“A dangerous myth that permeates our national narrative is that ‘the poor will always be among us’ and that there is little government can do to systematically reduce poverty. History shows this belief to be false.”
—“Restoring Shared Prosperity” report, October 2011
“I believe what the Occupy Wall Street movement has done is a patriotic thing by putting wage inequality back on the front and center stage,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, delivering a keynote address at the Center for American Progress last week (streamed online here). The occasion was the Half in Ten campaign’s release of its inaugural report that starts the clock ticking on its aggressive goal to cut poverty in half in ten years nationally and in every state. Solis spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of advocates, activists, scholars and reporters.
“You think big, and you challenge America’s leaders to do big things,” said Solis, noting that the goal of cutting poverty in half was nearly achieved in the decade following President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty forty-seven years ago. “Cutting the poverty rate in half in ten years is something that I too believe we can do. Providing a ladder out of poverty has been my life’s work.”
The new report offers a comprehensive look at a record 46.2 million people living in poverty in the nation today, and lays out the key indicators within four categories that Half in Ten will track to measure progress towards its goal: overall poverty in the United States, more good jobs, strengthening families and communities and family economic security.
It ranks states according to each of the indicators, and an interactive website emphasizes the state’s bottom-ranking data to focus attention on the areas that need the most work. The report also includes a call to action which outlines a set of policies that would make a real difference in people’s lives right now.
The speakers on hand—including Secretary Solis, former SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, author Barbara Ehrenreich and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President and CEO Wade Henderson—recognize the enormity of the task: nearly one in six Americans now live below the poverty line of $22,000 for a family of four, including over 20 percent of all kids. The fact that the GOP is hostile to the federal government doing anything other than cutting taxes, spending on defense and prosecuting undocumented workers only makes the job harder.
But there was also a sense of hope among the speakers that there is increasingly a recognition of a common struggle in our inequitable economy—whether one is a homeless parent, a college graduate with huge debt, or a 50-year-old who was laid off and sees few if any prospects for a decent job. In fact, as the report points out, more than one in three Americans now lives on less than $44,700 annually for a family of four. That makes it pretty tough—sometimes impossible—to afford the basics like housing, healthcare, food and education.That’s why more and more people are turning to the safety net who never imagined they would need to.