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Greg Kaufmann

Poverty in America: people, politics and policy.

This Week in Poverty: What ‘Defunding Obamacare’ Really Means

Demonstrators hold up signs at an education and awareness event on the Affordable Care Act and protest against Tea Party officials they say are threatening an economic shutdown, in Santa Monica, California, October 10, 2013. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

When the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was in question, independent Senator Bernie Sanders was no easy “yea” vote.

The single-payer, Medicare-for-All type of system that he favored was never on the table, and the final bill didn’t include a public option. He also felt the legislative process had catered too much to the interests of the healthcare industry, which had spent over $1.4 million per day lobbying to get the bill it wanted.

But Sanders knew Democrats desperately needed his vote. He used that leverage in a successful fight to increase funding for community health centers—comprehensive clinics in medically underserved areas that provide doctors, dentists, mental health counselors and prescription drugs on a sliding-scale fee so that nobody is turned away.

In the end, Sanders helped to pass the ACA—legislation that Republicans are now so desperate to repeal that they have shut down the government and put the full faith and credit of the US in jeopardy. Yesterday on Capitol Hill, Sanders held a forum to spell out exactly what the consequences would be if Republicans were to have their way and the ACA were nixed.

He noted that “we are [still] the only country in the industrialized world that doesn’t guarantee healthcare to people as a right.” As a result, there are 48 million Americans without health insurance. Under the ACA, 20 million currently uninsured people will finally receive coverage (more if GOP governors get out of the way) and thousands of lives will be saved every year as these individuals no longer delay or forgo healthcare.

Sanders pointed to a Harvard study that estimates 45,000 people are dying each year from illnesses that arise due to a lack of health insurance.

“Nobody can come up with an exact figure, but it is absolutely indisputable that if we deny the health insurance that 20 million Americans will get under the Affordable Care Act, at the very least thousands and thousands of our fellow Americans will die,” said Sanders. “For all of those folks saying we have to repeal the Affordable Care Act, what they are doing is passing a death sentence on many of our fellow Americans.”

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a nonprofit organization that advocates for affordable healthcare for all Americans, said that the US Census Bureau figure of 48 million uninsured is actually low because it is tallied at a specific point in time.

“Forty-eight million is a huge number,” said Pollack, “it’s more than the combined population of twenty-four states plus the District of Columbia. But it does not reflect how many people are uninsured over the course of a year, [which] is considerably larger.”

Families USA used a “conservative” methodology—designed by the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine—to determine how many people between the ages of 25 and 64 died in 2010 due to a lack of health insurance.

“We found that approximately 26,100 people between the ages of 25 and 64 died prematurely due to a lack of health coverage that year,” said Pollack.

He added that this breaks down to 2,175 people dying every month, 502 every week, and seventy-two every day.

“Every three hours a person passes away due to a lack of health insurance,” he said. He added that between 2005 and 2010, it added up to 134,000 preventable deaths.

That’s a number that resonates with Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who shared his personal experience with health being determined by coverage.

When he was 29, married, and a father of two young children, King obtained health insurance that included a free annual physical. He decided to do it—his first physical in “ten or eleven years.”

The doctor noticed a mole on his back that turned out to be malignant melanoma.

“I thought it was a skin cancer, not a big deal, I learned subsequently that it’s a very deadly form of cancer,” said King.

He had successful surgery—the disease hadn’t spread so he didn’t have to have radiation or chemotherapy “and here I am thirty-nine years later.”

“Had I not had that coverage and the preventive care without the co-pay, I would not be here today,” said King. “Melanoma is one of the most dangerous forms of cancer, but it’s also one of the most treatable. You catch it in time and you live, you don’t catch it in time and you die.”

King tried to make clear the scope of preventable deaths that happen every day due to a lack of health insurance.

“These deaths occur invisibly,” he said. “They occur one at a time, all over the place, and it doesn’t say in the obituary ‘died because of no healthcare.’ If it happened all in one town, at one time, we would be moving heaven and earth to solve this problem, if we lost anywhere from 26,000 to 45,000 [people] a year. If we lost the town of Augusta in one year, and the next year it was someplace in Colorado, or Vermont, this society would have dealt with this many, many years ago.”

The senator noted that the United States is alone in allowing this problem to persist.

“In effect as a society we are watching people die in front of us and not doing anything,” said King. “And we’re the only industrialized country in the world that has basically said, ‘Yes, we are going to allow this to happen.’ ”

It is that isolation among advanced nations that makes Dr. Steven Woolf, director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health, say that he is “mystified” when critics of the ACA assert that we are better off without the bill.

Woolf chaired a panel earlier this year—convened by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine—that compared US health with that of sixteen other high-income countries.

“The title of our report says it all—‘Shorter Lives, Poorer Health,’ ” said Woolf. “Americans rank last in life expectancy. We die earlier, and we have higher rates of disease and injury.”

He said “the US health disadvantage” cuts across the whole population—men and women, young and old, all classes, “and across multiple areas of our health.”

Woolf said that flaws in our health care system are a key reason that “American progress in health is [falling] behind other countries’.” The peer countries offer universal healthcare, so Americans comparatively “find care inaccessible or too expensive.”

“A basic requirement is a healthcare system that, number one, works well and, number two, is available to everyone,” said Woolf. “We’ve failed on both counts under our old model, and we now have a chance to build a solid foundation…. Change is difficult, but in this case we will pay with our lives and so will our children if we don’t make a change.”

That need for change couldn’t be any clearer for Dr. Candice Chen, who works as a primary care pediatrician at a clinic five miles from the US Capitol.

“It’s in a part of DC that most people don’t ever go to,” she said.

Most of her patients receive preventive services through Medicaid. In contrast, Chen said, uninsured people first come to the clinic “after being in the emergency room or the hospital for something that was completely preventable like an asthma attack or a tooth abscess.”

She noted that the true costs of those hospitalizations are measured in missed work, school absences and expensive treatments. But these working families aren’t coming to the clinic—or don’t always fill the prescriptions written when they do come—because they don’t have insurance and are struggling to choose between paying for food, rent, and healthcare.

“I find hope in a 2012 New England Journal of Medicine Study by Ben Sommers [that shows] Medicaid expansion saved lives,” said Chen. “Up to [twenty] lives per 100,000 adults. What that shows is that health insurance saves lives and that the Affordable Care Act can and will save lives.”

Instead of bragging about how they are repealing, defunding or delaying Obamacare, maybe it’s time for the GOP to just tell the truth: they are denying tens of thousands of people the opportunity to live.

“Pilgrimage with the Poor”

Prominent faith leaders to join locked-out workers at the House GOP offices to pray and march for an end to the shutdownTuesday, October 15, 10:15 am, Cannon House Office Building rotunda.

Dozens of prominent religious leaders, locked-out workers and families suffering as a result of the shutdown will march to key Republican House offices—including leadership—and demand that members put the government back to work. At each office, the group will pray for the member to vote to immediately end the shutdown. They will also call attention to each representative’s stance on the government shutdown and debt ceiling. Simultaneously, faith leaders will deliver signed petitions to congressional district offices across the country.

Organizers say that politicians have put an “irresponsible agenda ahead of countless Americans.” Among those harmed: seniors who will see “Meals on Wheels” cut, preschoolers shut out of Head Start classrooms, pregnant women and infants whose vital nutrition support is at risk, workers who are locked out of their jobs without pay as the bills pile up and veterans who are facing benefit cuts and delays.

One organizer called it a “pilgrimage with the poor,” and emphasized that they will be marching and singing hymns with people who are being hit the hardest by the shutdown.

Some of the participants include: Sister Simone Campbell, NETWORK; Reverend Michael Livingston, Interfaith Worker Justice; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the Shalom Center; Martin Shupack, Church World Service; Rev. Jennifer Butler, Faith in Public Life; Douglas Grace, Ecumenical Advocacy Days; Rev. Brian Adams, Mt. Rainier Christian Church; Rev. Ann Tiemeyer, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA; and Rabbi David Shenyer, Am Kolel Judaic Resource Center.

Get involved

Wendy’s: Help End Slavery in Florida’s Tomato Fields

3 Things You Can Do About the Shutdown Right Now

Good Jobs Now

Tell Congress: There is Nothing Christian About Taking Food from the Poor

Tell nine House Democrats: We didn’t send you to Congress to vote with the Tea Party to shut down the federal government!

Share your story: How has the safety net helped you make ends meet?

Events

The Institute for Policy Studies invites you to its 50th Anniversary Celebration and Reunion highlighting bold, progressive social movements over the last five decades. It will honor activists and activism, and envision a plan for a bold, progressive future. Today through Sunday, details here.

2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards (Wednesday, October 16, St. James’ Episcopal Church in New York City). These awards are presented annually to distinguished individuals or organizations that represent one of FDR’s famous “Four Freedoms.” This year’s laureates include my good friends from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Sister Simone Campbell; also Paul Krugman, Wendell Barry, and Ameena Matthews of Chicago’s Violence Interrupters. You can RSVP to the free public ceremony here.

Featured Article, from Economic Hardship Reporting Project

The GED Is About to Get Much Harder, and Much More Expensive,” Kavitha Cardoza

Clips and other resources

How the shutdown affects poor women and children,” Theresa Anderson and Erika Huber

No Progress Against Hunger,” Bread for the World

Care for the Homeless Graduates First Class of Certified Advocates,” Care for the Homeless

US Workers Lagging Behind on Basic Skills,” Marcie Foster and Janne Huang

Six Myths About Food Stamps,” Dave Johnson

Another View: Our heartless, ongoing war on poor people,” Jos Linn

Housing aid is maddeningly complex. It doesn’t have to be,” Dylan Matthews

12 ways government spending supports vulnerable people,” Zach McDade

Bill Moyers Essay: On the Sabotage of Democracy,” Moyers & Company

Displaced Minority Workers Suffered 29.6 Percent Drop in Wages from the Growing Trade Deficit with China,” Robert Scott

Why Isn’t Poverty Falling? Weakening of Unemployment Insurance Is a Pivotal Factor,” Arloc Sherman

Monthly Updates of the Number of ‘Missing Workers’ and What Unemployment Rate Would Be If They Were Looking for Work,” Heidi Shierholz

A Discussion on Racial Equity, Healing, and Poverty—Part 2,” Spotlight on Poverty

Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law,” Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff

‘60 Minutes’ Gets Disability Insurance All Wrong,” George Zornick

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $23,492 for a family of four): 46.5 million people, 15 percent.

African-American poverty rate: 27.2 percent.

Hispanic poverty rate: 25.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.7 percent.

People with disabilities: 28 percent.

Poorest age group: children, 34.6 percent of all people in poverty are children.

Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 21.8 percent, including 38 percent of African-American children, 34 percent of Latino children, and 12 percent of white children.

Poverty rate among families with children headed by single mothers: 40.9 percent.

Gender gap: Women 31 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Deep poverty (less than $9,142 for a family of three): 20.4 million people, one in fifteen Americans, nearly 10 percent of all children, up from 12.6 million in 2000—an increase of 59 percent.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, approximately one in three Americans.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2011: 27 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2011: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Number of people 65 or older kept out of poverty by Social Security: 15.3 million

Quote of the Week

“When I got there I saw something that I never would have expected to see in this country. People I could have grown up with, who were in long, long, lines waiting to get care that was being provided by these doctors and nurses in barns, in animal stalls. And these people were standing in long lines, in the rain, and they were soaking wet. But they had no other options. And these were not the poorest among us. They were working folks. They were not enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare. They were just people who were victims of circumstance, and in many cases circumstances created by the [health insurance] industry I used to work for.”
   —Wendell Potter, describing visit to Remote Area Medical expedition in Kentucky, at Senator Sanders’ forum on Obamacare.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

Read what President Obama has to do to end the shutdown here.

Shutdown, Sequestered and Days of Awe

The US Capitol is photographed through a chain fence in Washington, DC, on September 30, 2013 (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

Last month, during the “Days of Awe” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I was among the millions of Jews engaged in the act of teshuva—looking inward to see where we are missing the mark in order to then turn outward and right our course.

We seek out those we have wronged and ask their forgiveness, we set our sights on a new direction, and then on Yom Kippur, we fast and read from the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah reminds us that the work during the Days of Awe isn’t for the sake of ritual, or our own individual needs, but to direct a renewed energy toward healing and repairing the world:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free… to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…. Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear…. If you do away with the pointing finger and malicious talk, if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness…. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

 

I’m reminded of these words as we witness the hardships created by sequester, now intensified by a government shutdown: up to 19,000 more kids unable to attend Head Start schools, adding to the 57,000 shut out by sequester. Millions of mothers and children in the Women, Infants and Children program—their health and well-being threatened by any shutdown lasting longer than a week. Service providers for domestic violence victims—already forced to cut staff and programs due to sequester—now face the possibility of closing their doors. Veterans and civilians awaiting decisions on disability benefits will have to wait until the shutdown ends due to insufficient staff at the Social Security administration and a closed Veterans Appeals Board. The minority of families living in poverty who are able to receive meager cash assistance (TANF), now might not receive any cash assistance at all since federal funding has expired.

Those who would increase the vulnerability of the very people who are already the most vulnerable among us could use a little Awe—to look squarely at the struggles of so many, and see what our nation is doing to make those struggles harder.

Awe… that more than one in seven of us lives below the poverty line of $18,300 for a family of three.

Awe… that more than one in five children lives in poverty, including more than 42 percent of African-American children under age 5, and 37 percent of Latino children under age 5.

Awe… that 1 in 15 Americans lives in “deep poverty”—on less than $11,750 for a family of four—nearly 60 percent more than population who lived in deep poverty in 2000.

Awe… that we have made cash assistance so hard to come by, with just 27 of every 100 families in poverty receiving it, down from 68 of every 100 in 1996.

Awe… that more than one in of us—106 million Americans—lives on less than $36,600 for a family of three, struggling to simply obtain the basics: food, housing, healthcare, continuing education—and forget about savings. These Americans are a single serious hardship away from poverty.

Awe… that 50 percent of jobs in the United States pay less than $34,000 a year; and 25 percent pay less than the poverty line for a family of four.

Awe… that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a poverty wage. For most of the 1960s and ’70s, the minimum wage was sufficient to lift a family of three out of poverty. But now a full-time minimum-wage worker earns around $15,000 annually.

Awe… that the tipped minimum wage has been stuck at $2.13 per hour since 1991. As a result, the people who serve us our food are nearly twice as likely as the general population to need food stamps.

Awe… that over 49 million people—about 14.5 percent of all households—are food insecure. That means that they don’t have enough money to meet their basic food needs, and don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from. It includes one in five children.

Awe… that in these homes you will find parents skipping meals; children trying to give their food to their parents; parents trying to stretch their dollar by buying cheap, high-calorie foods; and, consequently, children in poor health and struggling to learn.

Awe… that the food stamp (SNAP) benefit that currently averages just $1.50 per person per meal—will decrease to around $1.40 per person per meal in November—a cut that will affect 22 million children.

Awe… that House Republicans want to cut $40 billion over ten years from the SNAP program. That translates to 3.8 million low-income people losing SNAP in 2014, an additional 3 million people per year losing it over the next decade and 210,000 children losing free school meals next year.

Awe… that by early 2014, 140,000 fewer low-income families will receive Section 8 vouchers for rental assistance. This comes at a moment when only one in four eligible households actually receives federal rental assistance; half of the current households with vouchers include seniors or people with disabilities; and the average annual household income for people in the program is just $12,500.

Awe… that children who receive food stamps are less likely to be at risk of being underweight or having developmental delays, than children who are eligible but not receiving food stamps. They also have fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits; and less need for special education in school. So when Isaiah says that when you feed the hungry, your healing will quickly appear—this is what that healing looks like in children.

Awe… that adults who benefited from food stamps when they were children—compared to their disadvantaged peers who did not—had better health and improved economic outcomes, ranging from education and earnings, to reduced need for the safety net. So despite the rhetoric about food stamps causing dependency, the data shows exactly the opposite. And this is what it looks like when we follow Isaiah’s advice to stop the finger-pointing and malicious talk, and simply examine the facts.

Awe… that children under age 6 in low-income families that received a boost of just $3,000 in annual family income (in earnings or government benefits)—compared to their peers who didn’t—saw improved education performance, and significantly greater earnings and hours worked as adults. And this is what it looks like when we break the yoke, and set the oppressed free, by investing in families.

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While many Republicans of faith argue that it’s the responsibility of individuals, neighborhoods and houses of worship to respond to those in need, this misses the scope of the problem. At a recent House hearing on The War on Poverty, Sister Simone Campbell noted that just to cover the food stamp cuts proposed by the House last year—which were smaller than the cuts currently under consideration—“every church, synagogue, mosque, and house of worship in the United States” would have needed to raise $50,000 in additional monies every year, for ten years.

Unless we overcome the venom and vitriol directed at one another and especially at people who are struggling; unless we act out of a common humanity; unless we end the self-righteousness and simply stand with the righteous—we will fail to repair the broken walls, fail to restore streets with dwellings and fail to become that well-watered garden, a spring whose water never fails.

And the people who will pay the greatest price? Doesn’t take a prophet to answer that.

Greg Kaufmann detailed a number of ways to get involved in the fight against poverty in his previous blog post.

This Week in Poverty: Five Things You Might Have Missed on 'Poverty Day'

The annual release of the US Census poverty data is the one day you can be sure the mainstream media will turn their attention to poverty. This year was no exception when Poverty Day arrived last Tuesday. Amidst the frenzy of coverage of the new data, here are five things you might have missed:

1) A Crisis for Children of Color Under Age 5

Melissa Boteach, director of Half in Ten, a campaign to cut poverty in half in ten years, notes “crisis levels of poverty” for children of color under age 5, including more than 42 percent of African-American children and 37 percent of Latino children living below the poverty line. The Children’s Defense Fund also highlighted disturbing statistics across the nation regarding poverty levels of children of color under age 6.

Boteach points out that toxic stress associated with persistent poverty affects brain development in children, and leads to adverse outcomes in education, health and worker productivity when those children reach adulthood. We also know that modest investments in young children can offset some of those negative effects, but we currently are moving in the opposite direction.

Boteach references a new report from First Focus—a bipartisan organization that advocates for investments in children and families—which finds that “in 2013 alone, sequestration will cut $4.2 billion of funding for children concentrated in the areas of education, early learning, and housing, and Congress is considering a budget plan that would lock in or deepen these cuts for next year.” The report also finds that federal spending on children decreased last year by $28 billion, or 7 percent—the largest reduction since the early 1980s. Early education and childcare saw a particularly deep cut of 12 percent, and housing was cut by 6 percent.

“These data could not be timelier,” writes Boteach. “They show structural threats to our economic competitiveness owing to high rates of poverty among young children of color—who would be badly hurt by Congress locking in or deepening the sequester cuts.”

2) We Could End Child Poverty

Austin Nichols, senior research associate at Urban Institute, writes that a monthly benefit for every child is “now common across developed countries, with amounts of about $140 a month in the UK, $190 in Ireland, $130 in Japan, $160 in Sweden and $250 in Germany.” He suggests that a monthly benefit of $400 for every child in the US would cut child poverty by more than half.

“If we issued a $400 monthly payment to each child, and cut tax subsidies for children in higher-income families, we would cut child poverty from 22 percent to below 10 percent,” writes Nichols. “If we further guaranteed one worker per family a job paying $15,000 a year, and each family participated, child poverty would drop to under 1 percent.”

Nichols suggests that even a $150 per month child benefit would lower child poverty from 22 percent to below 17 percent; and adding the job guarantee would reduce child poverty to 8 percent.

While Nichols is aware that there is no chance for this kind of change at the federal level, he writes that “a few states could try out a new taxable child benefit paid to all families.”

3) Poverty’s Gender Gap and the Safety Net

Tim Casey, senior staff attorney at Legal Momentum, the nation’s oldest organization that advocates on behalf of the legal rights of women and girls, reports that women were 32 percent more likely to be poor than men, and had a poverty rate of 14.5 percent compared to 11 percent for men.

“About one of every seven women was poor, compared to about one of every nine men. Single mothers were 81% more likely to be poor than single fathers, aged women were 67% more likely to be poor than aged men, and employed women were 31% more likely to be poor than employed men,” writes Casey. “At every level of educational attainment women were substantially more likely to be poor than men.”

Elizabeth Grayer, president of Legal Momentum said that the “high poverty rate” and a “continuing gender poverty gap” point to “the need for a social safety net that is accessible and adequate.” She urges Congress to reject any food stamp cuts that would increase hunger and hardship, and to “enact sorely needed improvements in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) [cash assistance] program that would raise sub-poverty benefit levels and reduce the barriers that prevent eligible families from accessing benefits.”

Currently, for every 100 families living in poverty, approximately 27 receive TANF cash assistance; down from 68 in 1996.

4) Vicious Cycle of Long-Term Unemployment and Poverty

The Urban Institute’s Nichols and Zach McDade, research associate, note that “4.2 million Americans—37 percent of the unemployed—have been jobless for longer than six months,” the highest rate “by far” in the last sixty years.

Nichols and McDade suggest that the “relationship between growing long-term unemployment and poverty runs both ways, where poverty can reinforce joblessness just like joblessness can increase poverty.”

“The longer one is unemployed, the harder it is to find work,” they write. “Skills erode, professional networks deteriorate, and workers become tainted by a perception of ‘unemployability.’ Long-term unemployment begets longer-term unemployment. Throw poverty into the picture and it’s only worse. Long-term unemployed workers are much more likely to be poor. Poverty makes it more difficult to travel to interviews, pay for child care, or care for one’s health, making the job hunt all the harder.”

Nichols and McDade argue that the cycle can be broken with “some simple policy prescriptions.” “Workforce development programs generally benefit workers with little education and experience (those who are most likely to be long-term unemployed).” They also call for “large-scale public works programs” that “help workers retain their skills, avoid the stigma of long-term unemployment and provide a regular income.”

5) Missed Opportunity: Unemployment Insurance and Poverty

Arloc Sherman, senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says that one significant reason the poverty rate didn’t decline over the last two years is that “we pulled back too quickly on unemployment insurance (UI).”

“Poverty would have fallen from 2010 to 2012 had it not been for the shrinking antipoverty role of unemployment insurance,” he told me.

UI kept 1.7 million people above the official poverty line in 2012, down nearly half from the 3.2 million who were lifted above the poverty line in 2010. Sherman notes that UI benefits used to reach 67 workers for every 100 unemployed workers; now it’s just 48 for every 100.

“The poverty rate would have declined significantly, by about half a percentage point—and there would be a million fewer poor people today—if UI’s effect per unemployed person hadn’t weakened since 2010,” he said.

Get Involved

Tell the President to Ensure Federal Contractors Pay a Living Wage

Share your story: How has the safety net helped you make ends meet?

See How Your Representative Voted on House passage of $40 billion SNAP cut

North Carolinians: Pledge to Talk About Poverty and Solutions

Event

2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards (Wednesday, October 16, St. James’ Episcopal Church in New York City). These awards are presented annually to distinguished individuals or organizations who represent one of FDR’s famous “Four Freedoms”—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. This year’s laureates include the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who have fought to improve working conditions for Florida’s tomato pickers; Sister Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus; fame; Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman; Ameena Matthews of Chicago’s Violence Interrupters; and poet and farm-to-table activist Wendell Berry, who will receive the overall Freedom Medal. You can learn more and RSVP to the free public ceremony here.

Clips and Other Resources

Don’t Call Retreat in the War on Hunger,” Patricia Anderson, Kristin Butcher, Hilary Hoynes, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach

Bad Medicine: Pharmaceuticals’ Prescription for Profits Over People,” Alliance for a Just Society

A Profile that Paints a Far Too Benign Picture of the Republicans’ Proposed SNAP Changes,” Jared Bernstein

How Much Money Would It Take to Eliminate Poverty In America?” Matt Bruenig

Breaking Ground,” Kavitha Cardoza (AUDIO)

Kids’ Share,” First Focus

No Hunger for California Heroes,” Senator Ben Hueso

Underwriting Executive Excess,” Robert Hiltonsmith and Amy Traub

Nonmetro Poverty Increased in 2012,” Housing Assistance Council

The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit: History, Purpose, Goals, and Effectiveness,” Thomas L. Hungerford and Rebecca Thiess

Death of An Adjunct,” Daniel Kovalik

Once Suicidal and Shipped Off, Now Battling Nevada Over Care,” Rick Lyman

A Win-Win for Children: Raising Smart, Healthy Kids,” Hannah Matthews

Inequality for All,” Moyers & Company (VIDEO)

Long-term unemployment and poverty produce a vicious cycle,” Austin Nichols and Zach McDade

Correcting Five Myths About Medicaid,” Edwin Park and Matt Broaddus

On Growing Up Poor & Why We Should Save,” Chantilly Patiño

Sanders, Cummings Introduce Bills to Address Dental Crisis,” Sen. Sanders Press Office

Poor in the Land of Plenty: Sasha Abramsky’s ‘American Way of Poverty’,” David Shipler

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Vital statistics

US poverty (less than $23,492 for a family of four): 46.5 million people, 15 percent.

African-American poverty rate: 27.2 percent.

Hispanic poverty rate: 25.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.7 percent.

People with disabilities: 28 percent.

Poorest age group: children, 34.6 percent of all people in poverty are children.

Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 21.8 percent, including 38 percent of African-American children, 34 percent of Latino children, and 12 percent of white children.

Poverty rate among families with children headed by single mothers: 40.9 percent.

Gender gap: Women 31 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Deep poverty (less than $9,142 for a family of three): 20.4 million people, one in fifteen Americans, nearly 10 percent of all children, up from 12.6 million in 2000—increase 59 percent.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, approximately one in three Americans.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2011: 27 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2011: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Number of people 65 or older kept out of poverty by Social Security: 15.3 million

Quote

“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
   —Nelson Mandela (via @NLuvWitUOnly)

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

Trudy Lieberman wrote this week about the growing waiting list for food aid in the United States.

This Week in Poverty: New Data, Same Story (and Same Dangerous House Republicans)


A woman walks by a dilapidated house in Nebraska. (Reuters)

For me, the biggest takeaway from the new Census data on poverty has little to do with the data itself—it’s this: we’ve long known what to do to take the next steps in the fight against poverty, and we still know what to do to take the next steps in the fight against poverty. But we’re not doing it.

If you look all the way back to the 2007 inaugural report of the Half in Ten campaign—written by Peter Edelman, Angela Glover Blackwell and other antipoverty heavyweights—it was clear then that raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and improving childcare assistance could reduce poverty by 26 percent. Add lessons that we have since learned from initiatives like the bipartisan (at least when it comes to state governors) subsidized jobs program, and a more responsive food stamp (SNAP) program, and we know that we could make significant strides to reduce poverty were there the political will—or more accurately, a movement to create the political will.

In lieu of that, for the eleventh time in twelve years, poverty has worsened or stayed the same. It remains stuck at 15 percent, with 46 million people living on less than about $18,300 for a family of three. That includes nearly 22 percent of all children, 27 percent of African-Americans, 25 percent of Hispanics and more than 28 percent of people with disabilities (the next group conservatives will likely target after they are through with those who currently need food stamp assistance).

Significantly, 44 percent of those in poverty live below half the poverty line—in “deep poverty”—on less than about $9,150 for a family of three. That adds up to 20.4 million people, and includes 15 million women and children—nearly 10 percent of all children in the United States. Deep poverty and its accompanying toxic stress are particularly harmful to children. We also have evidence that just a modest boost in income—$3000 in earnings or government benefits for a family living on less than $25,000—makes a significant difference in the lives of young children when they reach adulthood, both in the hours they will work and the income they will earn.

Another number that remained stagnant last year is the number of people living below twice the poverty line—on less than $36,600 for a family of three. That describes 106 million Americans, more than one in three of us. These are people who are living a single hardship—such as a lost job or serious family illness—away from poverty.

While conservatives will use the 15 percent poverty rate as fodder to label as a failure the War on Poverty launched nearly fifty years ago—since the official poverty rate is about the same now as it was in the late-1960s—we know that one has to overlook critical information to reach this conclusion.

Some examples: the poverty rate would be twice as high now—nearly 30 percent—without the safety net. Food stamp benefits aren’t included in the official poverty rate, but they lifted a record 4 million people above the poverty line in 2012; nor are the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), which in 2011 moved 9.4 million people above the poverty line. In fact, in 2011 the official poverty rate would have dropped from 15.0 percent to 10.9 percent if it included food stamps, EITC and CTC. (See, too, Martha Bailey and Sheldon Danziger’s new book, Legacies of the War on Poverty.)

“If you took the official poverty measure and accounted for the effect of the biggest benefits that it leaves out—SNAP, rent subsidies, and tax credits for working families—you’d find that poverty in the United States is significantly lower today than it was at any time in the 1960s,” said Arloc Sherman, senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “That’s true even despite today’s shaky economy.”

There were some obvious missed opportunities to reduce the poverty rate last year. In 2012, unemployment insurance (UI) benefits reduced poverty by 1.7 million people, compared to 2.3 million people in 2011 and 3.2 million people in 2010. According to the CBPP, the weakened antipoverty effect is in part due to reduced federal and state UI benefits and long-term unemployed workers exhausting their eligibility.

“The number of unemployed workers receiving no unemployment benefits is actually higher today than at any point in the recession,” writes Robert Greenstein, president of the CBPP. He notes that if UI benefits had been as effective as they were at reducing poverty among the jobless and their families in 2010, the poverty rate would have fallen over the past two years.

But more than just missing opportunities for effective policy, we now face a Congress poised to make matters worse for those who are faring the worst in our economy.

As Greenstein notes, federal UI benefits for the long-term unemployed are scheduled to expire in the end of 2013 and may well not be renewed. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the sequester will cost 900,000 jobs by the third quarter of 2014. As for food stamps—which average $1.50 per person, per meal—there will be cuts to benefits in November that will affect 22 million children. House Republicans voted last night for an additional $40 billion in SNAP cuts that truly boggle the mind—both from a moral and economic perspective. Senate Democrats also agreed to $4 billion in cuts that would harm 500,000 families who are currently struggling to meet their basic food needs.

“No program does more than SNAP to protect children from the effects of deep poverty, and yet the House just voted to cut 3.8 million people off the program, including many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country,” Sherman wrote me in an email. “Some of those cut will be children, others will be seniors. Others will be poor childless adults who are out of work; the bill specifically targets those living in areas with the highest unemployment, where it’s hardest to find work.”

Edelman, who has about as much perspective on the public policy fight against poverty as anyone—having lived and worked on it through much of its history since serving as a legislative assistant for Senator Robert Kennedy—is struck by the nature of the newest attacks against antipoverty policies.

“In the past year the kinds of distortions and misstatements that characterize the arguments against the public policy that we have are even more troubling than they were before,” said Edelman, author of So Rich, So Poor: Why it’s So Hard to End Poverty in America. “Because now for example, there is a significant number of people who want to characterize food stamps as being something that keeps people from looking for jobs—a totally made up thing. It’s such a gross distortion.”

If there is any hope to be gleaned from the latest economic snapshots of what Americans are experiencing when it comes to income and poverty, it lies in the notion that perhaps more people are beginning to see that the needs of low-income people and a dwindling middle class are converging. When the top 1 percent see an income gain of 20 percent, and everyone else has a gain of just 1 percent—something has to give.

“We’re not seeing much growth in jobs, we’re not seeing much growth in wages for anybody, so it shouldn’t be surprising that people’s incomes are going nowhere,” said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute.

Edelman points to the living wage campaigns at Walmart stores and fast food restaurants as positive signs. He also calls for “campaigns of public information” to influence public opinion about people in poverty and near poverty.

“Absent a serious change in our politics, which depends on really hard work organizing and reaching people to change attitudes—we’re not going to get the policies we need and we’ll be stuck in this mess for quite a while to come,” he said.

Action

Tell President Obama: Ensure Federal Contractors Pay a Living Wage

Share your story: How has the safety net helped you make ends meet?

Event

2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Awards (Wednesday, October 16, St. James’ Episcopal Church in New York City). These awards are presented annually to distinguished individuals or organizations who represent one of FDR’s famous “Four Freedoms”—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. This year’s laureates include the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who have fought to improve working conditions for Florida’s tomato pickers; Sister Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus” fame; Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman; Ameena Matthews of Chicago’s Violence Interrupters; and poet and farm-to-table activist Wendell Berry, who will receive the overall Freedom Medal. You can learn more and RSVP to the free public ceremony here.

Clips and Other Resources

Legacies of the War on Poverty,” Martha Bailey and Sheldon Danziger

Finally, Domestic Workers Get Basic Labor Protections,” Sheila Bapat

The Top 3 Things You Need to Know About the New Poverty and Income Data,” Melissa Boteach

Seven Ways Occupy Changed America—and Is Still Changing It,” David Calahan

Breaking Ground,” Kavitha Cardoza (AUDIO)

Poverty Rate and Income Stagnate as Conservatives Attack the Safety Net,” Zoe Carpenter

Child Poverty in the US,” Center for Law and Social Policy

New Census Data Confirms Economy Isn’t Working,” Coalition on Human Needs

Stop playing politics with hunger,” Bob Dole and Tom Daschle

Innovating in Early Head Start: Can Reducing Toxic Stress Improve Outcomes for Young Children?” Carol Gerwin

In Light Of Census Numbers, Cutting SNAP Would Be Irresponsible,” Elise Gould and Hilary Wething

Ten myth-busting facts about welfare,” Heather Hahn

Slow economic recovery reflected in stagnant income and poverty data,” Doug Hall and Alyssa Davis

Lifelines for Poor Children,” James Heckman

State Tax Codes As Poverty Fighting Tools,” Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

House Bill Would Cut 3.8 Million People From Food Stamp Rolls,” Tamara Keith (AUDIO)

Experts weigh in: Are we losing the war on poverty?” Nicole Levins

Why is the Federal Poverty Line So Far Off?” John Light

A System Designed For And By The People,” Kirsten Lodal

The Children Are Still Poor in America,” Hannah Matthews

By the Numbers: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage 2012,” Lawrence Mishel and Elise Gould

Preview: Inequality for All,” Moyers & Company

We can end child poverty—or, at least, do more,” Austin Nichols

DC Mayor’s Veto of Wal-Mart Wage Bill is a National Outrage,” Isaiah Poole

Official Poverty Measure Masks Gains Made Over Last 50 Years,” Arloc Sherman

Book Review: Kindness and a ‘Harsh’ Ala. Immigration Law,” Thomas Vasquez

Mismatches in Race to the Top Limit Educational Improvement,” Elaine Weiss

Living Below the Line: Economic Insecurity and America’s Families,” Wider Opportunities for Wome

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $23,492 for a family of four): 46.5 million people, 15 percent.

African-American poverty rate: 27.2 percent.

Hispanic poverty rate: 25.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.7 percent.

People with disabilities: 28 percent.

Poorest age group: children, 34.6 percent of all people in poverty are children.

Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 21.8 percent, including 38 percent of African-American children, 34 percent of Latino children, and 12 percent of white children.

Poverty rate among families with children headed by single mothers: 40.9 percent.

Gender gap: Women 31 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Deep poverty (less than $9,142 for a family of three): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, nearly 10 percent of all children

up from 12.6 million in 2000—increase 59%

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, approximately 1 in 3 Americans.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2011: 27 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2011: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Number of people 65 or older kept out of poverty by Social Security: 15.3 million

Quotes of the Week

“Children’s ability to survive, thrive and develop must not depend on the lottery of geography of birth. A child is a child and should be protected by a national floor of decency. We can and must end child poverty. It’s about values. It’s about priorities. It’s about who we are as Americans. The greatest threat to America’s national security comes from no foreign enemy but from our failure to invest in healthy and educated children.”
   —Marian Wright Edelman, president of Children’s Defense Fund.

“Following on the heels of multiple new reports on the tens of millions of Americans struggling with unemployment, inadequate wages and hunger, today’s vote by the House to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $40 billion is simply divorced from the reality of constituents’ lives. Members who voted for this bill have voted to increase hunger in their districts and around the country.”
   ——Jim Weill, president of Food Research and Action Center.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

Sasha Abramsky, author of The American Way of Poverty, discussed the new poverty data from a both historical and international perspective in his article America's Shameful Poverty Stats.

This Week in Poverty: John Lewis, Barack Obama and the New March


President Barack Obama speaks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, August 28, 2013. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

There is much to celebrate in marking the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, as Congressman John Lewis rightly noted on Wednesday.

“Sometime I hear people saying nothing has changed,” said Representative Lewis, “but for someone to grow up the way I grew up in the cotton fields of Alabama to now be serving in the United States Congress makes me want to tell them come and walk in my shoes. Come walk in the shoes of those who were attacked by police dogs, fire hoses and nightsticks, arrested and taken to jail.”

President Barack Obama agreed.

“To dismiss the magnitude of this progress—to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed—that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years,” he said.

But Congressman Lewis and President Obama also spoke eloquently about the substantial work that remains if we are to fulfill the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights activists who risked and sacrificed their lives in order to achieve our nation’s greatest advances.

“…The securing of civil rights, voting rights, the eradication of legalized discrimination—the very significance of these victories may have obscured a second goal of the march,” said President Obama. “For the men and women who gathered fifty years ago were not there in search of some abstract idea. They were there seeking jobs as well as justice.”

President Obama ticked off the marchers' call for “decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community”—adding that it is with regard to these economic goals that we “have fallen most short.”

Lewis was more explicit in decrying “the scars and stains of racism [that] still remain deeply embedded in American society.” Among the evidence: stop-and-frisk, the Trayvon Martin case, mass incarceration, immigration policy, poverty, employment inequities, and the renewed struggle for voting rights.

President Obama suggested that there is a solution at hand, and it lies in having “the courage” to “stand together”—that we must “reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling,” creating the kind of “coalition of conscience” that marched in DC fifty years ago.

“With that courage, we can feed the hungry, and house the homeless, and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise,” he said.

The President insisted—as he has many times—that “change does not come from Washington but to Washington…built on our willingness, we the people, to take on the mantle of citizenship.”

And yet.

Yesterday thousands of fast food workers in more than fifty cities struck for higher wages and the right to form a union. This growing movement has focused attention on the struggles of low-wage workers. If President Obama believes that it is in achieving the economic opportunity goals of the March on Washington where we have fallen most short—and indeed nearly 30 percent of workers earned poverty wages in 2011—shouldn’t he speak forcefully and explicitly in support of these workers’ current actions?

Along those same lines, nearly 2 million workers employed under federal contracts don’t earn a living wage—more than the number of low-wage workers at Walmart and McDonald's combined. By signing an executive order, President Obama could take an important step toward lifting these wages and ensuring that government contracts are awarded based on the quality of jobs created. His administration could also act, finally, to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to 2.5 million home care workers.

Yes, change comes from outside of Washington, but when it arrives on Capitol Hill, it requires courage and action from a president to see it through. Former President Bill Clinton noted that just three months after the 1963 march, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, “and we thank God that President Johnson came in and fought for [these] issues.”

We don’t need any more data on inequality and stagnant wages—we know the state of things and the right thing to do. The fact that Republicans make action impossible on too many common-sense measures like investing in infrastructure and job creation—that’s all the more reason President Obama needs to take action when he can, where he can.

“That’s where courage comes from, when we turn not from each other, or on each other, but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone,” said the president.

Now is his opportunity to show tens of millions of citizens that he is walking with them, and that together we will not turn back.

Take Action

Low pay is not okay: Sign an open letter to fast food chains

Tell Publix that it’s time to join the Fair Food Program!

Push back against junk food marketing to kids and ensure access to healthy foods at schools

Extend Labor Protections to Home Care Workers

Clips, Reports and other Resources

Responding to Long-Term Unemployment,” Gregory Acs

To Work With Dignity: The Unfinished March Toward a Decent Minimum Wage,” Sylvia Allegretto and Steven C. Pitts

On the Anniversary of the March on Washington, a New Fight for Voting Rights,” Ari Berman

Dr. King, Full Employment, and Some Provocative Wage Trends,” Jared Bernstein

Why Welfare is not a Sweet Deal in Ohio,” Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial board

Asset Limits and Financial Security: A Conversation on Twitter,” Hannah Emple

Low-wage Workers Are Older Than You Think,” David Cooper and Dan Essrow

An Unfulfilled Dream From the March on Washington: Labor Rights for Domestic Work,” Bryce Covert

Largest fast food strike ever today: 58 cities will be affected,” Josh Eidelson

Fast Food Workers: The Time is Now for Better Wages,” Equal Voice News

Fifty years after March on Washington, economic gap between blacks, whites persists,” Michael Fletcher

Anti-hunger advocates feed legislators policy advice, ideas,” Kate Giammarise

Where King Stood, The Standard President Obama Must Meet,” Reverend Jesse Jackson

The State of Working Connecticut 2013: Young People in the Workforce,” Edie Joseph and Orlando Rodriguez

Fast-Food Workers Expected to Protest Low Wages Nationwide,” Allison Kilkenny

DC’s Money Explosion Leaves Most Behind,” John Light

"Will California Lawmakers Repeal Law Requiring Poor Mothers to Prove Rape to Receive Aid for Newborn?" Nick Miller

Hard Work, Hard Lives,” Oxfam America

For Public Schools, Segregation Then, Segregation Since: Education and the Unfinished March,” Richard Rothstein

Ten Reasons Why Fast Food Workers Deserve a Raise,” Catherine Ruetschlin and Amy Traub

One Goal of the March on Washington Gets a Bit Closer,” Barbara Sard

CLASP Study of Infant and Toddler Child Care Policies,” Stephanie Schmit and Hannah Matthews

27 Weeks and Counting: Long-term Unemployment in America,” Urban Institute

Race and Poverty, Fifty Years After the March,” Vauhini Vara

This Labor Day, What’s the State of the Unions?” Michael Winship

WK Kellogg Foundation announces family engagement investment to… support early childhood educational success,” WK Kellogg Foundation

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent. (US Census Bureau 2012)

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 23 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 34 percent of Latino children.

Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, one in fifteen Americans, including more than 15 million women and children.

African-American poverty rate: 27.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.8 percent.

Ratio of black unemployment to white unemployment, 1963–2012: 2 to 2.5 times higher every year.

Jobless rate for blacks with some college education, 2012: 12.1 percent.

Jobless rate for white workers who have not finished high school, 2012: 11.4 percent.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than one in three Americans.

People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996 (pre-welfare reform): sixty-eight for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: twenty-seven for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2010: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Impact of public policy, 1964–1973: poverty rate fell by 43 percent.      

Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.

Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.

Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.

Percentage of US population that is African-American: 13 percent.

Percentage of homeless shelter population that is African-American: nearly 40 percent.

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Quotes of the Week

“We truly believe that in every human being, even those who…were violent toward us, there was a spark of the divine. And no person had the right to scar or destroy that spark. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence. He taught us to have the power to forgive, the capacity to be reconciled. He taught us to stand up, to speak up, to speak out, to find a way to get in the way.”
   —Congressman John Lewis

“They had seen loved ones beaten, and children fire-hosed, and they had every reason to lash out in anger, or resign themselves to a bitter fate. And yet they chose a different path. In the face of hatred, they prayed for their tormentors. In the face of violence, they stood up and sat in, with the moral force of nonviolence.”
   —President Barack Obama

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company and AlterNet. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

Taxpayers are cleaning up after America’s highest-paid CEOs' mess.

This Week in Poverty: '90 Percent of Workers Aren’t Getting Bupkis'


Occupy Chicago protesters gather in Chicago’s Grant Park on Wednesday, November 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

One of the obstacles to addressing poverty in this country is that too many people think of low-income people as different, flawed or less than, which often leads not only to a lack of empathy but to outright blame.

However, a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows just how much Americans across the economic spectrum have in common when it comes to stagnating wages.

“The bottom 99 percent may be a bit of an exaggeration but it’s not much,” said EPI president Lawrence Mishel, who co-authored A Decade of Flat Wages with economist Heidi Shierholz. “In an era when the only people moving ahead are those with an advanced degree—and that’s just 12 percent of the workforce—we shouldn’t partition off people at the low end as if they are totally distinct.”

The report demonstrates that during the recession and its aftermath, from 2007 to 2012, wages fell for the entire bottom 70 percent of workers despite productivity growth of 7.7 percent. But Mishel emphasizes that the cause of stagnating wages isn’t the recession.

“We need to be clear that these trends are really evident from 2002 to 2007, after the momentum of the strong wage growth of the late 1990s ended,” he said.

From 2000 to 2007, productivity increased by a robust 16 percent but a worker at the fiftieth percentile saw a wage growth of just 2.6 percent, a worker at the twentieth percentile saw a wage increase of 1 percent and the eightieth percentile saw a wage growth of 4.6 percent. Indeed, over the past ten years, wages were stagnant or declined for the bottom 70 percent.

“And even the wages of the worker at the eightieth percentile rose only 1.7 percent over the past ten years—that’s less than 0.2 percent annually, which in economic terms is zero, ” said Mishel. “Bascially, somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of workers in the last decade aren’t getting bupkis, as my grandmother used to say.”

Mishel and Shierholz examine President Obama’s July 24 speech regarding his “Better Bargain for the Middle Class” initiative and conclude that—while he correctly identified the “severed link” between increasing productivity and rising wages for workers—he “overlooked what it will take to solve the wage problem.” The president said, “With new American revolutions in energy, technology, manufacturing, and health care, we are actually poised to reverse the forces that have battered the middle class for so long, and rebuild an economy where everyone who works hard can get ahead.”

But Mishel and Shierholz note that there is nothing about innovation that guarantees either better jobs or broad-based wage growth.

“If you really want to get wages to grow broadly for everybody it means confronting power in the workplace,” said Mishel. “Confronting the fact that we have an economy geared toward creating huge corporate profits and rising stock prices, but not rising wages, and an economy constructed to give some people power and other people less power.”

Mishel also takes issue with the common assertion by President Obama and others that education is a big part of the solution to the wage problem.

“Whatever President Obama wants to do in schools or getting more people to go to college is not going to change the fact that wages for college graduates have stagnated for ten years,” said Mishel. “More than 25 percent of college graduates are in managerial or business occupations, and they haven’t had a wage increase in ten years. How can anyone think the answer to the wage problem is going to college?”

The report does credit President Obama with advocating for an increase in the minimum wage, and Mishel said that setting a higher wage floor is “a key part of creating momentum for getting better wages for everybody.”

“There is a spillover effect from raising the minimum wage, and those who are currently earning [just] above it will also benefit, as many employers will raise their wages too,” said Mishel.

Raising the minimum wage could also potentially have a significant effect on those living in or near poverty, although Mishel cautioned that we will still need “substantial work supports, and healthcare and retirement subsidies” to meet a decent standard of living. But a report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, for example, noted that a full-time job paying $12 to $15 an hour would lift most low-income families in Washington, DC, above 150 percent of poverty, which is about $27,000 annually for a family of three.

Mishel believes that the wage stagnation of all workers—from the nearly 30 percent who earn poverty wages through those above the eightieth percentile—“is all part of the same phenomena of employers having the upper hand, with very little protection for any group of workers.”

“There’s a multi-decade perspective that goes—first [corporations] came after the low-wage workers and middle-wage workers, and found out that wasn’t enough,” said Mishel. “So then they started going after white-collar workers. It’s only logical because if you’re really all about keeping down labor costs, ultimately a lot of the labor costs are white-collar workers—they make the most wages and there’s a whole lot of them.”

So how could we return to broad wage growth for all workers?

In addition to “aggressively increasing the minimum wage,” Mishel and Shierholz offer many recommendations, including: rapidly lowering unemployment through large-scale, ongoing public investment; restoring the collective bargaining power of low- and middle-wage workers; guestworker programs only being used to relieve documented labor shortages, and guestworkers having the same labor protections as resident workers; citizenship for undocumented workers who are currently vulnerable to exploitation; executive action so federal dollars aren’t spent employing people in jobs with poverty-level wages; and job quality and wage growth as the key priorities in economic policymaking.

“There is no economic law that says what’s going on needs to have happened or continue to happen,” said Mishel. “We’re going to create lots of wealth going forward. So it’s basically a policy and political question about whether the income that is produced is shared with the vast majority. Things could be different by actions that we can collectively pursue, including lifting people out of poverty.”

Clips, reports and other resources

CATO vs. Reality: 2013,” (.pdf) Athens County Department of Job and Family Services

5 Ways States Screw the Poor By Making Welfare Almost Impossible to Get,” Sheila Bapat

Time to March on Washington—Again,” Ari Berman

Rural America and the Affordable Care Act,” Center for Rural Affairs

Budget cuts ‘threaten’ justice for the poor; defenders furloughed, but not prosecutors,” Joe Davidson

American Retirement Savings Could Be Much Better,” Rowland Davis and David Madland

Workers ROC the Restaurant Industry,” Laura Flanders

Pennsylvania Republican’s poverty mission draws praise, skeptics,” Kate Giammarise

Think Tank Report Says Poor Americans Have It Too Good,” Joshua Holland

Action breeds inspiration,” Dee Ivy

Cuts to food aid could add to, not reduce, spending,” Yannet Lanthrop

Performance-Based Scholarships: What Have We Learned?” MDRC

The Government as a Low-Wage Employer,” New York Times (via Wider Opportunities for Women)

Black-white higher education gap larger today than 50 years ago,” Austin Nichols

Cato’s Fundamentally Flawed Analysis,” Sharon Parrott

Full Employment: Demand of the Unfinished March,” Isaiah Poole

A look at rapid rehousing and homelessness in DC,” Brigid Schulte

More than one in five kids would see a parent get a raise if the minimum wage were increased to $10.10,” Heidi Shierholz

It’s still about jobs fifty years after the March on Washington,” Margaret Simms

National Strike on August 29: LowPayIsNotOK.org

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent. (US Census Bureau 2012)

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 23 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 34 percent of Latino children.

Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, one in fifteen Americans, including more than 15 million women and children.

African-American poverty rate: 27.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.8 percent.

Ratio of black unemployment to white unemployment, 1963-2012: 2 to 2.5 times higher every year.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than one in three Americans.

People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996 (pre-welfare reform): sixty-eight for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: twenty-seven for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2010: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Impact of public policy, 1964–1973: poverty rate fell by 43 percent.      

Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.

Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.

Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.

Percentage of US population that is African-American: 13 percent.

Percentage of homeless shelter population that is African-American: nearly 40 percent.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company and AlterNet. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

Are Americans working too hard?

This Week in Poverty: The Expert Testimony of Tianna Gaines-Turner


An unidentified man, left, watches Allen Duncan, homeless and unemployed, sleep on a sidewalk, August 8, 2011, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Congressman Paul Ryan recently said that Republicans “don’t have a full-fledged” plan to fight poverty “because we need to do more listening to people who are in the trenches fighting poverty.”

He had the perfect opportunity to do just that at a recent House Budget Committee hearing, “War on Poverty: A Progress Report,” which he chaired. California Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee requested that Chairman Ryan allow Tianna Gaines-Turner—a mother and anti-poverty activist who has struggled with poverty and homelessness—to testify.

But Chairman Ryan balked.

“Ranking Member Van Hollen previously selected a witness to testify, and I won’t be able to make further additions to the witness list,” he wrote in a letter to Congresswoman Lee.

But the chairman could have made additions to the witness list had he truly wanted to—he simply chose not to. He did, however, permit Gaines-Turner to submit written testimony.

The only problem with that is that written testimony normally sees about as much light of day as that old T-shirt with all of the holes that you keep in the back of your bottom drawer—the one you might take out again some day to workout in provided that no one you know is within ten miles of you.

Had the chairman included Gaines-Turner at the hearing, this is what the American people would have learned:

Gaines-Turner and her husband both work and have three children—a 9-year-old son on the honor roll in fourth grade, and 5-year-old twins who are entering kindergarten. All three of her children suffer from epilepsy and moderate to severe asthma.

She earns $10 an hour working part-time for a childcare provider, and her husband earns $8 an hour working the deli counter at a grocery store. They aren’t offered health insurance through work, and earn too much to qualify for medical assistance. She, too, suffers from asthma and writes that she “currently can’t afford to get an inhaler.”

Their children are covered through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and “take life-saving medication every day.”

I worry about a day that might come where my children won’t be able to see a specialist because I can’t afford the co-pay.… Just like you want the best for your children I want the best for my children.

She describes a time when their oldest son was hospitalized with seizures. She took off work to be with him while her husband took off to care for the twins:

We were both unable to work, so we lost money that month, and ultimately had to make a choice—do we pay the rent or do we pay the light bill? Not to mention, how do we buy food…? Poverty is not just one issue that can be solved at one time. It’s not just an issue of jobs, or food, or housing, or utility assistance, and safety. It’s a people issue. And you can’t slice people up into issues. We are whole human beings.

Gaines-Turner discusses a familiar story—low-income families working “2-3 jobs to make ends meet,” with “wages so low and expenses so high” that sometimes work “may not be enough to even pay for the expense of childcare.” She also describes what some call the “cliff effect”—when government assistance (such as childcare) is taken away at the very moment someone begins to get ahead:

Just when someone is moving forward, the rug is ripped out from under them. This cycle pushes people deeper into poverty than they were before they took the job. This system needs to change in order for people like myself to forge a better future for myself and my children, one where I will never need to turn to public assistance again.

Like many of the Witnesses to Hunger I’ve had the opportunity to speak with, Gaines-Turner has particular expertise when it comes to food and nutrition issues. Witnesses to Hunger has chapters in four cities, including Gaines-Turner’s Philadelphia, where members use photography to document their experiences in poverty and learn to advocate for change on the local, state and federal levels.

She describes families who “put their children to bed before dinner because there was nothing to eat,” and “others who look at food menus delivered to their door so they can imagine ordering dinner and trick themselves into thinking that they’ve eaten, when actually they haven’t eaten in days.” She says that most nights she and her husband “make our dinners on what is left over on our children’s plates—we call it ‘kids plate surfing.’ We are able to get by thanks to SNAP (food stamps) but we are not eating well.” Gaines-Turner argues against proposals to cut SNAP and offers data and her own every day experiences to make her case:

The reality is that SNAP keeps us from starving. It is critical to the survival of the 50% of American children who will rely on the program at some point in their lives…. If my benefits are cut that means less meals and less nutritious foods. Cutting a person’s benefits by $10, or $15, or $20 might not seem like a lot to legislators, but it would cut meals out completely for families like mine…. I would still feed my kids, but it would be cheap Oodles of Noodles with lots of sodium…. They would not get fresh vegetables and fruit.

In contrast to what I heard from legislators during the Farm Bill debate, Gaines-Turner mentions the very relevant Institute of Medicine report demonstrating that “SNAP benefits do not last, because the monthly SNAP benefit is not enough for a healthy diet.”

My family, friends, and community could have told you that years ago. But people wouldn’t believe us because they would somehow think it was our fault. The Institute of Medicine shows that it’s not our fault. It is the system we have that needs improvement.

Gaines-Turner asserts that “the issues of medical care, housing, and food all go hand in hand.” She writes that she and her family have been homeless twice in recent years. When the twins were born, the first home they rented they chose simply because it was affordable. She said there were shootings and “children everywhere on this street.” There was also a “terrible rodent problem on the block—mice and cockroaches” which “are asthma triggers.” The family spent “too much money on an exterminator to no avail.” It wasn’t safe, so they used what little savings they had to live in a hotel or sleep on her mother-in-law’s couch.

During this time the family was actually approved—after waiting for ten years—for Section 8 housing. But they didn’t know it.

They tried to send the forms to our old address, but they had the spelling of the street wrong, so it never reached us. We didn’t know about this for months. And because we never responded, we were put back on the bottom of the wait list. All of the housing forms are still paper-based. It is a system that is still in the Stone Age.

Gaines-Turner writes that it took a call from a legislator’s office to correct the mistake, and that they “now live in a slightly safer neighborhood.”

Yet there are still abandoned homes on our street, shootouts in the bar down the street, and several homeless people who stay under the bridge in the nearby subway.

Gaines-Turner also responded directly to Congressman Ryan’s assertion in a recent interview that—as she paraphrased—“people need to get involved in their communities and help each other out, because [that] is much better than government benefits.”

If you actually came into our communities, actually invited us to talk with you…you would learn that government benefits are actually helping us stay healthy. You would also see that helping each other out is exactly what we do, every day to survive.

She describes how she and her neighbors recently received donated food and took it “to an abandoned house…and set up a place on the porch where people could come and get food…. If you were hungry, if you wanted food, we gave it to you.” She also checks in daily on an elderly neighbor who spends “her entire Social Security check [on] rent and utilities” and has little money left for food.

Moments like these are not unique. They happen every day throughout our country. And if our government officials and policymakers took the time to really look at and try to understand the communities they are supposed to represent, they would see that.

Before laying out her recommendations for fighting poverty, Gaines-Turner writes that she doesn’t want the proverbial “hand out” or “hand up.” What she and people in her community are looking for is a “hand in.”

Include us. If you want to find solutions to the issues that people face while living in poverty, people actually living in poverty need to be part of the discussion when decisions are being made. If you do not have an understanding of the struggles, how can you try to solve them…? We are the real experts. We know American policies first hand.

Gaines-Turner then offers six major recommendations: creating a bipartisan task force on poverty representing urban, rural, and suburban districts, and including people who live in poverty; investing in good jobs with good pay, so that working people are able to get off of public assistance; protecting and strengthening SNAP, which prevents more costly emergency room visits; investing in affordable housing; supporting access to healthcare and promoting asset building, so that families can “build their own safety net” and aren’t “kicked off [public assistance] for just having a little more than nothing.”

Gaines-Turner closes by saying that “millions of Americans just like me will work with you to help you with the answers to poverty that you seek.”

We invite you to come to Philadelphia to see where and how we live, to come to our grocery stores, childcare centers, and elder homes, and to visit with my neighbors. And then we can talk like equals, and join in the idea of putting poverty in the past, of investing in helping American people do and be their best. It’s the patriotic thing to do.

I hope the Committee takes Gaines-Turner up on her kind invitation. You can read her testimony in its entirety here.

Get Involved

The NYC Coalition Against Hunger has launched www.HungerVolunteer.org to provide you with tools to make the greatest impact in the fight to end hunger. The site provides volunteers and anti-hunger organizations with comprehensive information on how to reduce hunger in communities. There is also a tool to match your skills with particular volunteer opportunities. Join the movement to end hunger in America and find a volunteer opportunity near you today.

From the Coalition on Human Needs: During August recess, tell your representative and senators that it is harmful and wrong to continue or worsen cuts to Head Start and education, meals for seniors, rental housing vouchers and homelessness prevention, unemployment insurance, healthcare or other vital services. It is also wrong to cut our most basic anti-hunger, healthcare and Social Security safety net programs. E-mail Congress: No More Sequester and No SNAP Cuts.

From Catholic Charities USA: With comprehensive immigration reform still a very real possibility, this is a critical time for all seeking a more fair and just treatment of those who have come to our country seeking a better life. Call on your elected officials to pass bipartisan immigration reform that preserves and protects family unity and provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented persons living in the United States. Take Action: Use the August Recess to Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

The Half in Ten Campaign and the National Transitional Jobs Network are collecting stories that show how on-the-job training, transitional jobs, subsidized employment programs and youth employment programs all help low-income Americans get the training they need to succeed. Help make the case for investments in these jobs programs, share your story today.

MoveOn.org Petitions: Sequestration cuts to housing assistance programs will increase the number of homeless individuals and families, which will cost taxpayers more in the long run. Exempt Housing Assistance from Sequestration Cuts.

National Health Center Week 2013

Next week, August 11–17, is National Health Center Week (#NHCW2013). Community health centers are one of our nation’s most effective (and cost-effective) responses to poverty. They not only provide high-quality, affordable primary and preventative healthcare to over 22 million people in medically underserved communities but also work to address other factors that relate to health and well-being such as nutrition, unemployment and homelessness. Community health centers offer a proven model with a nearly fifty-year track record, save in long-term healthcare costs and need to be expanded.


Click to open [PDF]

Community Action Partnership’s 2013 Annual Convention (August 27–30, Marriott Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile Hotel) More than 1,000 human services professionals from Community Action Agencies will attend this year’s convention. It will focus on a variety of topics affecting low-income people, including food insecurity, affordable housing, Head Start and healthcare. Presenters include Katie Wright and Erik Stegman of Half in Ten, Deborah “Jedi Master” Weinstein of Coalition on Human Needs and Ellen Teller of Food Research and Action Center. There will also be screenings of American Winter and A Place at the Table. For more information, go to www.communityactionpartnership.com or follow@CAPartnership.

Watch: “We Can’t Survive on $7.25,” Lauren Feeney, BillMoyers.com

Clips and other resources (compiled with Samantha Lachman)

De Blasio Asks City to Address Its Inequalities,” Michael Barbaro

Bi-Partisan Partnership Helps to Advance Workforce Legislation in the Senate,” Kisha Bird

Statement of Robert Greenstein, President, on the house Republican Leadership’s New SNAP Proposal,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Round-Up: Everything You Need to Know About SNAP,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Should More States Require Racial Impact Statements for New Laws?” Maggie Clark (via Wider Opportunities for Women)

Rich White Guys Agreeing with Each Other Alert—Neil Cavuto,” The Colbert Report [VIDEO]

childcare unionization lawsuits dismissed by federal judge,” Paul Demko (via Wider Opportunities for Women)

Veto Decision Looms for DC Retail Living Wage Bill,” Josh Eidelson

Justices OK Release of Calif. Inmates Because of Crowding,” Paul Elias (via Equal Voice)

1.8 million across Pa. to feel cut in food aid,” Kate Giammarise

What is Smart about Budget Cuts that Push More People into Poverty?” Thomas Hungerford

Congress Misses an Opportunity to Reverse Sequester Cuts to Housing,” Greg Kaufmann

The Payday Playbook: How High Cost Lenders Fight to Stay Legal,” Paul Kiel

How DC Home Rule Will Help Low-Income Women Seeking Abortions,” Samantha Lachman

Evidence-based policy calls for expanding apprenticeships,” Robert Lerman

Reacting to the poor- negatively,” Alfred Lubrano

The racial wealth gap was wide in 1963 and it remains large today,” Signe-Mary McKernan and Caroline Ratcliffe

Young Immigrants, the ‘Dream 9,’ Test U.S. Policy,” Michael Mello (via Equal Voice)

Encore: The Faces of America’s Hungry,” Moyers & Company [VIDEO]

The Need for Pathways of Opportunity for Convicted Individuals,” Vivian Nixon and Dallas Pell

PSN 2013 Economic Security Roundup: Progress on Workers’ Rights as Conservatives Continue Anti-Worker Attacks,” Udochi Onwubiko

America’s Growing Caregiving Crisis Spans Generations,” Matt Perry

Punishing kids for adult failures,” Diane Ravitch

Senate Committee Advances Bill to Reauthorize Workforce and Adult Education Programs,” Neil Ridley

For Jobs and Freedom,” Thomas Sugrue

Repealing Sequestration Would Create 900,000 New Jobs in a Year,” Rebecca Thiess

The March on Washington 50 Years Later: Assessing the Dream,” Urban Institute

A debt-free college education,” Katrina vanden Heuvel

Vermont Students Tackle Poverty on South Dakota Reservation,” Vt. Bernie Buzz

Studies/Briefs (summaries by Aviva Stahl)

Student Debt and the Value of a College Degree,” by Hans Johnson, Marisol Cuellar Mejia, David Ezekiel and Betsey Zeiger. Public Policy Institute of California, June 2013. This report assesses the cost of college education and its long-term benefits in California. In the first decade of this century, the percent of incoming college freshmen in California taking out loans increased significantly as did the average loan size. As the authors of this report stress, this is “not because the institutions are becoming less efficient. In California, reductions in state support have been unprecedented, with total general-fund contributions to [public universities], and the community colleges falling by one-third between 2001–02 and 2011–12.” However, getting a college diploma is still a sensible investment for most students; college graduates are more likely to be employed with stable work and earn substantially more money. The report also outlines policy recommendations, like providing affordable loans and limiting loan eligibility at for-profit institutions. Be sure to check out the data on the how the economic return of college varies by major.

The Rise of Single Fathers,” by Gretchen Livingston. Pew Research Center, July 2 2013. Today, about one-third of children live in single-parent households, a marked increase from fifty years ago. This report examines the significant rise in the number of single-father households during this period—about nine-fold since 1960—compared to a four-fold increase in the number of single-mother households. Both single fathers and single mothers are younger, poorer, less educated and less likely to be white than their married counterparts. However, on other indicators single fathers fare much better than single mothers; for example, whereas about 43 percent of single mothers are living at or below poverty level, about 24 percent of single fathers endure the same hardship. Another interesting fact: black men are the most likely (29 percent) to head single-parent families, compared to 20 percent of Hispanic men and 14 percent of white men.

Suburban Poverty Traverses the Red/Blue Divide,” by Alan Berube, Elizabeth Kneebone and Jane Williams. Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, August 6 2013. In their recent book, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America, the authors explore the rapid rise of suburban poverty in the past decade and the federal government’s continuing focus on the urban poor. This briefing paper outlines their findings and delineates which congressional districts are most affected by suburban poverty. Here is one example: “Democrats still represent poorer suburbs than Republicans on average, but the gap has narrowed.” Congressional District 12 in North Carolina (D, Rep. Melvin Watts) had the biggest percentage change in the suburban poor population, and Congressional District 7 in Indiana (D, Andre Carson) had the biggest increase in the suburban poverty rate (all data from years 2000 and 2007–11). The authors suggest that the rapid increase in suburban poverty across both red and blue congressional districts might well facilitate bipartisan cooperation on the issue.

Separate & Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege,” by Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl. Georgetown Public Policy Institute, July 2013. The opening sentence of this report says it all: “White flight from the center city to better neighborhood schools in the leafy green suburbs has finally arrived on the nation’s ivy-covered college campuses.” The authors have done an admirable job quantifying the growing concentration of white students in the nation’s most well-funded, selective four-year institutions, while lower-income African-American and Hispanic students are increasingly crowded into less selective, low-tuition two- and four-year colleges. While racialized differences in preparation are important, they do not completely account for these diverging trends: “Whites, African Americans and Hispanics who score in the top half of the SAT/ACT test score distribution go to college at the same rate (90%). Yet whites have higher graduation rates and graduate school attendance because they attend more selective colleges.” The section on the unique negative impact of race on college and career opportunities is particularly interesting.

Vital Statistics

Impact of public policy, 2011: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Impact of public policy, 1964–1973: poverty rate fell by 43 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996 (pre-welfare reform): sixty-eight for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: twenty-seven for every 100 families living in poverty.

Average SNAP benefit, individual: $4.45 per day.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.      

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06.

US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent. (US Census Bureau 2012)

People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 23 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children, 37 percent of Native American children, 34 percent of Hispanic children, and 14 percent of both Asian and Pacific Islander and non-Hispanic white children.

Deep poverty (below half the poverty line, less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, one in fifteen Americans, including more than 15 million women and children. Up from 12.6 million in 2000, an increase of 59 percent.

African-American poverty rate: 27.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.8 percent.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than one in three Americans.

Children below twice the poverty level: 45 percent, 32.7 million children.

People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.

Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.

Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.

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Quote of the Week

“Include us. If you want to find solutions to the issues that people face while living in poverty, people actually living in poverty need to be part of the discussion when decisions are being made. If you do not have an understanding of the struggles, how can you try to solve them…? We are the real experts. We know American policies first hand.”
   —Tianna Gaines-Turner, written testimony to House Budget Committee.

“Clips and other resources” compiled with Samantha Lachman. “Studies/Briefs” summaries written by Aviva Stahl.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company and AlterNet. I’m taking off next week so will next post this blog on August 23. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

How did the “opt-out revolution” change men?

Congress Misses an Opportunity to Reverse Sequester Cuts to Housing


David Row, second from left, helps his 8-year-old son learn to ride a bicycle as a homeless man reads his book outside a homeless shelter in Los Angeles, Wednesday, September 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Cross-posted from my column on the impact of sequestration at BillMoyers.com.

In April, Doug Rice, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, warned that sequestration would lead to the loss of rental assistance for up to 140,000 low-income families.

Last week, he held out a glimmer of hope that a bipartisan Senate appropriations bill would reverse those cuts.

According to Rice, the Senate transportation, housing and urban development (THUD) bill would restore funding for 99 percent of the Section 8 rental assistance vouchers in use prior to sequestration. Such legislation would be significant to say the least considering the state of affordable housing in America even prior to sequestration.

“Before sequestration, the number of families that were paying unaffordable housing costs had been rising dramatically,” said Rice. “And we’ve seen an uptick in families with kids who are experiencing homelessness since the recession.”

Only one in four eligible households receives a voucher or some other form of federal rental assistance. The average household income is just $12,500—well below the poverty line of about $18,000 for a family of three.

Rice said that sequestration is especially hitting families “who are paying 60, 70, 80 percent of their income on housing costs.”

“These are typically families that have incomes below the poverty line—they tend to be seniors, people with disabilities and working families with kids,” said Rice. “It makes it very difficult for them to buy other things they need like food and transportation to get to work, and prescription drugs. And they are at greater risk of falling behind on their rent, getting evicted and becoming homeless.”

The House THUD bill would increase voucher funding compared to 2013, but it still would lock in voucher eliminations for 100,000 low-income families rather than restoring that funding as proposed in the Senate bill. Further, it would make deep cuts to the capital repairs program for public housing, funding it at $1.5 billion—several hundred million dollars less than the post-sequestration level. While Section 8 vouchers represent the nation’s largest rental assistance program, public housing still helps more than 1 million low-income families.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) concluded that there are approximately $26 billion in existing public housing repair needs—heating and cooling systems that need to be replaced, leaking roofs that need to be fixed, security systems that need repair, for example. The House proposal of $1.5 billion is less than half the amount local housing agencies need simply to address new capital repairs that accrue every year. The result would be an increase in the backlog of needed work. (The Senate would fund capital repairs at $2 billion, also inadequate, but according to Rice comparable to funding levels in recent years.)

“For low-income families, this means the quality of the housing that they live in will continue to deteriorate over time, and it can also lead to more costly repairs down the road so it’s not cost-effective,” said Rice. “Over the longer term, as buildings continue to deteriorate, it becomes prohibitive to even preserve them, so we’ll see the loss of more units.”

Over the past fifteen to twenty years the United States has lost roughly 250,000 units of public housing.

“That would continue and accelerate under the House proposed bill,” said Rice.

So that’s what the bills would have done, and here is what happened: nothing. The Senate had a strong bipartisan bill when Senator Mitch McConnell suddenly torpedoed it in the eleventh hour, possibly due to his tough primary fight, according to New York Times columnist Gail Collins. It failed to receive the necessary sixty votes for cloture and so it didn’t even get a vote.

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And the House did what the House is doing a lot of these days—devolved into chaos as Republicans couldn’t muster enough votes to support their own bill. They pulled it from the floor.

“It raises serious questions about whether House Republicans will be able to support a budget agreement of any kind in coming months,” said Rice. “They just walked away from a budget plan written entirely to their own terms. Will they be able to join a broader agreement on 2014 appropriations or the debt limit this fall?”

And while the Republicans continue to play games, people who are already suffering the most pay the price.

“The perception out there is that sequestration is not having much of an impact,” said Rice. “But for low-income families in need of housing assistance that’s just not true.”

Has Michigan Governor Rick Snyder disenfranchised Detroit voters?

This Week in Poverty: Chairman Ryan and the Real World


In this April 13, 2011 photo, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Yesterday, at a House Budget Committee hearing entitled “War on Poverty: A Progress Report,” Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee used her allotted time to try to discredit the sole Democratic witness, Sister Simone Campbell. Sister Simone is the executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, but she is more widely known as the leader of the Nuns on the Bus.

“You said you come to this hearing today as a Catholic sister living under Christian tradition,” said Representative Blackburn. “Would it be fair for this Committee to question the validity of your testimony, knowing that the Vatican has reprimanded the Leadership Conference on the Women Religious and singled out your organization for only promoting issues of social justice, and being silent on the right to life from conception to natural death?”

Sister Simone replied that the exchange with the Vatican was about “theological struggles, not about our engagement in political activity, and our organization works on economic issues.”

Republican Chairman Paul Ryan seemingly admonished Representative Blackburn, albeit indirectly, telling Sister Simone, “Speaking as a Catholic who usually disagrees with you on some of these issues, I think you are very well within Catholic social teachings to give the testimony that you gave here today.”

It was one of many bizarre moments during a hearing that Washington Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott described perfectly to his Republican colleagues when he said, “This hearing is surreal.… You are not living in the real world.”

Indeed, one of the three Republican witnesses—University of Maryland professor Doug Besharov, director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Social and Individual Responsibility Project—was there to discuss incentives to help people get out of poverty. So it was surprising that he was unsure what the current federal minimum wage pays.

“The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, correct?” said New York Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, trying to pivot to a discussion about good jobs as the best anti-poverty program.

“Uh, it could be,” said Besharov. “I—I don’t know the exact number. It’s around there.”

Texas Republican Congressman Roger Williams described himself as “a job creator” who has owned and operated his family car business for forty-two years.

“Don’t you think a lot of this debate is the fact we’ve lost our family values? We’ve got single parents and so forth and we need to get back to that?” Williams asked Sister Simone.

“I practiced family law for eighteen years in Oakland, California. I found with low-income families that the biggest cause of family break up was economic stressors,” said Sister Simone. “So I think the most important piece we could do to support families would be to raise the minimum wage.”

“Or you could do away with the minimum wage,” said Williams.

Wisconsin Republican Congressman Reid Ribble described his “own religious upbringing”—his father was a minister; three of his brothers and one son are all pastors.

“Whoa,” said Sister Simone, impressed.

“Christianity is all about serving the poor,” Representative Ribble told her. “What is the church doing wrong that it had to come to the government to get so much funding?”

Sister Simone said the need for government assistance is more about the “dimension of the issue.” She noted a Bread for the World study that calculated the funds religious institutions would have had to raise if the food stamp cuts proposed in last year’s House Republican budget had been implemented. She said “every church, synagogue, mosque and house of worship in the United States” would have needed to raise $50,000 in additional monies—every year, for ten years.

“We have a limitation in our capacity to do that,” said Sister Simone.

“Your capacity is the same as our capacity,” Representative Ribble argued.

These head-scratching moments aside, I found the entire frame of the hearing as laid out by Chairman Ryan to be seriously flawed. Ostensibly, it was to examine the most effective ways to fight poverty as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the War on Poverty next year.

“Government focuses too much on inputs,” said Chairman Ryan. “We focus on how much money we spend. Instead, we should focus on results.”

It’s a claim he has made consistently since last year. But it’s Representative Ryan and his conservative colleagues who are constantly bemoaning the amount of money spent on anti-poverty programs—money we “confiscate” from taxpayers, said Indiana Republican Congressman Todd Rokita—while dismissing the data that show how effective these programs can be.

Indeed there are many poverty scholars who have found positive outcomes in both the short- and long-term for children and adults who participate in anti-poverty programs. Research from Arloc Sherman (here, here, here and here), Hilary Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Greg Duncan and Katherine Magnuson and organizations like Children’s HealthWatch—to name just a few—reveal that these programs contribute to improved health, higher achievement and greater financial security, for example.

But if Chairman Ryan wanted to hear more about results, Sister Simone certainly obliged.

“In 2011, government benefits lifted a total of 40 million people out of poverty,” she testified. “While Social Security has the largest impact of any single program, means-tested programs such as SNAP, SSI and the EITC lifted almost 20 million Americans, including 8 ½ million children, out of poverty.”

She also noted that “poor babies in the 1960s and 1970s who were fortunate enough to live in counties served by the Food Stamp Program…were healthier as adults and were more likely to finish high school” than poor babies who lived in counties that didn’t yet have the program. (They also scored higher on a “self-sufficiency” index that included adult outcomes like earnings, income and decreases in welfare participation.)

And yet the House Republican proposal to cut $20.5 billion from SNAP (food stamps) over ten years would lead to approximately 5 million people being eliminated from the program, and would increase federal and state health care costs by $15 billion for diabetes alone over ten years. Further, Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland noted that the Republican House budget would cut “$810 billion from base Medicaid funding” and that “Medicaid [would] be cut by one-third in 2023.”

“It simply adds insult to injury—and tortures the English language—to pretend that deep cuts to food and medical assistance programs will somehow ‘strengthen’ that safety net and help people in poverty,” said Representative Van Hollen.

The star witness for the Republicans was Eloise Anderson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. Anderson’s main message was that she saw time limits and the work requirement as the keys to the “success” of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program created by welfare reform in 1996. She touted her own data from Wisconsin—that “90 percent of the people left the program—and have continued to stay off.” She urged Congress to implement work requirements and time limits in all anti-poverty programs.

But the twists in the hearing just kept coming. Wisconsin Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Moore revealed that she was on welfare in 1985 and worked for the Department of Employment Relations where she was trained by Secretary Anderson.

“She was brilliant, and of course, that was contagious, I’m brilliant now,” said Representative Moore.

But Representative Moore took issue with Secretary Anderson’s data and her description of TANF as a success in Wisconsin.

“Yes, the rolls did fall by 93 percent, because they just threw people off,” said Moore. “Many of the [people who left] did not find jobs. I tried to require that they do data and statistics—which they didn’t want to do—because they didn’t want to confirm that.”

Moore also noted that because the creation of TANF in 1996 made cash assistance much harder to obtain, the number of people living on $2 a day or less—the definition of poverty in developing nations, according to the World Bank—has doubled in the United States.

As the hearing came to a close, Chairman Ryan said, “I think you can tell that the rhetoric is still mired in the status quo.… Hopefully we can get past the status quo, past the rhetoric, and collectively focus on evidence-based solutions.”

But the fact is that there was plenty of evidence offered during the hearing about what works. The chairman just chooses to ignore it.

As Sister Simone testified, “We won’t address [poverty] by ignoring the successes of today’s safety net, but neither is today’s safety net adequate—we need a new commitment to reduce poverty and promote opportunity.”

Get Involved

Immigration Reform: House Republican leadership is leaving for a five-week vacation without introducing an immigration reform bill that provides a pathway to citizenship. Tell your Representative to support reform now.

Wendy’s Week of Action, August 3–11: Of the five largest fast food corporations in the country—McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Taco Bell and Wendy’s—Wendy’s stands alone as the one that has refused to join the Coalition of Immokalee Worker’s Fair Food Program and respect the rights and dignity of farmworkers in its supply chain. Get involved in the Week of Action here.

Stand with Richmond, California: The City of Richmond has demanded that the big banks sell underwater mortgages to the city so that it can do principal reductions and keep homeowners in their homes. The city is willing to use eminent domain to purchase the mortgages, if necessary. In 2012, Richmond lost $264 million to the foreclosure crisis, and 46 percent of all residential mortgages are still underwater. Tell Wall Street to sell the loans to Richmond so homeowners can remain in their homes.

Older Americans Act (OAA) Funding & Reauthorization: The OAA provides funding for critical senior services such as meals, transportation and caregiver support. It is overdue for reauthorization and has also taken a hit from sequester. Tell your senators and congressman to protect and strengthen the OAA.

Opportunity: Help for Homeless Grant Program

Apartments.com is launching a new Help for Homeless Grant Program to support not-for-profit homeless service providers in the United States. The grant program will support the programmatic or operational expenses of organizations directly benefiting the homeless population, with grants ranging from $500 to $10,000 per organization (totaling up to $100,000). Information, including grant criteria, eligibility requirements and application instructions, can be found at www.apartments.com/grants.

Clips and other resources (compiled with Samantha Lachman)

Fast Food, Low Pay,” Mark Bittman

“‘Nun on the Bus’ Shows Congress How the Safety Net Improves Lives”, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

SNAP Benefits Will Be Cut for All Participants in November 2013,” Stacy Dean and Dottie Rosenbaum

We Can’t Survive on $7.25,” Lauren Feeney

Social Security is the Most Effective Anti-Poverty Program in the U.S., in One Chart,”

Southern Leaders Opt to Exclude 2.7M From Health Care,” Keith Griffith

Race: Beyond Black and White,” Melissa Harris-Perry (VIDEO)

Emergency Summit on Urban Violence,” Melissa Harris-Perry (VIDEO)

From #Nerdland to Congress?” Greg Kaufmann

Why Do the People Raising Our Children Earn Poverty Wages?” E. Tammy Kim

There’s No Housing Recovery for the Poor,” Joel Kotkin

Cumberland County housing agency feeling sequester pinch,” Bench Laudermilch

Upward Mobility Is No Less Common in ‘Red’ America,” David Leonhardt

House Plan on Food Stamps Would Cut 5 Million From Program,” Ron Nixon

Amid bankruptcy, Detroit has a bigger problem,” Irwin Redlener

Teen Moms Get ‘No Stigma, No Shame’ Pep Talk,” Alizah Salario

The McPoverty Calculator,” Sam Schlinkert and Filipa Ioannou

Advocates say poor Ohioans suffering under welfare-to-work changes,” Harlan Spector

SNAP Enrollment Remains High Because the Job Market Remains Weak,” Chad Stone, Jared Bernstein, Arloc Sherman, Dottie Rosenbaum

GOP budget’s war on the poor,” Representative Chris Van Hollen and Representative Barbara Lee

Studies/Briefs (summaries by Aviva Stahl)

Defining diaper need and its impact on child health, ” by Megan V. Smith, DrPH, MPH; Anna Kruse, MPH; Alison Weir, PhD, JD; and Joanne Goldblum, MSW. Pediatrics, 132(2), July 29, 2013.  This peer-reviewed study, published in Pediatrics, is the first to quantify diaper need and explore the potential psychosocial impact of diaper need on mothers. Of the 877 African-American and Hispanic low-income mothers polled, about 30 percent reported having insufficient access to diapers. Almost 8 percent of women reported stretching diapers when they were in short supply, which is known to cause diaper rashes and urinary tract infections. The study also found that diaper need “was an even stronger predictor of [parent] mental health than food insecurity”; women without an adequate supply of diapers were much more likely to have poor or uncontrolled mental health issues (60.7 percent versus 39.4 percent). Diaper need thus has short-term and long-term consequences for infants, as high levels of stress or depression among parents can put children at greater risk of social, emotional and behavioral problems.

Wanted: Accurate FBI Background Checks for Employment, ” by Madeline Neighly and Maurice Emsellem. The National Employment Law Project, 2013. Since 9/11, FBI background checks for employment have increased six-fold, with 17 million checks performed in 2012. Yet many of these background checks rely on inaccurate or incomplete information. The National Employment Law Project estimates that 1.8 million workers are subject to background checks with faulty information, potentially prejudicing the job searches of 600,000 workers without due cause. Unsurprisingly, people of color are particularly burdened by these faulty checks due to the high rate at which people of color are arrested and the disproportionate number of those arrests that never lead to conviction; the study found that in one program, African Americans “were more than four times as likely as whites to appeal an inaccurate FBI record.” The report calls for the FBI to track down missing information and release more accurate and complete records, as is already required for firearm background checks.

Nonstandard Work Schedules and the Well-being of Low Income Families,” by Maria E. Enchautegui. The Urban Institute, Paper 26, July 31, 2013.  This report examines which Americans are most likely to work nonstandard schedules (6 pm–6 am) and considers possible implications for family life. It is the poorest and most insecure workers—such as security guards, restaurant staff, laborers, nurses and home aids—who work the most nonstandard hours; according to the report, “forty percent of full-time workers toiling outside the traditional daytime weekly schedule bring home paychecks that put them in the lowest wage quartile.” African Americans, women, the foreign-born and those without a college degree are the most likely to stay in nonstandard work, and as a result spend less time with their children or maintain a household routine. Paid sick days and vacation laws, flexible scheduling and better childcare and transport options would provide nonstandard workers with a better quality of life while allowing them to maintain their jobs.

Various supports for low-income families reduce poverty and have long-term positive effects on families and children,” by Arloc Sherman, Danilo Trisi and Sharon Parrott. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 2013. Despite ongoing budget cuts, public programs still play an important role in lifting people out of poverty. This report examines the impact of federal assistance programs, including Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the Child Tax Credit, SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid and others, on reducing hardship and facilitating access to low-cost health care. They found that in 2011, public programs lifted 40 million people out of poverty, including 9 million children. The state safety net still plays an important role, but it is shrinking. According to the report, “between 1984 and 2004, the average value of government assistance, including non-cash benefits, to people with virtually no other income plummeted, falling by 38 percent (after adjusting for inflation) for single parents and by 41 percent by families experiencing homelessness.” The shift to safety net programs that “promote work” is also examined in detail by the authors.

States at Work: A Progressive State Agenda to Give Millions of Americans a Pathway to the Middle Class,” by Karla Walter, Tom Hucker and David Madland with Nick Bunker and David Sanchez. Center for American Progress Action Fund, March 2013. As the authors of this report point out, the economy is not serving most Americans: unemployment has been at a sustained high, typical household income has stagnated and “the likelihood that a child born poor will rise into the middle class has declined significantly over recent decades.” This report highlights the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s “best thinking” on policies that will help to protect and strengthen the middle class—including over 100 specific reforms—and also describes the best practices already in place in particular states. The report is split into eight broad categories: “improving job quality,” “ensuring civil rights are respected,” “reforming the tax code,” “stabilizing the house market,” “ensuring affordable rental housing,” “ensuring affordable quality health care for all,” “rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure” and “strengthening local communities.”

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Vital Statistics

Impact of public policy, 2011: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Impact of public policy, 1964–1973: poverty rate fell by 43 percent.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996 (pre-welfare reform): sixty-eight for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: twenty-seven for every 100 families living in poverty.

Average SNAP benefit, individual: $4.45 per day.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.  

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06.

US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent. (US Census Bureau 2012)

People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 23 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children, 37 percent of American Indian children, 34 percent of Hispanic children and 14 percent of both Asian and Pacific Islander and non-Hispanic White children.

Deep poverty (below half the poverty line, less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, one in fifteen Americans, including more than 15 million women and children. Up from 12.6 million in 2000, an increase of 59 percent.

African-American poverty rate: 27.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.8 percent.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than one in three Americans.

Children below twice the poverty level: 45 percent, 32.7 million children.

People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.

Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.

Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.

Quote of the Week

“Have more people who are going through these programs at the table. Not after both [chambers] have already voted. Invite us to the table, have us sit there, and you hear my story, and you understand. Walk in my shoes. It’s easy for people to sit back and judge me, without even asking me.”
   —Tianna Gaines-Turner, plea to Congress, on Melissa Harris-Perry

“Clips and other resources” compiled with Samantha Lachman. “Studies/Briefs” summaries written by Aviva Stahl.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company and AlterNet. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

Obama just announced a new plan to create jobs, but what does his bargain reveal about inequality in America?

It's Time for 'Poverty in the Trenches' Hearings


House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Congressman Paul Ryan said that the Republicans “don’t have a full-fledged” plan to fight poverty “because we need to do more listening to people who are in the trenches fighting poverty.”

This is the first time I’ve ever written these words: I completely agree with Congressman Ryan.

President Obama said he is focused on “ladders of opportunity” for those “still suffering poverty wages” or “struggling to get full-time work.” He said he will lay out his ideas for strengthening access to the middle class, including “reducing poverty.”

“Some of the ideas I offer will be new. Some will require Congress. Some I will pursue on my own,” said President Obama.

I respectfully submit that to push an aggressive agenda to reduce poverty—and especially to create the kind of popular pressure needed for Congress to support it—a whole lot of work needs to be done to bust the myths and stereotypes that surround the issue.

One of the best ways to do that? Hear directly from people “in the trenches fighting poverty”—many of whom are living in poverty themselves.

So here is my proposal: a series of hearings—not a one-off, or a summit—featuring people who know poverty firsthand—those living in it, and those who are on the ground fighting it.

Both parties should be allowed an equal number of witnesses—none of this “majority gets three witnesses, minority gets one witness” silliness. Let’s have an open, fair and respectful debate—the kind Americans are always telling Congress that they want to hear.

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I’m confident that the facts are on the side of an aggressive and progressive anti-poverty agenda—a strong minimum wage, affordable childcare, access to adequate food, nutrition and healthcare, for example—and that we will see that many of our anti-poverty programs are working. I’m also confident that when we hear directly from people in poverty, the stereotypes about fraud, dependence and laziness won’t hold up.

I don’t know if the correct forum is the Senate, House or Executive office—maybe all three, in a coordinated fashion—hearings in Congress, and forums led by the White House. But it’s definitely time to have this conversation.

“Everybody cares that we get people out of poverty,” said Congressman Ryan.

Great, now everybody can prove it. Open and fair hearings—let’s have them.

I’ll be covering Chairman Ryan’s hearing today, “The War on Poverty: A Progress Report.” Will write about it in This Week in Poverty on Friday.

Congress is playing hunger games with American families. What do leaders in the fight against hunger and poverty think about it?

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