Resetting the Poverty Debate

Categories: Economic Security, News

By Tamera Willis, a Fall 2013 Leadership Conference Intern

Half in Ten, the campaign to cut poverty in half in 10 years, has released its annual report –Resetting the Poverty Debate: Renewing Our Commitment to Shared Prosperity – just a few months before the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a war on poverty.

The report is the third in a series, which  outline the progress that has been made and the steps that need to be taken moving forward, in order to achieve a 50 percent poverty reduction by 2020.

A key finding of the report is that communities of color and women are still being left behind. Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, emphasized this point at the October 29 launch event for the report, stating,  “The economy is simply not working for everyone…far too many children live in poverty, and by nearly every measure, too many African Americans, Latinos, women are doing worse than everyone else.”

In 2012, the official poverty rate in the United States was 15 percent. However, the poverty rate for African Americans was 27.2 percent and for Hispanics (any race), 25.6 percent. Poverty rates are also higher for women (16.3 percent versus 13.6 percent for men), children (22.6 percent), and people with disabilities (28.4 percent versus 12.5 percent for people without a disability).

The Half in Ten report also found that the safety net is working overtime to provide for those who need it most. According to the report, during the Great Recession, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal program formerly known as food stamps,  kept nearly 5 million people out of poverty by helping struggling families put food on their tables. Government programs provide Americans with the support they need to succeed, as Chelsey Hagy, who shared her personal success story at the event, emphasized. “I can’t imagine where my life would be right now if it weren’t for the support and opportunities that were given to me. I will always be thankful for all the assistance I received from the government programs,” Hagy said.

During a panel discussion at the launch event, Rep. Barbara Lee, D. Calif., noted that the level of poverty “reflects an America we wouldn’t recognize.” She said that she is working in Congress to invest in job creation and job training, and to increase the minimum wage to a living wage.

Fifty years after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, it is important to assess the progress of this movement to end poverty in the United States. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, who delivered the keynote address  for the event, expressed his “undying sense of optimism” because “the Department of Labor is indeed the Department of Opportunity.” Perez emphasized that “when we study our history and learn from our history, we can make a lot of progress, but there is still unfinished business.”

The Half in Ten campaign is a joint project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Coalition on Human Needs. A video of the report launch event can be found on the Half in Ten website here.