267 posts categorized "Solutions to U.S. Poverty"
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.
Rosie, an imaginative fifth-grader, tries to distract her mind from hunger pangs as she learns and grows in rural Colorado. Her story is told in the 2013 documentary film A Place at the Table (Movie still courtesy of Participant Media).
Is the American dream dying?
The iconic images of the pioneering frontiersman or the weary immigrant gazing west from Ellis Island hold the same promise—that even if someone's immediate circumstances didn't improve by leaving hearth and home behind, their children have a chance at a better life. It was and is the hope of upward mobility.
A new study by a team of Harvard and U.C. Berkeley economic researchers shows that intergenerational mobility – making more income than your parents - may depend in part on where you live.
Family structure, educational investments, and even income inequality correlate with mobility. But the significant variable—the one that means a child born in Seattle is more likely to move up the income ladder than one in Atlanta—is tax expenditures, specifically the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit(CTC). Bread for the World maintains that these tax credits for low-income families are a critical weapon against hunger and must be part of the circle of protection.
In the study’s summary conclusion, the researchers write the following:
What is clear from this research is that there is substantial variation in the United States in the prospects for escaping poverty. There are some areas in the U.S. where a child’s chances of success do not depend heavily on his or her parents’ income. Understanding the features of these areas - and how we can improve mobility in areas that currently have lower rates of mobility - is an important question for future research that we and other social scientists are exploring.
This research should make it clear that members of Congress must keep in place policies that support programs, like the EITC and the CTC, that help create those pathways out of poverty. The tax credits were extended for five years as part of the fiscal cliff deal earlier this year, but are still in danger of being cut. The credits should be made permanent.
As Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) begin proposing reform in their tax writing committees this year, it remains to be seen how they will treat tax credits for working families. In the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Baucus and ranking member Orin Hatch (R-Utah) have called for a blank slate and are asking for input from fellow members of Congress.
With automatic cuts already in place, and additional cuts proposed as part of budget negotiations, Bread for the World is urging Congress to take a balanced approach to our fiscal future and protect anti-poverty programs like tax credits for working families. Tax reform must also include the needed revenue to continue these and other programs that support a strong safety net.
For as much elbow grease that has oiled the American dream, sound government policies that set a course for prosperity have laid the foundation for individuals to escape poverty. This study shows that cutting and weakening the EITC and CTC could lead to a new American narrative: a reversal of fortune.
The Stephenson family in 1938, somewhere in Arizona, where they lived for a while picking cotton on their way west. (Family photo courtesy of Robin Stephenson).
By Robin Stephenson
My dad was a born a migrant. He likes to talk about the storm that was raging the night of his birth, but there was an even greater urgency than finding shelter from pounding rain that evening: hunger was pushing his family west. In an abandoned shack, having gone without food for several days, my grandmother gave birth. My dad was born on the migrant journey.
In the zeitgeist of the 1940s, migrants were considered lazy and shiftless. An exodus of the hungry fled one of the country’s greatest disasters—the Dust Bowl. Leaving all they knew behind, they were called “Oakies, ” often in hushed tones and with a contempt that implied their fate was their fault. Stirred by years of poor farm policy and practice, the dust storms left in their wake farms in Oklahoma and neighboring states that could no longer employ or support the population that once produced agricultural abundance. Having lost almost everything, families pulled together what little was left, piled into any transportation that could move them forward and headed west—not because they wanted to but because they had to.
The migrant’s story, whether set in Oklahoma in 1938 or Oaxaca in 2013, shares a common thread: lack of choice. The human drive to survive is unstoppable, even in the face of enormous odds. A journey fraught with danger and derision is no deterrent.
In a recent interview with Truthout, U.C. Berkeley physician and anthropologist Dr. Seth M. Holmes talks about the migrant journey he researched for Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farm Workers in the United States. For 18 months, Holmes traveled and lived with a group of families escaping poverty from Oaxaca, Mexico—another once-fertile land gone fallow because of bad policy. Asked how migrants see their options, Holmes says:
"[W]hen you actually do interviews and do research with immigrants who are crossing from Mexico into the U.S., they do not experience this as a choice. There were several times, and in the book I write about someone telling me 'there’s no other option for us.'"
This week, the House of Representatives have a choice that migrants don’t: they can choose to move an immigration bill forward. If crafted with an understanding of the root causes that drive migration, this bill could be an important step in ending hunger both here and abroad. A special conference with House Republicans is taking place tomorrow, Wednesday July 10, and likely will mark a critical turning point in comprehensive immigration reform.
Today, I think of the word “Oakie” as a badge of honor. I come from survivors. Being born in a storm is a great story, but being born into hunger is not.
It’s time for a new narrative and your voice can urge your Representative to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. As the House takes up this issue, it needs to know that a faithful constituency is paying attention. Call your representative at 800-826-3688, or email him or her today.
Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's national lead for social media and regional organizer, Western hub.
Photo: John, a former banker who is one of the subjects of The Line, shops for himself and his three children at a food pantry. (Film still from The Line, courtesy Magnolia Pictures)
By Alicia Vela
Recently, I worked with Bread for the World regional organizer Zach Schmidt and a few of my seminary classmates to organize a viewing of The Line--a documentary that takes a look at poverty in America. The event was part of a class called “Mobilizing for Justice,” taught by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, professor at North Park Theological Seminary, and Dr. Dennis Edwards, senior pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis.
After watching the documentary, which follows four highly-relatable stories of Americans living in poverty, we participated in an exercise that shows how poverty cuts across all demographics. We then entered a period of small- and large-group discussion, reflecting on issues surrounding poverty in America and the ways in which the church can and should respond. The night ended with a plea for those present, as future pastors and leaders, to use our power—our pulpit, our congregation members, and our voices—to impact the issue of poverty in our communities and across the country.
During the event, we discussed different ways of responding to poverty, from helping local food pantries and soup kitchens to advocating for policy changes. We had an opportunity to sign Bread’s petition to President Obama, urging him to set a goal and work with Congress to end hunger. The conversation was productive in raising awareness as well allowing us to brainstorm more ways to be involved in addressing poverty. We also collected canned food for the North Park Friendship Center, an organization fighting hunger on Chicago’s North Side.
There are several pieces that I personally took away from my experience with Bread for the World, but the idea of using my voice for advocacy really stood out. I had always thought that as a pastor, I shouldn’t get involved in politics. Being an advocate seemed too divisive in my mind. I have always hidden my political affiliation while working in the church because I thought people would try to argue with me if they had different views. Then I realized that fighting for the hungry is not a political opinion or side, but rather a biblical mandate.
If we take seriously Jesus’s call to love the orphan, fight on behalf the defenseless and care for the weak, we begin to see advocacy as an essential response. As Christians we cannot stand alongside and watch those around us hurt because of the broken systems we have created. We are called to fight for them, to call or write our government leaders and ask for better laws and more care for those who are most vulnerable.
Vela earned her B.A. in psychology from the University of Colorado at
Boulder and recently completed her Master of Divinity coursework at North
Seminary. A Colorado native, she is currently interning at Deer Grove
Covenant Church in Palatine, Ill.
Programs such as WIC, which is dominated by women in their twenties, face serious sequestration cuts. Here in an archival USDA photo, a young mother and her daughter visit a WIC office. (USDA/National Archives and Records Administration)
By Nina Keehan
As the $85 billion in sequestration cuts start to take effect over the next few months, many billions of dollars will be siphoned from programs aimed at helping the most vulnerable Americans. Poor people. Hungry people. And twenty-somethings?
That’s right, young people have a lot at stake as the budget cuts go into effect. The sequester will have dire consequences for twenty-something who are already living below the poverty line, and will also harm young people who are looking to escape poverty through education. The idea of the college years, and the period right after graduation, as a time filled with learning and carefree discovery is falling away—many college students and recent graduates are living in poverty, are homeless, or using government assistance to stay afloat.
As of May 2012, the U.S. unemployment rate for 20-24 year olds stood at 13.5 percent, several percentage points higher than the national average. The recession has also forced more than 6 million young people to move back in with their parents for economic reasons. Over 45 percent of them would have incomes below the poverty line if living alone. What was meant to be a temporary fix is quickly becoming a permanent reality.
College students and recent grads are going to face some of the most detrimental cuts as federal work-study programs and payments to millions of student loan borrowers are about to be reduced.
“That would mean for the fall as many as 70,000 students would lose access to grants and to work-study opportunities,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated in a White House briefing Feb. 27. “And if young people lose access to grants and lose access to work study, my fear … is many of them would not be able to enroll in college, would not be able to go back. And, again, do we want a less-educated workforce?”
This is a workforce that is already looking at a dim future. U.S. economic growth is expected to drop by nearly one-third this year, meaning even fewer new jobs in an already competitive market. Such cuts threaten to rob millions of young people of the opportunities that gainful employment and higher education promise.
Additionally, programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which is dominated by women in their twenties, are bracing for huge cuts. Over the next few months, if lawmakers can’t come to a better solution than the sequester, more than 600,000 women and children will lose access to the assistance that, for decades, has given vulnerable families an equal footing.
It’s easy as a twenty-something to ignore the reality and pretend that the sequester doesn’t affect us. But it’s real. Sequester cuts will make it harder for us to get jobs, harder to make a living without the help of our families, and harder for those of us who are already struggling to feed our children and to prosper. It’s important that we call our members of Congress and express our outrage over these across-the-board cuts and the negative impact they will have. We are the future of America, so why are we quiet?
Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.
Single father John Lohmeier shops at a food pantry in the Chicago, Ill., suburbs. Lohmeier talks about losing his six-figure salary and needing assistance in the documentary. (Screen shot from The Line)
By Sarah Godfrey
In the documentary The Line, a look at poverty in America, Illinois single father John Lohmeier shares his story of losing his job and six-figure salary and becoming someone struggling to make ends meet. "For the first time, I've gone from being somebody who could help to being somebody who needs help," Lohmeier says.
It seems the line between those who are able to offer assistance and those who need it is becoming increasingly fluid. Case in point: according to a recent report, nearly half of all Americans lack a basic personal safety net to prepare them for emergencies or future needs.
The Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) study found that 43.9 percent of U.S. households—some poor, some making more than $90,000 per year—don't have enough savings to last three months at a poverty-level income. For those who don't understand the importance of federal safety net programs, or can't imagine being in a position to need SNAP (formerly food stamps), WIC, or other forms of assistance, the study should serve as a powerful wake-up call.
The good news is that saving money, even in relatively small amounts, can help put families on better financial footing. And saving money and getting rid of debt isn't something that is only accessible to wealthy and middle-class families. The importance asset building in fighting poverty was explored in the 2010 Hunger Report piece "Incentives to Build Savings." As the Hunger Report points out, it is harder for poor people to save money, it’s a misperception that they don’t or won’t save:
Having emergency savings can help families better weather an economic setback. Research has found that households with assets are much less likely to suffer serious hardships in the event of an economic emergency, such as a job loss. Families without emergency savings, on the other hand, are much more vulnerable to economic catastrophe, such as foreclosure, homelessness and dependence on public assistance.
Research shows that people with incomes well below the poverty line are able to save. A national research study known as the American Dream Demonstration tested the effectiveness of asset-development programs for poor people. People were saving to build assets such as homeownership, education, or starting a business.
Unfortunately, snips to our social safety net make saving money even more difficult. Andrea Levere, president of CFED, told Salon that the study's findings were “particularly disturbing given the ongoing budget talks in Congress that will likely result in further reductions in the social safety net and other programs that help low- and moderate-income people get on their feet and start planning and saving for a better future.”In other words, it is crucial that we continue to work to protect vital safety net programs and to ensure that Congress, in balancing the federal budget, doesn’t make it impossible for poor working families to balance their household budgets.
Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.
You probably already know that tax credits are a huge help to low-income working families. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit(CTC), which qualifying families receive when they get their federal income tax refunds, assist millions of people each year. In 2011 alone, the EITC lifted 3.3 million children out of poverty. But did you know that refundable tax credits also boost the U.S. economy?
Center for American Progress has released a cool infographic showing exactly how the EITC helps working families, and the think tank also looks at how tax credits affect this country's fiscal fitness.
"Not only does the earned income tax credit keep millions of working families from slipping into poverty each year, it also leads to positive outcomes for family health and student education," writes research associate Katie Wright. "Earned income tax credit dollars benefit our economy, and most families who receive the credit end up paying billions of dollars more in net federal income tax than they receive in the earned income tax credit over time."
The fact that the EITC helps so many families each year is reason enough to support the credit—that the anti-poverty program has such positive, far-reaching effects is just one more mark in its favor.
Want to learn more about how the benefits of the EITC? Take our EITC quiz, read one family's story of how receiving the EITC helped lift—and keep—them out of poverty, and then take action by telling your members of Congress to make the EITC and CTC permanent.
From the soundproof room in our D.C. office, Bread experts update grassroots activists and answer questions. Pictured (l to r): LaVida Davis, director of organizing; Marion Jasin, organizing assistant; Eric Mitchell, director of government relations; Christine Melendez-Ashley, policy analyst. (Robin Stephenson)
By Robin Stephenson
"The fight is not over," said director of organizing LaVida Davis during the most recent Bread for the World national grassroots webinar and conference call. "The fiscal cliff is part of a longer conversation. [Members of Congress] still really need to hear from us.”
On the third Tuesday of each month, Davis and Bread's director of government relations, Eric Mitchell, along with other expert staff, gather around a phone to give you the most up-to-date information about our work and answer any questions you may have. The conference calls, which also have a webinar component, give our members direct access to our government relations staff. These are the members of Bread's staff who spend many of their afternoons in the offices of your members of Congress and know the ins and outs of the policy behind each of our campaign priorities.
At Bread, we know that every advocate accesses information differently, so we offer a variety of ways in which our grassroots can stay informed. When Congress is in session, we publish written legislative updates on this blog, we send out monthly newsletters, and, of course, our regional organizers are always available to help you plan local actions and answer your questions. The conference calls are yet another tool the you, as an advocate, can use to prepare for action.
During the most recent call, held on Tuesday, Jan. 15, one caller who identified herself as Joanne wanted to know how school lunches fared in the recent “fiscal cliff” bill passed by Congress on Jan. 1. Ready to answer her question on the other side of the phone was Bread’s domestic nutrition policy expert, Christine Melendez-Ashley. She told Joanne that the school lunch program was not affected and that the sequester (or automatic cuts) scheduled for March 1 would not impact the nutrition program either, because it is one of the programs exempt from these across the board cuts.
Melendez-Ashley said that if the sequester is not averted it will affect discretionary programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA). Both of those programs are part of our 2012 Offering of Letters Campaign and are critically important to hungry and poor people.
She emphasized during the call that funding for WIC and PFDA is especially vulnerable because they are categorized as discretionary, meaning Congress must appropriate funds to pay for the program each year. Mandatory programs are not subject to across the board cuts—the spending levels for these programs are determined each year by the number of eligible participants.
The August 2011 Budget Control Act put spending caps on discretionary programs over 10 years and Congress must decide which programs will see decreased funding as they work through the appropriations process each year. The fiscal cliff bill further lowered those spending caps for the next two years as a way to delay the sequester. Sending Congress a message that these programs need a circle of protection is as critical now as it ever was.
Eric Mitchell cautioned that another perfect storm is brewing, and referred to the events coming down the pike as "March Madness." Between the debt ceiling (scheduled to hit between mid-February and March), the scheduled sequester (March 1), and the expiration of the 2013 continuing resolution (March 27), members of Congress have a lot of decisions to make in less than 60 days.
Mitchell said it is a good time to thank our members of Congress who voted for the fiscal cliff bill— if the bill had not been enacted, poor and hungry people would've suffered dire consequences. The bill extended refundable tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, for five years. Although the credits were not made permanent, this is a huge victory.
“Now through March 1 is critical," said Mitchell. “We urge you to also ask [members of Congress] not to politicize the debt ceiling debate. We want them to take a thoughtful, balanced approach that protects poor and hungry people.”To find out the next chapter of budget negotiations, ask tough questions of the experts, and hear how you can influence your policy makers to protect vital programs, call in to our next grassroots webinar and conference call on Feb 19. We will be waiting for you on the other side of the phone.
National grassroots conference calls and webinars are held on the third Tuesday of every month. These calls will take place at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. EST (Please adjust time zones accordingly). To register, visit www.bread.org/events.
We have avoided the fiscal cliff, but we still have mountains to scale. We continue to advocate for programs that help poor as Congress continues tough budget negotiations.
Bread members have been essential in protecting tax credits for low-income families, domestic nutrition programs, and poverty-focused development assistance. However, several key actions by Congress over the next couple of months will again place such vital programs at risk. We encourage you to continue contacting your members of Congress to let them know that you want them to create a circle of protection around these programs. Soon Congress will begin negotiations to replace the sequester (automatic, across-the-board cuts) by March 1 and raise the debt ceiling by at least $1 trillion. The continuing resolution that extended the fiscal year 2013 budget and kept the government funded expires March 27. These events could be accompanied by significant spending cuts. We need you to keep reminding our legislators that they must not balance the budget on the backs of poor and hungry people.
We continue to message members of Congress as part of the 2012 Offering of Letters. Below is an updated sample letter to use when contacting your senators and representative. We will launch Bread for the World's 2013 Offering of Letters, “A Place at the Table,” on March 1, and will keep you apprised of any changes or developments on the Bread Blog. We encourage you and members of your community or congregation to personalize your letters to Congress.
Dear Sen. ____________ or Rep. ____________,
Please prioritize hungry and poor people during the next round of budget negotiations. Over the next two months, your leadership is critical, especially as Congress looks to finalize the fiscal year 2013 budget, address sequestration, and raise the debt ceiling.
Specifically, I urge you to ensure adequate funding for programs that address hunger and help people move out of poverty. This will require additional revenues to address our deficits.
I appreciate Congress enacting the American Taxpayer Relief Act. The bill raises revenue for the first time in years, while also extending the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), two of America’s most effective anti-poverty programs. This bill also largely protects important anti-poverty programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Medicaid, and international food aid, from major cuts. But the work is not over. Although this fiscal cliff deal is a tremendous first step, more needs to be done to address our country’s long-term fiscal health and ensure funding for programs that fight hunger and lift people out of poverty. I am concerned about the across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take place if Congress does not develop a more comprehensive deficit-reduction package. I encourage Congress to balance responsible spending cuts with new revenues in order to address the country's long-term deficits without jeopardizing our nation's commitment to alleviating hunger and poverty.
Allowing these across-the-board cuts will hurt programs such as international poverty-focused development assistance and WIC. Cuts to some international development programs would deny life-saving nutrition to some of the poorest nations, while cuts to WIC could hurt hundreds of thousands of poor mothers and young children in the United States.
Our budget choices must not hurt those Jesus called “the least of these.” I urge you to form a circle of protection around funding for programs vital to hungry and poor people. May God continue to bless you and your work.
[City, State ZIP]
Photo: A college group writes letters to Congress. (Bread for the World)
By Sarah Godfrey
One of the biggest feel-good stories of the year, so far, is that of Los Angeles-area entertainment lawyer Tony Tolbert, who is allowing a homeless family to live in his house for an entire year, rent-free. Tolbert has moved in with his mother while the recipient of his kindness, Felicia Dukes, is now living in his home with her four children.
Tolbert has, deservedly, received heaps of praise for his amazing generosity. Read the comments section of any story about Tolbert's good deed and the remarks are overwhelmingly positive. Still, there are at least a few people wondering if he might've done more good with an act that would’ve helped more than one family—or addressed the larger issues surrounding poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Many questioned whether giving someone shelter, as noble and generous as it is, would really do anything to help the family beyond 2013.
"What happens after the year is up?" one commenter wrote. "Give a man fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime. Charitable kindness is fine but true freedom come when a man can feed himself. President Obama, you need to stimulate the economy and put people back to work!"
"That's cool and all, but what happens at the end of the year?" wrote another commenter. "365 days fly by pretty fast especially when you are broke. I'm not trying to be negative I'm just asking are there steps being taken to help them get their own house and keep it?"
Some of my more cynical friends also voiced concerns about Tolbert's act and the media coverage of it. They told me they were discouraged by the prevalence of news stories about good Samaritan "superheroes," while stories of programs that prevent poverty, or help people lift themselves out of it, remain rare.
Those points are valid, and it's true that individual acts of charity often receive more attention than large-scale efforts to stamp out poverty. There are tons of stories about this one man's effect on one family, but little media coverage of the millions of families helped by tax credits, for example. Still, it's unfair to say that Tolbert's act can't have a huge impact.
He has done more than merely provide "fish" to the Dukes family—his act could well have lasting positive benefits for Felicia Dukes and her children. It's hard to overstate the importance of affordable (or free!), safe housing.
Beyond that, Tolbert's act has stimulated public conversation about poverty, and what can be done to address it. And sometimes an individual's selfless act can be an entry point to advocacy for that person—or for someone who is inspired by them. Let's say someone reads a story in their local paper about a family inviting a hungry person to their table for Thanksgiving. Maybe that person is so moved that they decide to serve dinner at their local soup kitchen. After that, they decide that they want to help beyond the holidays, and start volunteering for their local food bank. And maybe while doing that work, they realize how important it is to contact their members of Congress and tell them to protect federal nutrition programs, such as SNAP and WIC, that are vital to poor and hungry people. It's a pretty common path—that's how it worked for me.
Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.
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