President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers declared last week that America’s war on poverty “is largely over and a success.” In their opinion, this now makes a case for them to establish work requirements on Americans who currently receive benefits from federal safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid.
Let me be clear: The war on poverty is far from over. There are currently 140 million poor and working people in our country, and 37 million without health care. Of those 140 million, 41 million are living below the poverty line. White people make up 42.5 percent, or 17.3 million of those living below the poverty line, followed by Latinx at 27.4 percent, or 11.1 million, and Black Americans at 22.7 percent, or 9.2 million. Children are also victims of this nation’s poverty cycle, with almost four in ten children spending at least one year of their lives in poverty. All together, that’s nearly half of this country’s population, yet the president thinks poverty has nearly been eradicated.
The majority of benefits recipients are already working or live in a household with working members of the family. The small percentage of adults with benefits who don’t work are usually either taking care of children or face hurdles to employment, like the lack of affordable child care, health problems, or a skills gap. There is a lie that has been created by this nation’s wealthy and elite that says that only people who are poor are too lazy to work. Millions of those are unemployed want to work but often can’t find jobs that pay livable wages. How can our government rightfully demand that people have to work in order to receive government assistance, when the work they do doesn’t even pay a living wage? Those who are working for minimum wage still require government assistance just to make ends meet; and many who want to work can’t find jobs due to numerous hurdles like a lack of education and skills training, voter suppression, and discrimination.
Our president is also ignoring the fact that most people in poverty spend their lives trying to get out of poverty, because it is impossible to survive on $1.40 per meal from SNAP, housing or health subsidies and TANF. And many of these benefits only actually reach less than a quarter of the families who are eligible for them thanks to new welfare restrictions and reductions.
Instead of eradicating aid for those who need it most, maybe our leaders should be focused on finding jobs for the 12.7 million Americans who are still unemployed. Our politicians would rather give corporations and the wealthy their own form of welfare instead of supporting safety net programs and job creation for the poor. If they would stop giving handouts to those who don’t need it, and instead focus on the ones that do, then we might have enough revenue coming into our government so that we could adequately fund these programs that are so vital to our nation’s poor people.
The president’s report also claims that millions of Americans have become too reliant on government assistant, thus making them less self-sufficient. But how can anyone become self-sufficient when the jobs they do have aren’t paying them enough to live? There are currently only six states (South Dakota, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, & Alabama) where someone can afford a two-bedroom apartment making less than $15 per hour. However, none of those six states actually have the minimum wage in place that it does take to afford a two-bedroom apartment, meaning residents would have to work well over the typical 40 hours per week just to afford rent alone.
This nation’s war on poverty should not be concentrated on those who are unemployed, or homeless, it should also be focused on those who are having to work two, three, four jobs just to make ends meet. It should be looking at the families who have to sacrifice having health care in order to feed their children. It should be exploring the idea of a universal basic income so that people can enjoy life rather than simply trying to live. Our nation’s leaders also need to address the many barriers that have been put in place to keep poor people in poverty, like systemic racism in housing and education, the wealth-gap, and impacts from mass incarceration. Until these issues are addressed and until we have created a nation in which no one has to decide between paying rent, having health insurance or buying food, then the war on poverty is not over.
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call to Moral Revival, recognizes that we still have many battles to face. We will continue to fight against this nation’s injustices until poverty is truly eliminated and people no longer have to struggle to make ends meet. Until then, we will continue to unite with activists and faith leaders from across the nation in protest against the country’s immoral agenda. We encourage everyone, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, disability, religion or sexual orientation to come and join us. Lift up your voices and demand that our politicians stop ignoring this epidemic and instead work together to find a solution.
For more information on the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, visit www.poorpeoplescampaign.org.