Is it Friday already? Welcome back to “What We’re Reading this Week,” where we share 5 must-read articles about poverty in America that grapple with critical issues, inspire us to action, challenge us, and push us to see both problems and solutions from new angles.
Check out our top reads of the week:
Three Steps We Can Take to Solve Poverty, From Someone Who Knows Firsthand, by Tianna Gaines-Turner (Moyers & Company)
When my son was sick, I had to stay at the hospital with him, so I couldn’t go to work; my husband had to stay home with our twin babies, so he couldn’t work. Here’s the problem: neither of us had paid sick leave, so we lost hours on the job, and we lost pay, too. The result was we could not afford to pay our rent on time, nor our light bill. From there, we became homeless.
As to be expected, Paul Ryan’s most recent War on Poverty hearing included stale, demeaning rhetoric from some members of Congress about poverty. For instance, according to Representative Tom Rice of South Carolina, “the only way out of poverty is to be self-reliant and find yourself a job.” Lucky for the American people, we had a game-changer: Tiana Gaines-Turner, the first person actually living in poverty to testify. This week, our first-must read comes from Ms. Gaines-Turner, who published a list of policy recommendations to alleviate poverty that she had included in her testimony. As Gaines-Turner states, “It’s time to call in the experts. My family, my neighbors and people like me know the solutions.” We couldn’t agree more. Her recommendations are comprehensive and strikingly commonsense, because they are informed by real experiences.
Want to hear more from Ms. Gaines-Turner about her experience testifying before the House of Representatives? Check out her interview with Melissa Harris Perry on MSNBC:
It is Illegal for Homeless People to Sit on the Sidewalk in More than Half of U.S. Cities, by Scott Keyes (ThinkProgress)
Criminalization is an ineffective approach for the simple fact that it does “nothing to address the underlying causes of homelessness.” These laws do not provide housing to poor people, or help alcoholics with their disease, or provide childcare to struggling parents. They simply trap homeless people in a cycle that criminalizes their very existence.
In 9% of U.S. cities, it is against the law to share your food with a homeless person. Yes, you read that correctly. This is just one of many kinds of anti-homeless ordinances that have been cropping up across the United States in recent years. Keynes presents data from a recent National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty study that found sharp increases in laws criminalizing homelessness since 2009. These measures are not just cruel; they’re lousy policy. Keynes explains that tax payers spend millions of dollars each year to jail homeless men and women for “quality-of-life” offenses. As it turns out, this policy approach is three times more expensive than an alternative that actually addresses the root issue: giving the homeless a place to live.
Obama Should Set His Sights Higher, by Katrina vanden Heuvel (The Washington Post)
The U.S. government is the largest employer of low-wage workers in the nation, with the $1.3 trillion it spends on purchasing goods and services. The president, standing in the proud tradition of Roosevelt, could issue a Good Jobs Executive Order that would reward companies who pay their workers a living wage, allow them a voice at the workplace without having to go on strike, adhere to federal workplace safety and fair labor standards and limit the pay of their chief executives to some reasonable ratio to that of their average workers.
How should President Obama react to Republican threats to sue over his use of executive orders? According to vanden Heuvel, he should “double down and raise the stakes” by enacting a Good Jobs Executive Order, which could put 21 million Americans on the road to the middle class through measures like living wages. Vanden Heuvel contextualizes the need for a Good Jobs Executive Order by linking the historical decline of unions to today’s staggering inequality. Of course, she recognizes that low-wage worker protections will not come without furious pushback from corporate and conservative forces. However, vanden Heuvel asserts, “well-paid, productive workers aren’t simply an idle luxury; they are a vital necessity to any prosperous economy.”
Should Housing Policy Support Renters More? The Opinion Pages: Room for Debate (New York Times)
In many of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, buying a home again looks like a risky investment, and in places like Boston, Miami and Washington prices have risen enough that buying is no longer the bargain it seemed to be a few years ago. That perhaps explains why the American public is now divided on whether homeownership is a good long-term investment, and a majority now see homeownership as less appealing than it once was. Should housing policy be more balanced, supporting rental housing and homeownership on a more equal footing?
Smart housing policy is essential to our goal of cutting poverty in half in the next decade. Only when we have a secure home, are we able to truly thrive and benefit from other poverty-reducing measures like quality jobs and schools. Because housing policy debates can get complicated, this week’s New York Times Opinion feature is helpful in unpacking the tough issues. It features op-eds from six housing policy experts, each weighing in on a key issue—the fact that American housing policies disproportionately benefit homeowners over renters. As former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros writes, “About two-thirds of [federal] spending subsidizes home ownership, while just one-third supports affordable rental housing.” Sure, homeownership may be viewed as part of the “American Dream,” but it’s not the reality for many of us, especially low-income families. These conversations are essential in a time of skyrocketing rents and rising inequality, as critical programs like Section 8 are on the chopping block.
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One Storm Shy of Despair: A Climate-Smart Plan for the Administration to Help Low-Income Communities by Cathleen Kelly and Tracey Ross (Center for American Progress)
Only 6,800 people arrived at shelters, even though 375,000 New Yorkers—including 45,000 public housing residents—lived in the mandatory evacuation zone hit hard by the hurricane. Workers eventually discovered the nightmare lurking behind low shelter turnout. Many low-income elderly and disabled residents of New York City’s public housing complexes were stranded in their dark and cold apartments without heat, backup generators, emergency boilers, or working elevators, the latter preventing many of these residents from descending multiple flights of stairs. Others endured these conditions because they had no other affordable place to stay or no reasonable means of leaving their neighborhoods because mass transit was shut down, among other reasons.
For many, Superstorm Sandy was a tragic reminder that climate change is indeed happening, and that its effects will be costly. President Obama recently announced a final task force meeting to help state, local, and tribal leaders prepare their communities for climate change. Kelly and Ross present a critical perspective that leaders and policymakers must keep in mind when planning for disaster: our most vulnerable citizens often face the greatest environmental hazards and risks, yet they have not been a strong focus of federal recovery efforts. Kelly and Ross cover key climate change-related risks for low-income communities, from extreme heat, to food insecurity, to deep poverty. We need to do better in the face of our changing climate, and these policy recommendations are a wise step.