The Half in Ten campaign—launched in 2007 by the Center for American Progress, Coalition on Human Needs and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights—set an ambitious goal: to cut poverty in half over ten years. Today, it seems almost fantastical on the face of it, given the nation’s polarization and soaring political and economic inequality.
But with 200 coalition members across the nation combatting poverty, Half in Ten remains steadfast, as campaign manager Erik Stegman described at the release of its third annual report, which tracks progress towards the campaign’s ultimate goal.
“It’s an achievable goal because we’ve done it before,” said Stegman, who co-authored the report along with other contributors, including Sister Simone Campbell, who wrote the foreword. Stegman writes that the War on Poverty contributed to cutting poverty by 43 percent between 1964 and 1973, “to a historic low of 11.1 percent.”
“We know how to do it, and we can do it again,” asserts Stegman.
Half in Ten has always done an exceptional job of laying out the policy choices that are there for the taking if we want to dramatically reduce poverty. But the heart of its work lies in showing how public policy decisions intersect with the lives and experiences of real people.
So it was fitting that among the many stellar speakers who participated in the release event—including Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez; Congresswoman Barbara Lee; Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; and Reverend David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World—the first speaker was Chelsey Hagy, a mother of two from southwest Virginia.
Hagy grew up in a middle-class home and enrolled in community college at age 17. She got pregnant, and the father of her child was incarcerated prior to Hagy’s giving birth. She worked two part-time jobs but couldn’t make ends meet. She turned to assistance—public housing, WIC, Medicaid and food stamps (SNAP). Her son was diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder that will require special education and medical care throughout his life.
“I found myself traveling from doctor to doctor, adding more expenses that could not be met without the assistance of these programs, especially Medicaid,” said Hagy.
She enrolled in a residential nursing program, her sights set on obtaining a job that pays a living wage. She married and had a second child, but later separated from her husband. While pursuing her degree, her sons attended Early Head Start, where the family benefitted from early childhood education, preventive healthcare and nutrition classes and parental instruction.