The problem of poverty
More than 46 million Americans live below the official poverty line—which is now approximately $22,314 for a family of four—and 16.4 million children are poor in this country. Inequality of wealth has reached record highs—it is greater than at any time since 1929. Growing portions of the nation’s wealth are concentrated in the possession of a small fraction of households, while more than one third of the U.S. population is trying to get by on incomes less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line—or about $44,000 for a family of four. Well before the current economic crisis, 6 million low-income households were paying more than half their income on rent and utilities, or lived in severely substandard housing. And the most recent data for 2010 revealed that 48.8 million people, including 16.2 million children, lived in a household struggling against hunger.
Now, increasing unemployment, high prices for gas and food, and a continuing foreclosure crisis are putting growing numbers of families at risk, exacting a high moral and economic cost on all Americans. In fact, in 2007, the Center for American Progress estimated that childhood poverty alone cost the nation roughly $500 billion. A recent report from the Half in Ten campaign reveals that the cost has likely risen by billions of dollars in the past three years due to increasing economic insecurity.
The problems economically struggling people face have been exacerbated by lack of affordable child care, health care, transportation, and other structures necessary to make sure work pays; dangerous predatory lending practices; barriers to unionization; cuts in social spending; and exclusionary politics at all levels that hobble meaningful public participation and accountability in government.
It does not have to be this way
Given the persistence of poverty over recent decades, it is understandable that many Americans consider cutting poverty an impossible task. This is not true. There have been periods throughout our history when economic gains were more equitably shared and we were able to significantly reduce poverty—periods when a strong near-full-employment economy was combined with governmental and private initiatives to lift all Americans up. Between 1964 and 1973, for example, poverty fell by more than 40 percent. Between 1993 and 2000 it fell by 25 percent. Our experience has taught us a lot about effective strategies for poverty reduction. Now is the time to capitalize on these lessons, add new thinking to respond to changing times and aggressively tackle the problem in order to eliminate poverty in the United States.
From poverty to prosperity: An achievable goal
The Half in Ten campaign believes that a clear goal and tested strategies to achieve it are crucial for success. Accordingly, setting a 50 percent reduction goal is our first step toward eliminating poverty. A goal promotes accountability, encourages collaboration between various agencies tackling different aspects of the problem, and inspires the private sector and everyday citizens to get involved to meet the target.
We can accomplish a goal of cutting poverty in half if we deepen and expand the public will to move forward, and if we channel that will toward proven policy solutions. To do this, we must update the public’s perception of poverty and change the course of federal, state, and local governing by encouraging policies that create good jobs, strengthen families, and ensure economic security.