Thoughts on Half in Ten’s “Restoring Shared Prosperity”
The Half in Ten Campaign’s stated goal is to cut poverty in the United States in half in ten years, and they just released their October 2011 inaugural report, “Restoring Shared Prosperity: Strategies to Cut Poverty and Expand Economic Growth.” NCTC joined the conference call for the report’s official release, so we had the opportunity to hear directly from the authors about this new resource. To track the progress towards their goal, they’re keeping track of a set of indicators that fall into three categories: creating good jobs, strengthening families, and promoting economic security. They also produced state-by-state fact sheets that provide a more detailed picture of poverty across the country. Take a look at the information for your state, and use it to reach out to policy makers to protect and strengthen the programs that help American families.
The report provides a fairly stark description of the scope of poverty in this country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, there were 46.2 million Americans living below the official poverty line, which is the highest number of Americans living in poverty since the Census Bureau started keeping track of this measure in 1959. It also means that if the Campaign achieves its goal, 23.1 million Americans will be lifted out of poverty and set on the path towards financial security.
An interesting feature of the report is that it shows the multifaceted nature of poverty. In the midst of 6-second media sound bites and political rhetoric tossed carelessly about, it’s often difficult to remember that “poverty” encompasses more than just being unemployed or earning low wages. Living below the poverty line, or even somewhat above it, is a constant struggle because there are so many compounding factors that combine to make the basic necessities in life – paying bills, buying food, transportation, child care, etc. – inaccessible or unduly burdensome for so many Americans.
“The high cost of being poor” is a phrase that’s been used many times over the years by various researchers or journalists, but it doesn’t seem that the message has actually gotten through to the people who create policy. The truth of the matter is that people who earn less usually end up spending more for the same things: low-income households are more likely to pay higher rates on mortgages and auto loans; nutritious food tends to cost more at urban corner stores than large supermarkets, which are predominantly located in affluent neighborhoods or suburbs; they pay more to cash checks and pay bills and take out loans.
All of these factors contribute to the fuller picture of what it means to be “low-income” in this country, which involves so much more than low wages. Several statistics in the Half in Ten report are worth noting:
- Before the beginning of the recession, 52% of American families were considered “asset poor,” which means that they had savings equivalent to less than three months’ income at the poverty line ($5,162 in 2007 dollars).
- Approximately 14.2% of Americans – almost 44 million individuals – do not have any sort of health insurance coverage.
- There is no location in the United States where a minimum wage earner working full-time can afford a two-bedroom apartment at standard fair market rent.
There are many policy changes that could be made to ease the burden on these hardworking Americans. NCTC continues to protect refundable tax credits, which provide much needed assistance and relief to people who work hard but are still struggling to make ends meet. We continue to champion and expand the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which provides low- to moderate-income Americans access to financial coaching, banking, savings opportunities and more, in addition to filing their taxes for free. These are all excellent steps in the right direction, but this report is a reminder of how much work remains to be done.
By Jennifer Thall, Coordinator of Civic Engagement