Last week, President Bush cited the recent Census Report as proof “that more of our citizens are doing better in this economy, with continued rising incomes and more Americans pulling themselves out of poverty.” Welcome to the latest episode of Fantasy Island with George Bush.
In fact, as a recent New York Times editorial notes, the 2005 data which the Census Report is based on (and therefore doesn’t even account for those suffering from the recent credit crisis) “underscores how the gains from economic growth have failed to benefit most of the population,” and that “the gains against poverty last year were remarkably narrow.” Since Bush came to power poverty has risen by 9 percent.
And with the passing of the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, there is a sense that the window of opportunity the disaster opened to put poverty back on the national agenda has now closed, with too little political leadership and a media that stopped paying attention.
But while the White House and too many in Congress have indeed turned their backs on New Orleans and Americans struggling to make ends meet, Mark Greenberg, director of the Center for American Progress’ (CAP) Task Force on Poverty, says that there has in fact been a “resurgence of interest” in dealing with poverty in America. He says that when it comes to NGO’s, and some cities and states, the focus and determination to address the economic pain and hardship that Americans witnessed during Katrina has persisted.
Greenberg points to the US Conference of Mayors Task Force on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. Faith groups like Catholic Charities, Sojourners/Call to Renewal, and Jewish Council on Public Affairs who have “intensified their efforts.” Cities like Milwaukee, Savannah, Kalamazoo, Portland, and New York. And three states with poverty commissions – Connecticut, Vermont, and Minnesota – the first two focused on child poverty and the latter on ending poverty by 2020.
“Developments like these are steps forward,” Greenberg says. “It’s far short of where we want to be, but it’s real progress.”
In 2004, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to write poverty reduction into a public act, mandating a 50 percent reduction in child poverty by 2014 and establishing the Child Poverty Prevention and Reduction Council. The Council makes recommendations on how to meet the 10-year goal but its up to others to ensure legislative action.