By David T. Applegate, Research and Policy Assistant, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity
With midterm elections only a few weeks away, politicians are busy on the campaign trail talking to millions of Americans about our nation’s challenges and their plans for how to address them effectively. As candidates frame the issues, debate ideas, and seek to draw voters to the polls, we believe there’s one pressing issue that deserves to be on the top of the agenda: poverty.
The most recent poverty data show that 14.5 percent of Americans, or 45.3 million people, live in poverty. Nearly 20 million Americans are considered extremely poor which, for a family of three, means living on less than about $9,000 per year. Digging deeper into these numbers, nearly one in five children lives in poverty and as many as 6.5 million children live in families that are extremely poor. Hispanics and African-Americans represent 30 percent of the total population, but 52.5 percent of the population living in poverty.
We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to support themselves and their families and that no one should live in poverty. As we enter the final weeks of the 2014 election season, we have five anti-poverty strategies that we’d like to see candidates talking about—and taking action on once they’re in office.
By Melissa Young, Director, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity, Heartland Alliance
The city of Ferguson is, unfortunately, not unique. Ferguson is emblematic of far too many American communities home to millions of Americans facing barriers to opportunity and justice. When we take a deeper look at Ferguson, we see a community burdened by significantly higher and deeper poverty than the rest of the country and its surrounding area – many residents being one or two crises away from experiencing homelessness and many facing significant food insecurity . Sadly, hardships like these are felt in countless other large and small places across the country. If Ferguson and communities like it are to heal and thrive, we know we have to achieve policy change that expands opportunity.
Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared his “War on Poverty,” launching an ambitious federal effort to address the problem of persistent poverty in the United States. Lyndon Johnson’s vision was to create a “Great Society” in which enacting social reforms leading to the elimination of poverty and racial injustice would transform our nation. In the years following, policymakers created Medicare and Medicaid, boosted Social Security benefits, began to fund K-12 education, launched Head Start, and funded job training programs for adults and youth and urban renewal projects. Policymakers converted food stamps from a pilot project into a permanent program and expanded housing assistance for low-income families among other economic and social reforms.
As President Barack Obama addresses the nation on January 28, 2014 during the State of the Union address, we urge him to declare a commitment to and articulate a vision for making our country an Even Greater Society. Through bold new policies and a steadfast commitment to policies, programs, and systems that have reduced poverty over the last fifty years, we can end poverty and achieve economic opportunity for all.
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