As part of its goal to cut poverty in half in ten years, Half in Ten released its annual poverty and inequality indicators report at an event at the Center for American Progress on November 17 featuring Sister Simone Campbell of the “Nuns on the Bus” campaign.
The report, “Building Local Momentum for National Change,” examines the energy and progress made on the local level this year in helping to lift Americans out of poverty. But despite growing state and local support for policies that help low-income Americans – like raising the minimum wage – national momentum to combat income inequality remains elusive.
The report emphasizes that poverty indicators have either paused or moved in the wrong direction nationally. For example, although the unemployment rate has dropped since the 2001 recession, wages for the bottom 40 percent of Americans have stayed the same or gotten worse. Stagnating wages have made it harder for millions of working Americans to keep up with the rising costs of housing, transportation, and other basic needs, and even more difficult to save money for higher education, retirement, and medical emergencies.
Slow job creation and low wages are national challenges, but stark disparities exist for communities of color. In September 2014, the unemployment rate for Whites was 5.1 percent, but 11 percent for African Americans and 6.9 percent for Latinos. In 2013, 35.7 percent of African Americans and 42.2 percent of Latinos made poverty-level wages, compared to only 22.5 percent of Whites.
“Building Local Momentum for National Change” details how states and cities across the country have fought poverty by enacting policies such as raising the minimum wage, requiring paid sick leave, providing nutritional assistance, and working toward educational equity. The report underscores the need to build on this local energy to push for national changes, and describes policy recommendations that will improve the lives of the millions of struggling families across the country.
The report also comes 50 years after the landmark passage of the Civil Rights Act, and urges the nation to recommit itself to the legislation’s ideals. The report’s conclusion, co-authored by Half in Ten partners Neera Tanden, Debbie Weinstein, and Wade Henderson, states, “Shared prosperity remains central to America’s unfinished business, and our economic recovery depends on enacting smart policies to get us there. We have come a long way, but we must recommit ourselves now to forging a path toward what President Johnson wanted: ‘a world of peace and justice, and freedom and abundance, for our time and for all time to come.’”