Reinvest in America: Reducing Poverty With Jobs and Government Programs

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released its latest statistics on poverty — and there’s both good news and bad.

The good news is that the poverty rate of 12.7 percent for 2016 has declined over the past two years, from 14.8 percent in 2014 and 13.5 percent from 2015. There are 6 million less poor people in 2016 than 2014. The poverty rate for children is a scandalous 18 percent with 13.3 million children living in poverty, but here too that represents a decrease from 21.1 percent in 2014, a decline of some 2.3 million. Real Median Income for black Americans is up 5.7 percent and for Hispanics its up 4.3 percent. Why is all this happening?

The most obvious reason is a reduction of the unemployment rate to the present 4.4 percent with 2.2 million more people working full time since 2015. While wages have not increased as much as the low unemployment numbers would suggest, still the lowest 20 percent of households have had an increase in incomes of 9 percent.

The bad news is that this new “good news” poverty rate is still 1.8 percent higher than in 2000, and there is a chasm growing between the income of blacks and Hispanics with whites. A black man in America makes 71 cents on the dollar that a white man makes, and it is 66 cents for a Hispanic man. A black woman makes 79 cents on the dollar that a white woman makes. For Hispanic women, the ratio is 69 cents on the dollar.

And the bad news gets even worse if we look at wealth. The Institute for Policy Studies reports that between 1983 and 2013 median black household wealth declined 75 percent from $6,800 to $1,700, and Hispanic wealth declined 50 percent, from $4,000 to $2,000. At the same time, white households increased 14 percent, from $102,000 to $116,000

So, have we been spinning our wheels for the last 17 years?  Of course, the Great Recession is to blame in part for our lack of ability to get back to pre-2000 levels, but ongoing, structural racism is the another clear culprit. So, how should we proceed to reduce poverty in America on an ongoing basis, especially for people of color?

  • The first step is creating millions of jobs at good wages by investing in our long neglected infrastructure.  The president says it is a priority, and both parties in Congress agree. What is missing is the political will to fund it and to provide the necessary oversight to make sure that we the people, not a few, will profit from it in the form of repaired bridges, tunnels, airports, roads, internet for all, school repairs, local food and farm economies, clean energy sources and well- paying jobs. Let’s invest, but be careful not to become locked into a bad deal by the dealer.
  • Raising the minimum federal wage over the next few years to $15 an hour would move more than a million workers and their families out of poverty, especially people of color.
  • Maintaining President Obama’s rule for providing time and a half pay for the 12.5 million workers who work more than 40 hours and who earn more than $23,060 and less than $47,476.
  • Raising wages for the millions of food workers and home health care workers who are grossly underpaid and are often not covered by wage or labor laws.
  • Saving and expanding Medicaid for people who are poor or near poor and making vital life- saving medicines affordable would save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in the long term and allow people to regain their health and return to work.
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit keep almost 10 million people out of poverty. They should be expanded to cover more people.
  • Allow people 60 and older to be covered by Medicare. It would save lives and help keep older workers in their jobs longer.
  • Extend free school meals to all children in every school as New York City just did and expand the after school snack programs.
  • Summer is the time when children are hungriest. Add money on the SNAP card for all poor children during the summer vacation. It has proven to reduce hunger by more than 30 percent. It was in President Obama’s budget for $2 billion over ten years.
  • Make community college free to all who qualify and grow paid intern programs that lead to real well -paying jobs.
  • Invest in free or low cost child care for those families who can’t afford to pay, especially for single parents.  Seek out the best models from around the country.
  • Fund the best package of family support programs for new parents to enhance the health of both parents and children. There are numerous model programs that make a difference in the lives of infants, children and their parents at an early age. These programs have proven to be a good investment in American families.
  • Homelessness and expensive or poor quality housing are two of the major problems in our society. There are hundreds of examples of local housing efforts that are successful and cost effective. HUD — Department of Housing and Urban Development — and state/city housing authorities must identify and fund the best programs that are already working and adapt them to local needs.

Poverty and its dangerous companions of hunger and homelessness can be dramatically reduced through a mixture of jobs with good salaries and benefits, effective federal, state and local poverty programs and a focus on those who need a step-up. Economic growth and fairness will not end racism in our country, but it will make a serious dent in the various dimensions of structural racism which keep millions of people down.

But all these policy items remain distant, in words only, unless we citizens decide to reinvest in America by joining one or more of the best community-based national, state and/or local grassroots organizations which are working to address the root causes of poverty. The politicians will not do it on their own — certainly not the ones in power now.

Change happens when we wake up and join with our fellow citizens who also want to work for a just society for all. There is a powerful movement of movements happening in our country to bring prosperity and justice to all Americans, especially those who have suffered the most from the scourges of racism and sexism. Be a part of the solution by acting on hope, not part of the problem through indifference or hopelessness.

This post originally appeared on WhyHunger.

Photo Credit: USDA/Flickr

60 comments

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill7 days ago

Most of these suggestions would blow up the deficit! We have way too much debt as it it! What would really help the poor is more and much better jobs!

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson19 days ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson19 days ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson19 days ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson19 days ago

ty

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Clare O
Clare Oabout a month ago

If blacks and Hispanics earn less, they must stop accepting the lowest paid jobs. Enforce a standard minimum wage with benefits and social welfare contributions paid by the employer. Jail an employer who hires illegally. If a day's field work or ironing clothes or washing cars pays seventy dollars upwards plus healthcare and state pension, all kinds of folks will want to do the work. If they earn better, the workers can afford to work fewer jobs so there is more work to go around. They can buy better food and goods. They don't need to draw the stopgap social payments that subsidise Walmart.

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Aaron F
Past Member about a month ago

Americans would have to accept the fact that minimum wage, unskilled laborers are part of the work force...

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Kimberly W
Kimberly Wallace1 months ago

Thanks!

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Mike R
Mike R1 months ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R1 months ago

Thanks

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