278 posts categorized "Solutions to U.S. Poverty"
I’ve been thinking about my taxes lately. I’m that person who keeps important papers stuffed in my closet in a crumpled brown paper bag, which I conveniently ignore until the calendar flips to April. My dad will start calling me with reminders any day now, and I’ll make the deadline – I’ll probably file on April 15, if history holds. Taxes are important to my dad. Prior to the current recession, the deepest economic downturn post-World War II was in the early 1980s. Our family qualified for the earned income tax credit (EITC) during that time, and for a few tough years, it made all the difference.
In the early '80s, work was unpredictable and my parents worried a lot. Unemployment and instability are extremely stressful for a family. My memories of that time are reflected in the news today, which is filled with stories of families struggling to find their way through recession. Even though employment hasn’t reached pre-recession rates, Congress has failed to reinstate emergency unemployment, leaving more than 2 million unemployed Americans without a safety net. For those who had some form of work during 2013 and qualify, the EITC will provide some financial assistance.
The tax credit, instituted in 1975, is one of the principal anti-poverty programs in the U.S. budget. If a car breaks down, or there is an expense that month-to-month paychecks can’t cover, the EITC is there to help keep low-income working families from falling into debt. (Take this quiz to see how much you know about the EITC).
In 2010, when this refundable tax credit was about to expire, Bread for the World made it the focus of our Offering of Letters campaign for that year. During the Great Recession, the EITC proved to be a lifeline for many working families that still struggled in the tight economic climate. Bread for the World has advocated for the current benefit levels for this refundable tax credit to be made a permanent part of the tax code—the current benefit levels expire in 2017.
President Obama has called for an expansion in his 2015 budget proposal to include an expansion of the tax refund for childless workers. Currently, a single worker without dependents working full time at minimum wage ($15,080 annually) does not qualify for the credit. If the EITC were expanded to this group of workers, the Treasury Department estimates another half million people would be lifted out of poverty.
Bread for the World will continue push for EITC to be made permanent, and will advocate for the expansion. Since my senator, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), is now chairman of the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over the tax code and sits on the Budget Committee, I feel like I have a special role to play, and I want to be sure he hears my story. I’m glad EITC was there when my family needed it.
Do you have a story how EITC has helped you or your family? Behind every statistic is a story – and telling them can move hearts and minds to action. If you have a story of how the ongoing budget battles have affected you, we invite you to share with us through our Faces and Facts site.
Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.
Photo: flickr user 401 K (2012)
Janitors and food workers in government buildings received a wage boost to $10.10 by presidential order recently. Income from work is the primary buffer against hunger for the vast majority of U.S. families, yet too many jobs pay poverty-level wages. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)
By Robin Stephenson
Having been a certified nurse's aide (CNA), I can tell you it is backbreaking work—rewarding certainly, but challenging. After graduating high school in a small town, I worked in a nursing home for a short time. At the end of the day, my paycheck didn’t feel like it matched the job.
Many of the other assistants, who were primarily women, were married, and their wages supplemented their husbands' incomes. Although things were beginning to change then, the bulk of blue-collar jobs held by women in my small town in the 1980s rarely offered health insurance or retirement plans.
I made my way to college eventually, and as my job opportunities increased, so did my wages. As a CNA, I had the privilege to care for my elders, and the work felt useful. God’s command to care for the widow really resonates in a nursing home. But today, I’m thankful that I have a job where I don't need to choose between a new tire or adequate food. I’m thankful that I no longer fear a bank balance in double digits with a week before my next paycheck.
So, when I came across an article in The Baxter Bulletin that told the story of 38-year-old Heather Prichard, who is making ends meet as a CNA earning $7.25 an hour, I’m ashamed to say I was relieved my life took a different turn. Not because I think Heather’s work is less valuable than mine; I admire what she does and know how hard she works. In the video segment that accompanies the story, the worry and frustration in Prichard’s voice is clear, and that is what I’m glad I left that work behind. Living month to month and barely getting by means dealing with a constant and nagging worry about what could go wrong. Prichard is frustrated, and with good reason—working a full-time job should allow one to live above the poverty line.
“When you are the kind of parent that is willing to get up every day and work as many hours as you can, and your still just not making it…it’s frustrating,” Prichard says in the video.
A shocking, but not surprising, fact I learned while reading the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, (a fact also is captured in this infographic): if the minimum wage were tied to productivity growth on par with the 1950 wage, Heather Pritchard would be paid over $18.67 for the work she does caring for others. This year, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are expected to introduce bills in the House and Senate to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over a period of three years — a step in the right direction. Media reports have painted this as a partisan issue. To me, raising the wage is a moral issue — it’s about valuing humanity.
Some day I may need the assistance of a CNA. When the time comes that I need to be cared for with the dignity God intended, I hope society provides my caregiver with a wage that values his or her dignity.
Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's national lead for social media and senior organizer, Western hub.
We know the hard facts about minimum wage: the federal rate is just $7.25 per hour, or about $14,500 in yearly income. But exactly how far does that amount stretch?
The New York Times has put together a "Can You Survive on the Minimum Wage?" calculator to help give a sense of just how difficult it is to get by when earning the lowest legal pay. It offers a look at the disheartening financial calculations that low-wage workers are forced to perform each day. Punch in how much you spend on food, transportation, rent, and utilities each month, and it quickly becomes apparent why minimum-wage workers often have to take on two jobs, acquire crushing debt, or do without many of life's essentials in order to survive.
Maintaining a household while earning the minimum wage is so difficult, if not impossible, that some low-wage employers have taken to advising their workers to take second jobs or find impossibly cheap housing in order to make ends meet.
But the answer is not to tell low-wage earners to work more or spend less, it's to offer them a fair deal by raising the minimum wage. That's one of the key recommendations of the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. This year's Hunger Report points out that 28 percent of U.S. workers earn poverty-level wages, and Congress has raised the minimum wage only three times in the past 30 years.
President Obama said in his State of the Union address last month that he intended to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10. Today, he made good on that promise by signing an executive order that will do so, effective Jan. 1, 2015. Federal contract workers earning the minimum wage make up a small portion of this country's low-wage earners, but the order is an important first step toward ensuring that all Americans can earn a livable wage and care for themselves and their families.
Income from work is the primary buffer against hunger for the vast majority of American families—it's time to raise the minimum wage and make sure that every full-time worker earns enough to keep a family out of poverty.
The 2014 Hunger Report urges President Obama and Congress to lead the country in setting a goal to end hunger by 2030, and it offers a four-part plan to accomplish this:
1. A jobs agenda
2. A stronger safety net
3. Human capital development or “investing in people”
4. Public-private partnerships to support innovative community-led initiatives against hunger
“We in this Congress are not doing nearly enough,” to help an estimated 49 million food-insecure Americans, McGovern said in the above video. In six months, Congress has enacted $19 billion in combined cuts to food stamps (SNAP), which is the nation’s number-one defense against hunger. “We are going backwards,” noted McGovern.
The congressman expresses his disappointment that the Obama administration has not been able to make good on an early promise to ameliorate child hunger in America by 2015.“[W]hile children make up roughly 24 percent of our total population, they comprise one-third of the nation’s poor," he said, citing a statistic from the Hunger Report.
Still, he added that we should not give up on the goal of ending hunger in America—solutions, such as those outlined in the Hunger Report, exist.
“It is refreshing that this report is honest and blunt,” McGovern said about what he calls the Hunger Report’s "achievable goals," which would end hunger by 2030. “It rightfully states that hunger is a subset of poverty, and that we can’t truly end hunger without addressing poverty.”
A common refrain from McGovern in this series of speeches is that hunger is a political condition — and we whole-heartedly agree. The 2014 Hunger Report outlines a comprehensive plan to end hunger by 2030, but as the Rep. McGovern noted in his speech, advocates must build political will in order to put that plan into action.
For the 4.1 million long-term unemployed who are treading water in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the latest rounds of proposed cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps) and the loss of emergency unemployment benefits could be the rock that sinks them.
Denise Acosta, a 36-year-old mother of four in Texas, is one of those people. Her story was reported in The Guardian this week. Acosta is among the nearly 4.1 million Americans who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks. Although recent gains in employment indicate the economy is recovering, it’s not enough, and the long-term unemployed have not seen their circumstances improve.
Laid-off seven months ago as a healthcare administrator, Acosta struggles to feed her four children - a situation made worse by a cut to SNAP benefits in November. “Acosta has learned to be creative,” reports The Guardian, “with the children's meals, with juggling bills, with trying to keep the kids from noticing the dwindling food on the table and in their schoolbags as her job search drags on.”
While looking for work, SNAP has helped millions of families stave off hunger. Congress will return in January to take up the farm bill, and a proposal to slash the nutrition assistance program by nearly $40 billion more is on the table. “That would make it really difficult for people who struggle to find work like me to get back on their feet,” Acosta told The Guardian.
The struggle to stay afloat is likely to get more difficult as long-term unemployment benefits expire next week for 1.3 million unemployed. The benefits were not extended as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.
Congress allowed benefits to expire despite the fact that unemployment remains 44 percent higher than it was at the start of the recession and nearly 30 percent higher than when the federal emergency unemployment compensation program was enacted. There are still three job seekers for every job opening.
Investing in jobs that pay a living wage and getting people back to work instead of removing assistance makes more economic sense. A study by Rutgers University showed that individuals receiving unemployment benefits do more to find a job than unemployed workers not receiving unemployment insurance (UI). Recipients of UI spend more time seeking work and look at more job postings.
Without unemployment insurance, the number of individuals living in poverty would have doubled between 2010 and 2011. Further, UI has acted a stimulus to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) consistently ranks unemployment insurance as one of the most effective ways to generate economic growth and create jobs. Out of 11 different policies to boost economic growth and employment, the CBO rated UI as number one.
Many Americans like Acosta, who saw their jobs vanish during the recession, need a lifeline to shore and not an anchor in poverty.
During the holiday recess you can still write or email your senators and representative. Urge them to pass a farm bill that protects SNAP and extend unemployment benefits immediately upon returning in the new year.
In his interview on The Tavis Smiley Show, which aired Nov. 22, Beckmann said that while the Hunger Report proposes steps to eradicate hunger in the United States by 2030, Congress is working against that goal by moving forward with cuts to food stamps, which could make it more difficult for millions of Americans to put food on the table. "On Nov. 1, a cut in food stamps went into effect; it has already taken away 300 million meals," Beckmann said. "And then Congress is debating not whether to cut food stamps further, but how much. We don't want more cuts in food stamps. The cuts that the House is proposing would deepen hunger for 6 million Americans."
Beckmann also talked about how safety net programs helped keep hunger in this country at bay in the wake of the 2008 recession, how a strong job market is key to reducing hunger, and why advocates must reach out to members of Congress on these issues.
"I’ve never met anybody who said, 'Oh, I want to make sure kids go hungry,' but there are other things more important to politicians. There are other things that are more important to many of us," Beckmann said. "And on a day-to-day basis, when we really get agitated it’s about something that’s going to affect me, and maybe that’s when I call Congress. But what we need to do is call Congress when hungry kids are getting hurt—and when that happens, that’s when we’re going to end hunger."
Listen to the full interview below.
Rev. David Beckmann calls for an end to the government shutdown that affects our most vulnerable citizens on Oct. 9, 2013, outside of the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Circle of Protection)
Religious leaders are gathering on Capitol Hill each day Congress is in session for a "Faithful Filibuster" that will continue until the government shutdown ends. In contrast to the dialogue centered on blame and gamesmanship inside the Capitol, people of faith are reading from more than 2,000 biblical verses reminding our nation's leaders that a moral government places caring for the most vulnerable before of political gain.
An inability to agree on a budget and the raising of the debt ceiling is weakening our economy and harming our most vulnerable citizens; each day the stalemate continues, the impacts on hunger compound. Before the shutdown, 33 religious leaders sent a letter to Congress warning that a shutdown would adversely affect the economy and people struggling with hunger. With one in seven Americans living below the poverty line and the nation's fragile economy recovering from one of our worst recessions in decades, playing political games right now is irresponsible and foolish. "It is time to move from the blame game to some resolution," said Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann.
The Circle of Protection organized the “faithful filibuster.” Speaking to the human cost of inaction at the Wednesday opening, Rev. Beckmann said, "I am appalled by the harm that the government shutdown is doing to poor people. When I was leaving my office on Friday, one of the cleaners told me that four of janitors in our building have been laid off because of the government shutdown."
Today, 800,000 furloughed federal employees live in uncertainty and the collateral damage radiates throughout the private sector. Yesterday, the Department of Labor reported a surge in unemployment claims.
"I am terrified by the likelihood of a financial crisis," said Rev. Beckmann. "It will hurt all of us, and it will hurt hungry and poor people most of all." (Read "What Does the Government Shutdown Mean for Hunger?" on the Bread Blog for more information on how the government shutdown will impact anti-hunger programs.)
Grounding our actions in faith and hope, Beckmann reminded the gathered that we work in relationship to the Creator. "God is with us, God hears the cries of the poor," he said before he began reading verses from Isaiah 40 and 41.
Join us on Twitter or Facebook, and remind Congress that shared needs must take precedence over political victories. What biblical verse calls you to end hunger? Tell and tag your member of Congress in a tweet or on Facebook and use the hashtag #FaithfulFilibuster.
It is critical Congress hear from faithful advocates. Send your members of Congress an email (your calls may not get through during the shutdown) and use the power of your local paper to message them through letters to the editor. Each day the impasse continues, people suffer—and each day, Rev. Beckmann and other religious leaders will gather to read scripture until common sense and a spirit of cooperation prevail.
Passing a responsible budget that includes revenue would begin to reverse the trend of U.S. income and wealth inequality, which is the greatest threat to food insecurity. Photo: The London transit system, May 2013. (Robin Stephenson)
By Robin Stephenson
Sound bites from members of Congress these days are more like clips from The Jerry Springer Show than a transcript of moral leadership. Blame and shame should not pass for governance. This approach to policy-making is myopic, increases hunger, and camouflages a real crisis in America – growing income inequality.
The United States has the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any developed nation and the gap is widening. The documentary Inequality for All hits theaters this week and is the basis of a recent interview with U.C. Berkeley professor of economics, Robert Reich, on the Sept. 20 edition of Moyers and Company.
Reich argues that as globalization and technology have changed the structure of the economy and displaced workers, our policies have not adapted to the new rules. The economist says that shared prosperity, a concept previously valued by society, is replaced by an ambition cycle; gains are now channeled to a small group at the top and not reinvested in the economy. “The government can no longer afford to do what the government was doing because they aren’t getting tax receipts,” says Reich. When 70 percent of the economy is based on consumer spending, but consumers don’t have purchasing power, the economy weakens. He points out there is danger in looking at one piece of the economy and not looking at the connections.
Our faith in Christ moves us to advocate for sound policy that invests in programs addressing the root causes of poverty and hunger. In order to end hunger, income inequality – one the biggest threats to food security – must be addressed. We are calling on Congress to pass a responsible budget that includes revenue, replaces sequestration, and assures that all everyone will have a place at the table and economic opportunity.
The richest 400 individuals in this country now have more wealth than the 150 million poorest, a fact that should alarm our leaders. In an interview with The Christian Post, Rev. Gary Cook, director of church relations at Bread for the World, points out that through tithing, Jubilee, and gleaning, God historically made provision for hungry people. Shared prosperity is at the basis of right relationship in a community; the faithful gathered in 2 Corinthians were responsible for one another and, “[t]he one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (8:15)
Blaming the poor for our economic woes and cutting anti-hunger programs in response is folly. On the eve of a manufactured fiscal cliff, most Americans are earning wages that haven't seen a significant increase in decades. Too many U.S. citizens — through job loss, medical emergency, or an unexpected calamity — have experienced their own financial crises while a small minority have watched their assets rise. What was once a war on poverty has become a war on the poor, and holding the budget hostage for political gain is obscuring a faith-based solution. It is time to tell Congress that enough is enough.Tell your members of Congress to pass a responsible budget that addresses sequestration and to raise the debt ceiling without political games.
Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.
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.
Get updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.