Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Plan to Cut Domestic Poverty

As I have emphasized in a large number of posts, I firmly believe Christ meant what he said about taking care "of the least of these." How we treat the poor among us is a moral and theological issues, and far too often we fail the test. I think that sometimes the reason we fail to act is because of hopelessness and cynical despair. We don't think anything we can do will work, so we despair.

On the issue of global poverty, as I have noted before, the facts are that we are making progress, and the Millennium Development goals offer a road map to nearly eliminating global extreme poverty.

On the domestic front, we saw great progress in reducing poverty in the 1990's--only to see much of that progress go away this decade. I was therefore very encouraged to see that the Center for American Progress has released a plan to reduced domestic poverty in half. An op-ed that will appear in tomorrow's Washington Post (available now on the web) offers a great summary:

This week, the Center for American Progress issued "From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half." The report is the result of the work of an expert task force over the past year. The task force was guided by new research finding that the annual cost to the United States of children growing up in persistent poverty is half a trillion dollars. It was also guided by the recognition that one quarter of U.S. jobs do not pay enough to support a family of four at the poverty line, and the number of families struggling to make ends meet far exceeds the number officially in poverty.

The task force calls for setting a national goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years, and recommends steps to meet the goal. The goal is ambitious but attainable. We have had periods of dramatic poverty reduction in U.S. history -- in fact, poverty fell by 50 percent between 1959 and 1973.

The report offers a four-pronged strategy to accomplish the goal, centered around the need to promote decent work, provide opportunity for all, ensure economic security and help people build wealth. The report outlines 12 principal action steps. For example, it calls for restoring the minimum wage to 50 percent of the average wage -- about $8.40 in 2006. It calls for a dramatic expansion of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and for efforts to connect the 1.7 million poor and near-poor out of school, out of work youth with employment and training. It notes that 600,000 prisoners are now being released to their communities each year, and calls for states and localities to do more to help former prisoners reenter their communities with stable employment. And it calls for addressing holes in the unemployment insurance system that have meant that only about one-third of the unemployed -- and far fewer unemployed low-wage workers -- receive benefits.

Other recommendations would help people move to communities with better job opportunities; expand child care, early education, and access to higher education; and increase tax-based assistance for families with children and lower-income workers saving for homeownership, education, retirement and children's needs.

Many low-income communities face higher prices for basic goods and services -- from tax preparation services and mortgages to cars and groceries. Thousands of low-income homeowners with subprime loans and exotic mortgages are now being pushed toward foreclosure. The task force calls on governments to address the foreclosure crisis and curb unscrupulous and predatory practices. It also recommends the creation of a Financial Fairness Innovation Fund to broaden access to mainstream goods and services in low-income communities.

Implementing the recommendations would raise employment and cut poverty. The Center for American Progress commissioned the Urban Institute to estimate the effects of raising the minimum wage, expanding the EITC and child tax credit, and increasing child care assistance. The analysis found that these steps alone would reduce poverty by 26 percent and help millions of other low- and moderate-income families. With the additional steps recommended by the task force, we can cut poverty in half.

Read it all here, and then read it the Center for American Progress Report here. Let's hope this report generates a dialogue that leads to action.


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