Recently, Congresswoman Barbara Lee said to me, “This is a moment when people are suffering. They are one paycheck — if they have a paycheck — away from poverty.”
That’s why Lee has maintained a laser-like focus on addressing poverty. One in eight Americans — approximately 37 million people — now live below the federal poverty line of $19,971 for a family of four. (A woefully inadequate measure that is 42 years old and fails to account for basic necessities.) That’s 4.9 million more people than in 2000 and the poverty rate for children is the highest of all age groups. Nearly 60 million people live just above the poverty line. Using the British standard of measurement, approximately 30 percent of Americans — and 40 percent of American children — are living in poverty.
In January, Lee introduced House Concurrent Resolution 198 to get her colleagues on record saying that the US should set a national goal of cutting poverty in half over the next 10 years. The resolution stated that “policy initiatives addressing poverty have not kept pace with the needs of millions of Americans” and that “the United States has a moral responsibility to meet the needs of those persons, groups, and communities that are impoverished, disadvantaged or otherwise in poverty.”
“That resolution passed on a bipartisan basis,” Lee told me. “No opposition. And so we’re looking now at the specific recommendations of many groups that have come together to talk about what makes sense to begin to reduce and eliminate poverty. And so, that’s the mission of the Out of Poverty Caucus which I co-chair. And it’s moving. The Speaker has taken note, the Leadership has taken note.”
Lee said that a real test of Democratic priorities occurred in the budget debate earlier this month. The Congressional Progressive Caucus(CPC), which she co-chairs along with Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, introduced its Progressive Caucus Budget which included an Anti-Poverty and Opportunity Initiative. The CPC budget spent $468.3 billion on defense, $68.7 billion less than President Bush’s request of World War II-proportions.