Cut Poverty In America In Half? New Report Shows How, Tells Why

A new report from the Half in Ten campaign takes on one of the biggest challenges of our time — how to significantly reduce poverty in America.

The challenge it addresses is actually even bigger. It envisions not merely lifting many millions of people above the poverty line, but expanding opportunity so as to grow a stronger middle class.

To this end, the report establishes three priorities for the next 10 years:

  • Create more good jobs, i.e., jobs that pay “at least a moderate income” and provide paid time off, plus health care and retirement benefits
  • Strengthen families and communities so that “all families … can raise their children in safe, healthful environments”
  • Promote family economic security by strengthening both work supports and the safety net for people who aren’t employed and also by facilitating asset building

Separate chapters for each of these, with trend analyses, recommended strategies and many, many data points. A real gold mine for advocates here.

Groundbreaking Indicators

What’s truly groundbreaking are the indicators linked to the goals. Two sets of these.

The first are benchmarks for measuring progress in poverty reduction. They include data from both the Census Bureau’s official poverty measure and the much better “supplemental measure” it’s about to issue.

Also included are some more targeted indicators from the Census reports. These will give us two perspectives on public policies.

On the one hand, we’ll see how many people were kept out of poverty by the Earned Income Tax Credit and some key public benefits.

On the other hand, we’ll see how many people fell below the poverty line due to cost burdens public policies could more effectively address, e.g., health care and child care costs.

Rounding out these indicators is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s overall food insecurity figure. This broadens the set from poverty per se to one of the major hardships it commonly imposes.

The second set of indicators are for the three top-level priorities. A total of 17 of these — eight for jobs, four for families and five for economic security.

At least some of them will be tracked not only nationwide, but for each state and the District of Columbia. An interactive map gives us baseline state-level priority indicators, plus two state-level indicators from the priority/hardship set.

In short, we’ve got an enormously ambitious agenda here — not only what’s amply laid out in the report itself, but in the commitment to tracking.

The report starts the clock, with indicators from 2010.

Going forward, we’ll have annual figures that show progress, if any, toward half as much poverty in 2020 — 23.1 million fewer Americans so poor as to fall below the poverty line. Also progress along the pathway to shared prosperity that’s mapped by the strategies.

Political Will

The leaders of the three nonprofits that founded Half in Ten say the goal is achievable. We have the knowledge and the resources — deficit hysterics notwithstanding.

We know from past experience that sensible strategies, backed by strong leadership and adequate funding, can make a big dent in the poverty rate and build a more robust, diverse middle class.

But why, with everything else going on, should we as a nation commit to such strategies now?

Half in Ten answers that they’re in our national interest because they’ll drive economic growth and long-term competitiveness in the global marketplace.

They’ll also, it says, restore trust in basic national values like the belief that hard work pays off — what we sometimes call the American Dream. Tamp down what seem to be some stirrings of social instability too, I think.

What we need — and clearly don’t have — is the political will to embrace the challenges of creating a pathway to prosperity for the poor and near-poor in our society.

Creating that will is our collective responsibility. The Half in Ten report gives strategies we can advocate, with facts and figures to support them. The ongoing tracking will help us hold our elected officials accountable.

Most important perhaps is the basic message. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

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5 Responses to Cut Poverty In America In Half? New Report Shows How, Tells Why

  1. […] I recently wrote, the Half in Ten campaign has issued a groundbreaking report that calls on our nation to do two […]

  2. Dona R Goodwin says:

    “basic national values ” – I feel they need adjusting and I don’t know what would do that.

    Studies from economists at Northeastern University show:

    “From postwar through 2000, 20.8% of real GDI growth went to corporate profit and 48.7% to wages and salaries. After 2000 61% went to corporate profit and 16.4% to wages and salaries (reported in 2006.)

    Over the six quarter period ending in 2010, 88% of the growth in real national income went to corporate profits while 1% went to aggregate wages and salaries.

    To what do you attribute the increasing share of growth going to corporate profit? Do you consider this a fair distribution of our growth in national income and if so, why? If not, what do you think the share ratio should be and what can be done to direct that share of real GDI growth to wage earners? (I’m not talking about the poor who are without jobs; I am talking about the working households that have had an increase in earnings of 0.7% from 10 years ago (adjusted for inflation) and those who will be working in the new jobs you will be creating.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Kathryn Baer says:

    Well, Dona, I’d surely like to see workers gaining a greater share of total income growth, though we should remember that some of them gain from corporate profits through their retirement plans. I don’t, however, have the expertise to say what the optimum ratio should be.

    What I’ve read suggests there are many reasons for the income shift. Globalization is certainly one of them, since it’s allowed corporations to move production to low-wage countries. More generally, many economists say that the shift in our economy from manufacturing to financial services has been a factor.

    Automation is another, since it’s reduced the need for workers with technical skills. At the same time, it’s created new opportunities for workers with relatively high levels of education and technical skills. The problem is that high tech doesn’t require as many of them as the workers it replaces.

    Certainly the decline in the portion of the private-sector labor force that’s unionized is important. This is related to all the others.

    Some economists also cite the rising cost of health care. They say that companies are raising wages less because they’re paying so much more for employee health insurance plans.

    Public policies play a role in all of these. So it seems fair to assume that public policy changes could make a difference in the other direction.

    One that would certainly help would be a significant increase in the minimum wage, which has lost more than 40% of its value since the late 1960s. Restoring the value of the minimum wage and indexing to inflation, as some states do, would exert upward pressure on a good portion of the wage scale.

    These are top-of-the-head thoughts, based on what I’ve read. What are yours?

    P.S. I’m not creating new jobs. Wish I could!

  4. […] I wrote at the time, it also expanded the goal to include growing a more inclusive and economically secure […]

  5. […] I wrote at the time, they reflect a broader vision — not only less poverty, but more broadly-shared […]

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