TalkPoverty.org is proud to collaborate with BillMoyers.com as it focuses exclusively on poverty coverage over the next two weeks. Every day, visit BillMoyers.com to discover a new action you can take to help turn the tide in the fight against poverty.
With a new conservative-led Congress, most people devoted to helping individuals and families living on the brink aren’t feeling terribly optimistic about the prospects for positive action at the federal level. (With the exception, perhaps, of action on criminal justice reform.) In fact, we will almost certainly need to redouble our efforts simply to defend programs that are currently working. Remember, poverty would be approximately twice as high—nearly 30 percent—without the safety net.
But as my friend and colleague at the Center for American Progress, Melissa Boteach, constantly says when she talks about poverty with activists—we can’t simply play defense, we’ve got to stay on offense.
Melissa is right, and frankly, with more than 1 in 3 Americans living below twice the poverty line—on less than about $37,000 annually for a family of three—it’s going to take a visible, disruptive, and non-violent movement if we are to create an economy that is truly defined by opportunity as well as a robust safety net that is there for us when we need it. To some extent whether it’s conservatives or progressives who are in the Majority, our task remains the same: we must build a dynamic movement.
In the two weeks ahead, BillMoyers.com will feature a post every day by an anti-poverty leader. Every day, one of these contributors will offer an action you can take to advocate for people who are struggling and to help build the movement we so urgently need.
Beyond these two weeks, we hope you will keep reading BillMoyers.com, which has long demonstrated its commitment to poverty-related issues. Sign-up, too, for TalkPoverty.org weekly emails, and we will continue to bring you the voices and ideas of people who are struggling in poverty as well as posts by other anti-poverty leaders.
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There is nothing inevitable about poverty. The only questions that remain are the same ones we have faced for so long: are we committed to dramatically reducing poverty? And, if so, what are we willing to do to advance our goal?
Over the next 12 days, we hope the ideas offered by our contributors will provide valuable openings for your activism. BillMoyers.com will keep adding to the list each day here—bookmark the page to see all the big ideas. Please share this link and your thoughts below in the comments and via Twitter using #12Days.
The Media Must Tell the True Story of Struggle in America
by Deepak Bhargava
Last year, Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly did a segment on poverty where he asserted that “poverty will not change until personal behavior does,” explaining that anti-poverty work will never overcome “addictive behavior, laziness, [and] apathy.”
In many ways, the segment sums up a widely-held myth constructed by the right that people who struggle to make ends meet don’t want to work. But in reality, people are working harder and harder for less and less, and all we have to do is listen to the stories of everyday Americans to see the truth.
Protect and Expand Workers’ Ability to Bargain
by Sarita Gupta
Greedy corporations have been on a decades-long bender to take advantage of working people – depressing wages, benefits and job standards, which has led to record inequality and poverty.
Fighting poverty requires expanding and protecting the ability of workers to bargain with their employers to demand higher wages, better working conditions and better living standards. As the nature of work changes, we look at collective bargaining through the union workplace campaign lens, but also through nontraditional forms, including legislative, policy, rulemaking and industry-wide interventions that put more money in workers’ pockets and improve standards and conditions for workers. Only through bargaining do workers have the power to directly confront the corporate actors behind poverty and inequality.
Make Public Higher Education in the United States Completely Free
by Maxwell John Love
Fifty years ago, the US National Student Association (The United States Student Association’s predecessor) declared its support for “the establishment of free public higher education throughout the United States financed by the local, state and federal governments, with the purpose of furthering the freedom of the individual and the critical spirit which ensures a dynamic and democratic society.”
Last week in Tennessee and last night in his State of the Union address, the president said the words ‘free’ and ‘college’ in the same sentence. The administration’s proposal is a big deal. It would offer funding to states to completely eliminate tuition at community colleges (on average $3,800). The funding would also not be last-dollar, meaning students could receive additional aid to offset living expenses.
We welcome the president to the fight for free college, and we believe that all public higher education in the US should be free!
We Need to Expand the Most Effective Anti-Poverty Program in America
by Alex Lawson
In order to fight poverty, one of the easiest and most effective things we can do is to expand our Social Security system. Social Security lifted 22 million Americans out of poverty in 2012, including one million children. Without Social Security, 44.1 percent of all Americans over the age of 65 would be living in poverty; with Social Security that rate is 8.9 percent.
Social Security isn’t just for seniors – it is also the primary disability and life insurance protection for most of America’s workers. Social Security provides around $580,000 in disability insurance protections and $550,000 in life insurance protections.
Low Wages Are a Moral Crisis in Our Time
by Sister Simone Campbell
Having worked as a family law attorney for 18 years in Oakland, California, I know that the single greatest cause of the breakup of families is economic stressors. This is especially true for the working poor families of our country.
Working for poverty wages creates family conflict when you have to choose between paying for rent and food, phone or medicine. This stress causes friction, blame and break-ups.
But it isn’t just families who suffer because of low wages. All workers working for minimum wage today need more than one job to get by.
Protect and Strengthen Medicare and Medicaid Programs for Another 50 Years
by Kevin Prindiville
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, two programs that play a key role in ensuring that elderly and disabled Americans have access to health care and are not bankrupted by its costs.
Before Medicare and Medicaid were created in 1965, 35 percent of Americans over 65 did not have health insurance, leaving a huge uninsured aging population with either insurmountable doctor and hospital bills, or more frequently, no health care at all.
While we celebrate the fact that millions of people are better off now than they were in 1965, we must be aware that access to health care is continually threatened by program cuts, and millions of beneficiaries have trouble accessing the care they are entitled to because the programs don’t always work as well as they could.
Support Human Rights for Food Supply Chain Workers
by Coalition of Immokalee Workers
The CIW’s Fair Food Program and Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model have transformed Florida’s $650 million tomato industry. The program is the gold standard for human rights in the fields today, including: worker-to-worker education on rights, a 24-hour complaint line and an effective complaint investigation and resolution process — all backed by market consequences for employers who refuse to respect their workers’ rights.
Now in its fourth season, the Fair Food Program is poised to expand, and bring respect and dignity for workers to new crops and new states. As underscored by the phone call from the former strawberry worker — that expansion can’t come soon enough.
Slash Child Hunger
by Joel Berg
Even though the United States is the wealthiest and most agriculturally abundant country in world history, food insecurity now ravages 49 million Americans — including nearly 16 million American children. This often-overlooked mass epidemic harms health, hampers education, traps families in poverty, fuels obesity and eviscerates hope, while sapping the US economy of $167.5 billion annually, according to the Center for American Progress.
That’s why in order to achieve other vital national priorities — such as fixing public education, restoring the middle class, expanding opportunity, reducing crime and incarceration, making health care more affordable, protecting the nation from enemies, and slashing poverty — we must also end hunger in America, starting with child hunger.
Stand with Native Youth and Support “Generation Indigenous”
by Erik Stegman
American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) youth face more barriers to success than almost any other group in the country. Thirty-seven percent of AIAN children under 18 live in poverty, significantly higher than the national child poverty rate of 22 percent (according to the American Community Survey). The AIAN graduation rate is the lowest of any racial and ethnic group at 68 percent. Perhaps most stunning, suicide is the second leading cause of death for AIAN youth between ages 15 and 24 — they commit suicide at 2.5 times the national rate.
But these youth have a new partner in their movement for stronger economic and cultural opportunity: the president.
We Can Reduce Child Poverty by 60 Percent Right Now
Marian Wright Edelman
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “America is going to hell if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all God’s children to have the basic necessities of life.”
Today, 150 years after the end of slavery, every other black baby in America is poor. Every third Hispanic baby is poor. Nearly every fourth rural child is poor. All told, there are 14.7 million poor children and 6.5 million extremely poor children in the United States of America. It is a national disgrace that such an unconscionably large number of children are homeless, hungry and living in poverty in a country with the world’s largest economy.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We Should Ensure Access to Safe and Affordable Rental Housing
by Sarah Edelman and Julia Gordon
Since the foreclosure crisis in 2008, the nation has gained more than four million renting households, and demographers expect an additional four million households to become renters over the next decade. At the same time, the homeownership rate has declined from nearly 70 percent to 64 percent.
This influx of renters has put significant upward pressure on rents. According to the Consumer Price Index, as most other expenses have held steady in recent months, rent expenses continue a steep upward climb. Half of all renters spend more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing, while 27 percent spend more than 50 percent — both sharp increases over the last decade. When the rental market tightens, the lowest-income renters feel the pressure first.
Stop Punishing People After They Have Been Released from Prison
by Jeremy Haile
In America, we punish people for being poor. But we’re also one of the few democracies that punishes people for being punished.
Consider the felony drug ban, which imposes a lifetime restriction on welfare and food stamp benefits for anyone convicted of a state or federal drug felony. Passed in the “tough on crime” era of the mid-1990s, the ban denies basic assistance to people who may have sold a small amount of marijuana years or even decades ago and have been law-abiding citizens ever since.
The Sentencing Project found that the legislation subjects an estimated 180,000 women in the 12 most impacted states to a lifetime ban on welfare benefits.