5 Ways to Reduce Poverty in America
At least one in eight Americans live in poverty. What is the solution?
Poverty in the United States is markedly higher than in most other developed countries.
At least one in eight Americans now live in poverty, and about one third of all Americans will experience poverty within a 13 year period, with one in 10 Americans poor for most of the time, and one in 20 poor for at least 10 years or more.
A family of four is considered poor if the family’s income is below $19,971, considerably less than what a family in most places in the country needs to live. Even with that metric, around 100 million people had incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty thresholds.
So, how do we solve the poverty problem?
1. Reduce the high costs of being poor and increase access to financial services.
Despite having less income, lower-income families often pay more than middle and high-income families for the same consumer products.
Poor families can be helped by raising and indexing the minimum wage to half the average of the hourly wage, guaranteeing quality child care assistance to low-income families and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit as well as the Child Tax Credit.
Lowering taxes and tax exemptions don’t do the trick, as Else Øyen of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations points out. The poor neither profit from tax exempts, nor lower taxes, because they have none of the traditional items to exempt and too little of a formal income, if any, to benefit from lower taxes.
Because the size of the tax credit does not increase for families with more than three children, even though their poverty rates are higher, faith based anti-poverty Bread.org advocates for more appropriate taxation, suggesting Earned Income Tax Credit filers pay hundreds of dollars every year unnecessarily, when that money could instead go to supporting their families.
2. Create a clear path to higher education
Mark Greenberg, who leads a poverty task force at The Center for American Progress, has a multi-faceted approach to ending poverty that includes the simplification and expansion of Pell Grants.
With research showing low-income youth are much less likely to attend college than their higher income peers, Pell Grants play a crucial role. Greenberg suggests gradually raising Pell Grants to cover 70 percent of the cost of attending a four-year institution of higher learning.
Support and expansion of the Dream Act will provide many undocumented students living in poverty a better opportunity to get a quality education.
High income poverty rates among black children result from both relatively low marriage rates and relatively poor economic prospects for both men and women, especially those with low levels of education, says Mary Jo Bane of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
3. Address food insecurity and nutrition-related health problems
How? Bane suggests the first step is to effectively deal with the nation’s food stamp program.
“Food insecure families need both education and structural devices, like receiving their food stamps weekly and not monthly.” She continues, “This would facilitate the regular access to healthier foods.”
Proper diet fosters strong brain development, with sugar and fat dense foods being linked to developmental and behavioral problems for children and adolescents.
Of the 20.6 million school children receiving food assistance at lunch, 11 million do not receive breakfast assistance and 18 million do not receive summer meals. Many eligible children lack access to programs or face other barriers to participation, whether it is because a program is not offered in their community, transportation is limited, or eligibility provisions lack coordination with other agencies. Child nutrition programs could do far more to reduce hunger simply by reaching more kids.
4. Promote unionization by enacting the Employee Free Choice Act
The Employee Free Choice Act would require employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers sign cards authorizing union representation, and establish stronger penalties for violation of employee rights. The increased union representation made possible by the Act would lead to better jobs and less poverty for American workers.
According to the organization Bread.org, “One in four jobs does not pay enough to lift a family of four out of poverty,” and so with a stronger middle class, bolstered by unionized work, blanket wages go up, which usually benefits the local tax base, which as a result, infuses schools with much needed money to lure better teachers and improve infrastructure.
With this model, working class employees are guaranteed sick and vacation days as well as a base salary.
5. Address the many issues connected with incarceration and its effects on communities
In According to Bruce Western, professor at the Havard Department of Sociology, Incarceration increases the odds that young men will be jobless or channeled into the secondary labor market. Western estimates that the lifetime earnings of those who have been incarcerated will be 42 percent lower than earnings of those who have not been incarcerated.
Washington State professor David Leonard asserts that, “mass incarceration, and its desperate impact on African American communities, has had a dramatic impact on employment. Ending the war on drugs, and ending the lifetime sentences that prevent formerly incarcerated individuals from working an array of jobs, would change the job prospect for thousands.”
Greenberg and his CAP team suggest developing “comprehensive reentry services aimed at reintegrating former prisoners into their communities with full-time, consistent employment.”