and Economic Justice for 2011 reports 34.2 percent of single-parent homes headed by females were poor, compared to 16.5 percent of those headed by males. During that time, more than 5 million more women than men lived in poverty.
- U.S. Census figures also show that women are still earning an average of 77 cents on the dollar compared to wages for men. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of men working full time increased by 1.7 million, compared to 0.5 million women.
- Although women account for a little over 50 percent of the U.S. population, only 19 percent of our representatives in Congress are women. Women make up nearly half the labor force but they still only hold 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions.
We have miles yet to go.
- Globally, women make up 45 percent of the world’s workforce, yet they are 70 percent of the world’s poor.
- In impoverished nations, girls are less likely than boys to receive a basic education and globally, 584 million women are illiterate.
- The World Economic Forum has reported that 82 out of the 132 countries improved economic equality between 2011 and 2012, but globally only 60 percent of the gender gap has been closed.
We have miles yet to go.
Each new policy that supports full inclusion and equality as it related to economics, politics, education, and health are mile markers on the road toward closing the gender gap. Closing the gender gap is part of the journey to end hunger. In the United States, policy is influenced and driven by the will of the people through exercising our voting rights. A day that reminds us how precious that right is, especially for women, is a good day to remember how powerful our voice as faithful advocates can be.
Part of the process to build the political will to end hunger includes keeping our legislators accountable, which is why Bread for the World has created the 2013 midyear voting scorecard. For Christians, voting is part of the work we do to realize a just and equitable society where every man, woman and child has enough to eat.
Photo: Heather Rude-Turner, 31, kisses her daughter Naomi, 5, after attending church, October 2, 2011. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World).
The following is an excerpt from remarks given by Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, at the March on Washington Anniversary Praise and Worship Service at Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., on August 22, 2013.
It comes as no surprise that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man guided by God’s love for all people, would speak passionately about economic justice for all, especially for African Americans. Dr. King said this in a speech titled “Showdown for Nonviolence,” just before his assassination, when American cities had erupted in riots:
A nationwide nonviolent movement is very important. We know from past experience that Congress and the president won’t do anything until you develop a movement around which people of goodwill can find a way to put pressure on them . . . This really means making the movement powerful enough, dramatic enough, morally appealing enough, so that people of goodwill, the churches, labor, liberals, intellectuals, students, poor people themselves begin to put pressure on congressmen...
Our idea is to dramatize the whole economic problem of the poor. . . We call our demonstration a campaign for jobs and income because we feel that the economic question is the most crucial that black people and poor people generally are confronting. There is a literal depression in the Negro community. When you have mass unemployment in the Negro community, it’s called a social problem; when you have mass unemployment in the white community, it’s called a depression. The fact is, there is a major depression in the Negro community. The unemployment rate is extremely high, and among Negro youth, it goes up as high as forty percent in some cities.
We need an economic bill of rights. This would guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work. It would also guarantee an income for all who are not able to work. Some people are too young, some are too old, some are physically disabled, and yet in order to live, they need income . . . It would mean creating public-service jobs, and that could be done in a few weeks. A program that would really deal with jobs could minimize ---I don’t say stop---the number of riots that could take place this summer. Our whole campaign, therefore, will center on the job question, with other demands, like housing, that are closely tied to it. Much more building of housing for low-income people should be done. . .
On the educational front, the ghetto schools are in bad shape in terms of quality . . . They need more and special attention, the best quality education that can be given.
These problems, of course, are overshadowed by the Vietnam War. We’ll focus on the domestic problems, but it’s inevitable that we’ve got to bring out the question of the tragic mix-up in priorities. We are spending all of this money for death and destruction, and not nearly enough money for life and constructive development.
In his final Sunday sermon — at the National Cathedral on March 31, 1963 — Dr. King spoke of the need to eradicate poverty in our nation and around the world.
There is another thing closely related to racism that I could like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. They are ill-housed, they are ill-nourished, they are shabbily clad. I have seen it in Latin America; I have seen it in Africa; I have seen this poverty in Asia. . . .Not only do we see poverty abroad. I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. . . . I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia.
I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country, and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying. . . America has the opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.
Dr. King was right that the moral character of poverty has changed, because we now know how to get rid of it. Since Dr. King’s time, lots of countries have, in fact, reduced poverty — countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Great Britain.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, our country cut our poverty rate in half. The economy was strong, and the Civil Rights movement and the War on Poverty made a difference. But we never built the broad movement for economic justice that Dr. King called for, and our poverty rate is now higher than it was in 1974.
But we have an opportunity now to build the movement against poverty that Dr. King envisioned. African-Americans, Latinos, white people of modest means, and young people came out to vote in large numbers in the last election. The faith community has been effective in fending off the powerful forces that are pushing to decimate programs for poor people. The movement for immigration reform has become electric. And just recently, we have seen growing awareness of the injustice of mass incarceration. Right now, we are seeing courageous labor actions among fast-food and Walmart workers.
God, help us to build the broad movement against poverty that Dr. King envisioned.
Poverty is complex— it can touch anyone, no matter their age, gender, or race. And although every decrease in the poverty rate requires the force of political will, poverty is not affiliated with any one political party. A new report from Brookings Institution on the increase in suburban poverty examines variations between congressional districts.
During the recession, one of the fastest growing pockets of poverty in America has been in metropolitan suburbs, but the distress has been largely hidden. During the 2000s, Brookings reports, poverty grew in 388 of 435 districts — and most of those districts are in the suburbs of the 100 largest metropolitan areas. The trend does not, it appears, discriminate by party affiliation, but is distributed nearly equally between districts, regardless of whether they are represented by a Democrat or a Republican.
In the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C., poverty has jumped an incredible 663 percent between 2007 and 2011. During the same period, District 17 in central Texas has seen suburban poverty increase by 407 percent. Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC-12) and Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX-17) have a “shared challenge” – the approach recommended in the report. (See more comparisons by downloading the report).
Each party has a stake in alleviating poverty. Instead of discussing poverty in partisan terms or placing blame, our nation's leaders should address the root causes driving these trends.
But instead of unifying around one of the biggest challenges facing our nation, Congress is caught in political gridlock. Take sequestration, the automatic cuts that are now law, for example. The legislation was created as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act as a way to force lawmakers into bipartisan deficit-reduction negotiations. Because the parties could not find common ground, the automatic cuts now work as budgeting on autopilot – indiscriminately cutting programs, including those critical to staving off hunger and poverty.
Bread for the World is made up of members from all walks of life, united around one goal: alleviating hunger and poverty as part of the Christian call. “The good news of Jesus Christ is neither liberal or conservative,” says Bread's director of organizing, LaVida Davis.
In Georgia’s District 4, represented by Democrat Henry Johnson, there are grandmas struggling on fixed incomes, just as there are children in Michigan's District 2, represented by Republican Bill Huizenga, whose mothers are earning minimum wage and struggling to put food on their tables. Poverty is a shared problem that should unite this nation, not divide it—and the same holds true for Congress.
Check out Bread for the World's new August recess webpage, which includes information on how faithful advocates can get in front of members of Congress and work to help hungry and poor people.
The anti-hunger community has long known that poverty and obesity go hand in hand. One in eight preschoolers in the United States is obese, and the percentages are higher in black and Hispanic populations. This week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported modest declines in the obesity rates of low-income preschoolers in 19 states – proof that advocating for better nutrition is bearing fruit. It’s a good start, but the gains could be derailed if current proposals in Congress to take an axe to nutrition programs are passed into law.
The CDC collected data on low-income preschoolers ages 2 to 4; many of the children were enrolled in WIC. In a briefing on the report, CDC director Tom Friedan said that the federal program has improved nutritional standards. The report recommends helping low-income families get affordable and nutritious foods through federal programs like WIC.
However, WIC is one of the programs that has been subject to automatic cuts under sequestration. This past year, WIC has been able to maintain its caseloads with reserve and contingency funds mitigating cuts that could have affected as many as 600,000 women, infants, and children. But back-up funds won’t be available next year. If Congress does not act and replace the sequester with a balanced approach that includes revenue, the program will not have the ability to serve all the mothers and children who need it. More disturbing, appropriations bills in the House would shift cuts affecting defense spending onto programs like WIC and SNAP, reversing positive trends toward reducing both hunger and obesity.
In 2010, Bread for the World and our partners urged Congress to improve nutritional quality in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and make it possible to reach more low-income children with nutritious food. In the past two years, Bread for the World members have successfully advocated to create a circle of protection, mitigating cuts to programs like SNAP, WIC, and tax-credits such as the EITC, all of which help hard working low-income families stave off hunger and buy nutritious food.
More progress is needed and more progress is possible. Both quantity and quality of food make a big difference in the health of children. In communities that are considered food deserts, distance to a supermarket may be an insurmountable obstacle to healthy eating. Low-income households with limited resources often need to stretch their food budgets and opt for cheaper, low-density, calorie-rich processed foods in lieu of more expensive fruits and vegetables. Nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and WIC provide these families with healthier options.
Taking into account health, education, and economic productivity, a group of Brandies University economists calculated the cost of poverty in 2011 to be a staggering $167.5 billion. Poverty, complex as it is, affects everyone. Investing in programs now will mean a lot less expense down the road, helping ensure a labor force that is healthy and productive.
Programs like SNAP and WIC help stave off both hunger and obesity, but both programs continue to be at risk of grave cuts. August recess presents an opportunity to get in front of your senators and representative and help influence the decisions they make when they return to Washington in September. Set up in-district meetings with your members of Congress, attend any town hall meetings that they hold, and write letters to the editor about protecting and strengthening SNAP and replacing the sequester with a balanced approach.
What members of Congress hear over the next few weeks will determine the decisions they make this fall.
“Is this what America is supposed to look like?”
The question that Washington Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson asked Rep. Matthew Cartwright (PA-17) was in reference to a survey by AP that found that 4 out of 5 Americans struggle financially. It's a trend Henderson calls an epidemic of poverty.
In this short Washington Post “On Background” video, Henderson also interviews filmmaker Harry Gantz, who discusses his HBO documentary American Winter, which profiles families in Oregon dealing with hunger and financial stress. Diedre Melson, one of the film's subjects, is interviewed as well. When asked what Americans need to know about people who are living in poverty, Melson said “it’s not their fault. People don’t necessarily dig a hole for themselves.”
Melson shares more of her story about living day to day in the video below.'
Families like Melson's need jobs that pay a living wage and a strong social safety-net during difficult times. When Congress returns from August recess, they will be making decisions that have real consequences for the most vulnerable Americans. The time to speak up is now.
Forty-nine years ago,
President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty in response to a national
poverty rate of 19 percent. President Johnson believed that the U.S.
government could eliminate crushing poverty and created policy initiatives such
as Head Start, Volunteers in Service to America, and Job Corps. Although the
poverty rate has decreased since 1964, it remains unacceptably high at 14.5
percent of U.S. households, with nearly 49 million Americans, including 16.2
million children living, in poverty.
On July 31, House Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) held a hearing on the progress of the War on Poverty. Although both want to revitalize the American dream so that more people have the opportunity to achieve a better life, they offer starkly different paths to alleviating poverty. Rep. Ryan favors decreased taxes and incentives to get people off of assistance programs. Rep. Van Hollen argues that the budget put forth by congressional Republicans is akin to waging war against the poor, citing calls to block-grant SNAP and cut other federal anti-poverty programs. To illustrate their respective viewpoints they called on witnesses, including as Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK.
Sister Simone Campbell said that we, as people of faith, need to love and care for the poor, and she also addressed the vital importance of the federal government and the private sector in lifting people out of poverty. She also discussed how low wages, a major driver of poverty, make it extremely difficult for working families to put food on the table. An increased minimum wage is, along with SNAP (formerly food stamps), our most effective tool in helping people lift themselves out of poverty. A faithful budget is needed to end hunger and poverty in the United States.
At Bread for the World we know that the best way to alleviate poverty is to create good jobs that pay a living wage. No one should go hungry while working full time at the federal minimum wage. We also know that the current sequester will hurt working families and increase hunger in the United States. Congress should replace the sequester’s indiscriminate and catastrophic cuts with a balanced plan of increased revenue and responsible spending reductions. The only thing holding America back from ending poverty is a scarcity of political will. It will take not only faith but patriotism to lift 49 million Americans out of poverty.
To learn more about how to end hunger in the United States, read the background paper "Ending Hunger in the United States."
Traci Carlson is Bread for the World's government relations coordinator.
Photo: At Our Daily Bread Employment Center in Baltimore, people line up for the Hot Meal Program, held seven days a week (Jim Stipe).
A $20 billion cut to SNAP, the amount proposed in a House farm bill that failed earlier this year, is equivalent to eliminating half of all the charitable food distribution by churches and food banks over a 10-year period. The legislation that is currently being drafted doubles those cuts (Rick Reinhard/Bread for the World).
Last year it was $16 billion, but that wasn’t enough. Earlier this year, the number was $20.5 billion, but even that wasn’t enough. Now, the House of the Representatives has proposed $40 billion in cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps) over 10 years – a horrifying amount that would substantially increase the suffering of the 47 million Americans who depend on SNAP to keep hunger at bay.
The Hill reports that the House is expected to vote on the bill in September after returning from August recess. The proposal is the product of a working group convened by House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in an effort to attract conservative votes and pass the stand-alone nutrtion title of the farm bill on partisan lines.The farm bill proposed by the House Agriculture Committee earlier this year "would have cut SNAP by $20 billion—which would have kicked 2 million people out of the program, reduced benefits for more than 800,000 families, and left 210,000 children without school meals,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, in a statement released earlier today. In the current bill, the House doubles the number of people hurt. Beckmann calls both proposals "truly cruel and unacceptable."
During a period of continued high unemployment where there is only one job available for every three applicants, this proposal would increase work requirements, meaning that people who want to work and are looking for a job, but haven’t found one, would see their benefits cut –benefits that help feed children. Ninety-nine percent of households receiving SNAP live well below the poverty line and have no room to absorb these cuts in their household budgets.
In the effort to cut benefits, much has been made of the increased participation in the SNAP program. SNAP participation has closely followed poverty and unemployment rates and has responded quickly and effectively to the recession. As the economy recovers, the Congressional Budget Office projects the participation rates will drop to pre-recession levels.
For Christians, feeding the most vulnerable among us is not a partisan issue – it’s a moral call. We know there is enough for everyone. A proposal to cut $40 billion from a program that offers much-needed food to so many is distressing.
"Assuring government’s obligation to advance the common good, ensure fairness, and defend the most vulnerable is good religion and good politics," said Rev. Beckmann. "Massive cuts to SNAP are neither."
This month, members of Congress will travel home to hear from their constituents. What they do upon their return – pass a farm bill that guts food assistance or cut social programs deeper while protecting defense spending – will depend entirely on what they hear from you. If they hear nothing, expect more proposals that, like this one, will hurt hungry and poor people.
To learn more about how you can get involved and specific priorities in your state or district, contact your regional organizer.
By Traci Carlson
Despite the toll that the recession has taken on hungry and poor people, and the rising cost of food and other basic necessities, Congress hasn't raised the federal minimum wage for four years.
With the rate stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009, workers earning the federal minimum wage find themselves struggling to make ends meet—even when holding down multiple full-time jobs, in some cases. An increase in wages would reduce hunger and poverty in the United States.
Today, as senators held a hearing on the 75th anniversary of the federal minimum wage, activists gathered at the Methodist Building, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, to pray for a living wage.
Those gatherered reflected on the fact that the federal minimum wage would be $10.74 today, had it kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years. They shared stories of real people struggling to feed their families and they prayed for political leaders to act justly on this issue and raise wages for millions of America's lowest-paid workers.
Please join them in praying for those who are hungry, those who have the political power to increase the minimum wage, and also for people of faith, who can help pressure this nation's leaders to change wage policy.
"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had." (Acts 4:32)
"[T]hat there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need." (Acts 4:34-35)
To learn more about how jobs that pay a living wage help fight hunger and poverty, click here.
Traci Carlson is Bread for the World's government relations coordinator.
Last month, a Washington Post piece on sequestration maintained that most of the devastating consequences of those across-the-board budget cuts have failed to materialize. In "They said the sequester would be scary. Mostly, they were wrong," the authors wondered what exactly had happened to all of the ill effects Americans were supposed to feel? In some cases, they noted, Congress intervened, but in other instances, as a feature in yesterday's Post found, the cuts were heaped on the backs of people whose woes don't often make front-page news: the poor.
"Not everyone is sharing proportionally in the pain of these budget cuts," said Elizabeth Crocker, who directs a Head Start program in Oakland, Calif., in the piece. While, as the article points out, some federal agencies have figured out ways around the worst cuts, many programs were hit hard, and people who depend on this nation's safety net have felt this the most.
The story examines the ways in which Hispanic families who depend on social programs, Head Start in particular, have been stung by the sequester. Maireny Cammacho, 33, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, wonders what she will do now that the Head Start center in her Yonkers, N.Y., neighborhood has closed. The early childhood education program not only prepared her sons for kindergarten, it fed them and gave them a safe place to stay while she and her husband were at work, relieving them of the burden of an enormous day care bill.
It's a rare media report on the impact of the cuts. Although some outlets have done fine work on sequestration's impact on hungry and poor people (see the Atlantic's "The Sequester's Devastating Impact on America's Poor" and National Journal's "How the Sequester Hurts Poor People"), it's a narrative that has been largely absent from newspapers, magazines, and television news programs. As the Atlantic piece pointed out, it's “fashionable in political circles to say the mandatory budgets cuts haven't been the predicted disaster"—even if cuts to programs that help hungry and poor people prove otherwise.
Last week, during Bread's monthly grassroots conference call and webinar, policy analyst Amelia Kegan pointed out that the media has largely ignored the effects of sequestration on vulnerable people, and stressed how important it is that Bread members continue to push their members of Congress to replace these cuts with a balanced approach. “We know if it’s not front page news, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening and isn’t important—if Congress doesn’t hear from you, they won’t think it’s a problem,” she said.
The bottom line is, if Congress doesn't hear about it, Congress won't fix it. And when an important issue isn't in the news, it becomes even more important for advocates to speak up and bring that issue to their senators and representative. A short-term sequester fix is still possible, but it's up to advocates to push for it, and make this nation doesn't solve its budgetary woes in a way that unfairly burdens hungry and poor people.
Photo: Children in a Head Start class in Tucson, Ariz., eat a nutritious lunch (Jeffrey Austin).
Get updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.