Last week, Half in Ten released its third annual report on its commitment to and efforts toward U.S. poverty reduction. The Half in Ten Campaign is a joint project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Coalition on Human Needs, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human rights, with a mission to build political and public will to cut the nation’s poverty rate in half in 10 years.
Some concrete findings in the report were given by Erik Stegman, manager of Half in Ten:
- Job growth continues, but is slow and not widely felt. People are still living with recession realities.
- Minority groups face a much higher rate of unemployment; 11 percent of African Americans and 9.4 percent of Latinos are without a high school degree, both rates higher than the overall indicator.
- America has a duality of a growing economy and a growing income inequality. Economic growth is being felt only at the top, while low- and middle-class incomes have fallen. Never since the 1920s has wealth divergence been this pronounced.
- Gender income inequality is keenly felt among women, who are disproportionally represented in low-paying jobs. Median annual earnings for women working full time and year round were 76.5 percent those of men’s.
- Government social safety nets are working in hyperdrive. In the recession and its aftermath, the amount of enrollees increased significantly. Programs such as WIC, SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Child Tax Credit currently serve 15 percent of the population, and help lift millions of Americans out of poverty.
Clearly, poverty continues to be a very real problem.
Yet there are ways to keep on track of cutting it in half within 10 years. Half in Ten lays out a few keys steps in the report:
- Invest in job creation by ending sequestration and supporting transitional jobs programs.
- Increase the minimum wage and promote collective bargaining for workers.
- Improve the ability of earners and caregivers to gain access to quality, affordable child care and paid sick leave.
- Strengthen programs that support families when they struggle.
How should we proceed with these suggestions?
Since SNAP is again in the news with its $5 billion budget cut this year beginning Nov. 1, we could start there. The program, which serves more than 47 million, is slated to be cut by $40 billion in the next 10 years.
WIC benefits were also stalled in the recent government shutdown, leaving thousands of women and young children already struggling with poverty even more vulnerable. The ease with which these programs are unfunded or cut betrays how quick our government is to turn a blind eye to the poor, while simultaneously refusing to limit tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
In her remarks, Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, stressed the need to move the conversation in Washington away from implementing these kinds of austerity measures that ultimately harm the poor.
Scripture also reminds us over and over again to care for the least of those in society, including widows, orphans, and immigrants in our midst. We are called to be generous with what we have. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez echoed this truth at the Half in Ten meeting, urging that at this time, we need to “turn toward one another, not against one another.”
Perez spoke on the connection between fair wages and the labor movement, particularly highlighting how immigration has contributed to the evolving nature of the movement. Citing the overwhelming commonality of interests among the faith community and the business community, he advised government to “take a page from the consensus across the ideological spectrum for immigration reform,” calling it a moral and economic imperative. There is a cross-cutting thread, Perez asserted, of being our brother and sister’s keeper, and of caring for “the least of these.”
Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, participated in Half in Ten’s panel discussion. He asserted the role of the faith community in stepping up to fill the gap when government chooses not to support the poor. He admired the coalition of faith networks with other civic, nonprofit, and business communities that partner in advocating for those on the margins.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., also on the panel, spoke quite succinctly her feelings on Washington’s (in)action on behalf of those in poverty, saying many of her colleagues in Congress “are not doing the Lord’s work.” Lee lamented what has come to be seen as a failure of leadership from Washington, questioning "what happened to our society founded upon the common good?"
Her cry for the common good echoes the forward to this year’s Half in Ten report by Sister Simone Campell, executive director of NETWORK. Sister Simone writes that the “communal relationship is at the heart of who we are as a nation. Only by working together for the common good will we ever be able to ‘form a more perfect union.’”
May we in faith continue to pray for our leaders and work on behalf of our neighbor, according to our Scriptural call to do so.
Read the full annual report of Half in Ten here and a video about the organization below.
Anna Hall is campaigns assistant for Sojourners.