Last Wednesday, at the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington, the CAP Task Force on Poverty released the results of fourteen months of work in its report, From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half.
The report offers twelve concrete recommendations to reduce over the next ten years, creating a stronger middle class and setting our country on a course to end American poverty in a generation.
Sen. Edward Kennedy and Ways and Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, were both on hand to pledge their leadership on what Task Force co-chair Peter B. Edelman, professor of Law at Georgetown University, called “a national shame…. There should be no one [in this country] who’s poor.”
This is one of the great scandals of our times. In the richest industrialized nation in the world, 37 million Americans–one in eight citizens–live below the official poverty line (just $19,971 income for a family of four); in 2005, more than 90 million Americans had incomes below 200 percent of the poverty threshold (less than $40,000 for a family of four); the United States ranks 24th out of 25 developed nations in the share of the population with an income below 50 percent of the national median income–and the US is dead last among 24 rich nations when the same measurement is used to assess child poverty. Nearly 20 percent of American children are poor, and it’s estimated that allowing children to grow up in persistent poverty costs our economy $500 billion per year. Lastly, income inequality has reached record highs and is getting worse.
“From 1947 to 1973, we saw every economic quintile growing together, and those at the lowest level were growing the fastest,” Kennedy said. “In 1980, with President Reagan, you see the beginning of growing apart…And now, those at the lowest end of the ladder are not even keeping up while there is an explosion at the highest level.”
In fact, the post-tax income of the top 1 percent rose $145,500 between 2003 and 2004; it rose just $200 for the bottom fifth during that same period.
“The goal to cut poverty in half over the next [ten] years is not an overly ambitious task when you look at what other industrialized countries are doing,” Kennedy said. He noted that Great Britain has raised its minimum wage to $9.78 an hour and brought 900,000 children and 2.5 million workers out of poverty in the last three years. Ireland has reduced childhood poverty by 40 percent with a minimum wage of $9.60.
“No single measure is going to answer the problem,” Kennedy said. “But nonetheless we can see how important it is that we put [actions] together… [The Task Force] summary of what we can do to move a whole group of our fellow citizens forward makes enormous sense.”