First Person

Life Before the Affordable Care Act

I know I broke my ankle because it’s stronger now than it was before I pulverized it in June, 2010 which was three months after the Affordable Care Act passed without any support from congressional Republicans. Poverty was my reality then, and I have no doubt that it can easily be again. One of the unspoken truths of poverty is that it is either an immediate reality or a moment away for most Americans. I was fortunate in 2010. I had jobs and networks of people and by cobbling together those resources and skills, I managed to heal a broken ankle without stepping foot inside a hospital.

Now, I watch and wait for the Supreme Court’s Decision in King v. Burwell and the looming budget fight—each of which will decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act, a law I could have used in 2010.

Back then I was in the best shape of my life. Years of walking to work had helped. At 26, I learned to ride a bicycle and for one month, I flew. The hour that it took to get to and from work became fifteen minutes. I could buy cold food in the summer again. Bowling Green, Kentucky became small enough that I no longer had to factor in travel time.

And then I played basketball.

My best friend at the time, Emily, texted me asking me to meet her at her apartment so we could walk over to the nearby basketball court—which was actually just a basket at the edge of a church parking lot—and shoot hoops for a couple hours. Emily played basketball in high school and I lack basic hand-eye coordination skills, so when I landed awkwardly after coming down from a layup, grabbing the post for support, she didn’t think anything about it. But then, I didn’t let go. I held my left foot off the ground.

She asked me if I was alright and I told her I hoped so. She asked me what it felt like and the first thing that came to mind was that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when Indy drops the guard into a rock crusher. Emily cringed and asked me which hospital we should go to.

I laughed.

She asked me what I wanted to do since I wouldn’t go to the hospital. I didn’t know. I asked her to bring me my phone. She came back with it and asked me if I’d be okay if she left for a minute. She was going to get me an ice bag and a slushie. Blue Raspberry.

Slushies make everything better.

Shouldn’t the land of the free be shining and modern and free enough to manage the health of its citizens with something other than luck?

I laid down in the parking lot and watched its parking lights go out and called the owner of the restaurant I worked at. When he asked me about the hospital, I could only manage a chuckle. He asked me what he could do for me and I asked him if he had the crutches he brought back from his last failed ski trip and if I could borrow them for a while. “Absolutely.”

Next, I called a couple of the marijuana enthusiasts from work and asked them to meet me at my apartment. An hour later we met up at the front door and Emily helped me climb up the flight of stairs while the others kept asking why I couldn’t go to the hospital. “Obamacare passed,” they said. “It hasn’t kicked in yet,” I answered.

I fell onto my bed and waited while the saintly stoners sparked a joint. While it worked wonders otherwise, the weed wasn’t strong enough for my ankle. Even though I didn’t feel any better, I was content not to care.

The next day my roommate, Travis, drove me to work for comfort food—a Reuben. While I sat in the dining room with my engorged ankle propped on a chair, one of my new hires came over to me and asked what I meant to do about the ankle. “First, I’m going to eat this Reuben. Then, I’m going to go to Lowe’s and get some scrap wood and nail together a brace… thing.” She smirked and told me her fiancé was an MMA fighter (the pale guy), that he broke his foot the year before and held on to the walking boot. “I mean, you shouldn’t walk on it now, but it’ll hold it in place until you can.”

I was on the crutches for six weeks.

I gave up on trying to self-medicate. Not only did the weed fail to do the trick, but also Kentucky’s burgeoning crackdown on prescription drug abuse meant that I couldn’t score so much as a pity Vicodin. I stayed in the walking boot for six months and even managed to shower four times a week without falling.

Then, one day in November, I woke up, strapped my leg into the boot and started itching. My leg wouldn’t go for the walking boot anymore. I grabbed the cane I had bought to mark the occasion and headed down the stairs and out the door. What had been a ten minute walk down to the city square took twenty. My left leg was half the size of my right. When I got on my bike I had to pedal twice as hard with my right leg as I could my left.

I was lucky when I broke my ankle. I knew the right people and (the Commonwealth notwithstanding) could procure the right supplies.

But there is a reason this story stays with me: I live in the USA, the richest, most powerful country in the world. Why did we and do we leave our health and well-being up to luck? Shouldn’t the “Shining City on a Hill,” the birthplace of modern democracy, the land of the free be shining and modern and free enough to manage the health of its citizens with something other than luck?



First Person

A City that Values My Brothers and Sisters

Editor’s note: Like many people living in urban communities across the country, residents of the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati are struggling to stay in their homes and have a voice in the development of their community as gentrification takes hold.  Here is one resident’s account of that experience.

This post has been modified from the original version which was published by Streetvibes.

I have lived in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati for over 40 years.  I paid $33 a month for my first apartment.  Two of the apartments I have lived in still had the owner living next door; or in the building I was living in.  There were many more “Mom and Pop” landlords serving people with low incomes back in the early 70’s.  We were 99 percent renters and 95 percent of our housing was substandard and needing to be upgraded and improved.

But recently I saw an advertisement for a townhouse rental apartment for $2015 a month.

People in our neighborhood are a “displaced” people—shoved off our lands when someone else found a reason to make a profit on the land we call home.  We feared that when our neighborhood became an historic district in 1983, gentrification would follow.  It has.

Our people were not resting on our laurels waiting for a hand out. Our neighborhood people organized a movement that tried and still tries to figure out community-based solutions to issues facing us.  People were sleeping on our stoops and in our streets, we started the Drop Inn Center; to really end homelessness we knew we needed to maintain and build affordable housing, which Over-the-Rhine Community Housing is doing; and when our Peaslee Elementary School was threatened with closure, we fought hard to save it, lost, but then turned it into a neighborhood educational center for all ages, the Peaslee Neighborhood Center.  We created the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition to give voice to those struggling on our streets.  We worked for policy changes and fought for ordinances that would help us gain some control or voice over what was going on in our community.  We pushed for neighborhood plans like the 5520 Plan in 1985—we called for protecting the 5520 units of affordable housing, wanting development without displacement.  And, yes, sometimes we did civil disobedience to make a point.

People with more power rarely see the beauty and assets of a community that looks and lives differently.

The housing crisis speaks to this country’s loss of moral fortitude, not caring for our brothers and sisters on the margins.  We have become a profit-making consumerist society, not caring whether we condemn those at the bottom to live in squalor, as if it was their fault. Where is our sense of community?  Did any one of us make it on our own?  If people live in housing security, can’t we see that we all benefit?  I am so frustrated with so many neighborhoods crying “not in my back yard.”

Part of the problem is that people with more power rarely see the beauty and assets of a community that looks and lives differently.  How we live is going to “look differently” because we don’t have the same amount of resources to spend on our dreams.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t do the best we can with what we have.  We know the importance of leaning on our neighbors in time of need.  We know the value of coming together to figure things out collectively, rather than individually.  We know how to pool our resources so we can create a communal garden in our affordable housing project.  We watch out for each other’s children because we know the stressors of living in poverty.  We don’t weigh our success on how much we spend, but by the relationships we have built and whether we feel a sense of belonging.  We don’t know what it’s like to have the arrogance to just bombard a neighborhood with a plan that suits one’s self-interest.  We have quietly inhabited spaces that others have abandoned or discarded, and made it our home.  We put our sweat labor and tears into this less than a square mile of land and every day work hard to build something for ourselves that we are proud of.

And now, because we don’t have the almighty dollar, or enough political quarterbacks to stand up for our rights, someone with more money can steal it from us overnight.  Now that Over-the-Rhine land has become valuable, we experience that no one regards the people as valuable.

I miss the people that used to live around me.  I miss neighborhood-serving businesses that cared we had a place to shop for an aspirin, a curtain rod, socks and underwear, or a place to do laundry.  Mostly our families can’t afford to eat in the new restaurants.  When I walk down the street, I feel like a stranger in my own land.  We’d called for changes— upgrades to our streets and alleys, good recreational places, better lighting—where was all the investment when we the poor and working class asked for these improvements?  There is some just anger out in our streets because people see that investment discriminates.  And with all the improvements going on now, the question is this: will we still be here to benefit from the changes?  We were never too concentrated with the poor until another class of people desired our land.

I have always felt we need our government, and local government, to legislate our protection through ordinances or policies or something because it’s not going to happen by letting market forces run amok.   Developers should not be getting a way with condo development and market rentals without also doing units for people poor and with low incomes. We saved this neighborhood.  How is it that corporate Cincinnati can dictate what stays, what goes, when neighborhood people for as long as I’ve been around have been strong actors in our history-making?  We created “family” on our neighborhood blocks.  Our stories weaved a web of connection.

But it feels like our lives are invisible to planners, developers, and newcomers rushing in to revitalize.  We need more allies to help name what’s going on here and to call for more accountability from the City of Cincinnati and the well-financed Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) which is calling the shots.   Not long after the civil unrest in Cincinnati in 2001, the City abolished its planning department, essentially allowing corporate Cincinnati to be in the driver’s seat.

We need to ensure that this isn’t just another city that pushes people poor and working class out of its urban core neighborhoods, like many cities across this country have already done.  I want to live in a city that values my brothers and sisters who are on the margins.  With that core belief in humanity, maybe we can turn things around, because for now we are going somewhere that’s not good for any of us.



Minimum Wage Worker Firing Reveals Why We Need More Poverty Reporting

On February 17th, Washington Post reporter Chico Harlan wrote a piece that analyzed the human impact of the 25-cent minimum wage increase in Arkansas. The article prominently featured the experiences of Shanna Tippen, a grandmother who worked in a variety of roles at Days Inn and Suites such as attending the front desk and troubleshooting issues for guests.

While Tippen’s life would improve modestly after receiving the small wage increase, it was clear that the raise would not lift her and her family out of poverty. Even so, she did not make any negative comments about her employer. The story also featured a quote from her manager, Herry Patel, who opposed the small increase because “everybody wants free money in Pine Bluff.” In contrast, other businesses noted that the increase would not force them to lay off employees.

Only one month later, Harlan reported that Tippen had lost her job. She claims that Patel fired her in retaliation for speaking about her experiences to The Washington Post. This event illustrates a real tension in poverty reporting, especially when stories involve vulnerable low-wage workers.

Ben Casselman, who is the chief economics writer for FiveThirtyEight (an outlet that uses statistical analysis to cover stories), is absolutely right to be concerned. Journalists should consider the impact that their reporting could have on their sources. This is an ethical and strategic consideration – if workers feel that they will experience negative effects, they may be less likely to come forward. In this particular instance, Tippen might have benefited from the protection of anonymity. However, Harlan’s account clearly states that Patel invited him to speak to Tippen, and therefore it would have been difficult to anticipate that she would experience retaliation for her comments.  The blame here lies with the employer, not the reporter. Days Inn and Suites should reinstate Tippen immediately.

If anything, this story demonstrates that we need more coverage, not less. Harlan’s reporting makes an important point in its own right – a small minimum wage increase is not enough to lift families out of poverty. It also avoids elevating incorrect arguments which insist that increases in the minimum wage lead to layoffs.

But its Harlan’s follow-up reporting that makes an even more important point – abusive employers should be held accountable. When Tippen told Harlan that she believed she was fired for talking to him, Harlan gave her a platform to speak out. He also repeatedly followed up with Days Inn and reported on their sustained attempts to dodge his calls. Finally, Harlan made it clear that this action by Patel will have a real impact on Shanna Tippen’s life—with the loss of her job, her money “won’t last past March.”

It seems obvious that Patel is an abusive employer – he threatened to sue the paper when the story came out and blatantly tried to use Tippen’s criminal record to smear her and cast doubt on her credibility. Harlan’s reporting on Tippen’s firing amounts to a public shaming of Patel on a national stage. Thanks to Tippen’s courage to speak out and Harlan’s work, hopefully some employers will think twice about retaliating against employees who talk to the press about low wages and bad working conditions. In fact, increased press scrutiny could decrease abuses across the board.

Increased press scrutiny could decrease abuses across the board.

This is especially key in states like Arkansas, where the media is one of the few institutions with the strength to hold employers accountable. Arkansas is a right-to-work state, meaning that non-union members are allowed to free ride and gain the advantages of union contracts without paying dues. This state of affairs is correlated with weaker unions, and Arkansas’ unionization rates are dismal: only 4.7% of employed workers are members of a union; and only 5.4% of workers in the state are represented by a union (meaning they report no union affiliation but are covered under a union contract).

The law allows employers to terminate employment for practically any reason unless there is an agreement stating otherwise—for example, a union contract—or if an employee is terminated on the basis of age, sex, race, religion, national origin or disability. This creates a Catch-22: the unions that are best-situated to secure agreements protecting employees’ speech have been marginalized by state policies. If Tippen had been unionized, Patel would have thought twice about firing her for speaking out. Instead, he seemingly believed he could retaliate against her without fear of backlash. Without The Post’s efforts, he would have succeeded.

It’s also important to consider how Arkansas’ policies impacted Tippen’s economic situation in the first place. Arkansas’ status as a right-to-work state and the correlated lack of union strength have likely reduced wages.  According to the Center for American Progress Action Fund, low-wage workers in right-to-work states earn “approximately $1,500 less per year than a similar worker in a state without such a law.” In addition, in states with policies that inhibit collective bargaining, workers are forced to rely on state and national legislators to lift the wage floor. Given the refusal of legislators to even raise wages enough to account for inflation, earning a non-poverty wage through a legislative path seems highly unlikely.

The worst result of this story, by far, would be for journalists to shy away from giving low-wage workers a chance to speak out. A strong and aggressive media presence that includes protections for sources will reduce the chance of retaliation and encourage workers to talk about their experiences.  We also need strong unions to counter abusive employers while securing better wages and working conditions for all workers.



Kavitha Cardoza on Poverty Reporting and ‘Getting to the Why’

Editor’s note: TalkPoverty is committed to lifting up good poverty journalism.  One person whose work we appreciate is education reporter Kavitha Cardoza of public radio station WAMU in Washington, DC.  Kavitha ensures that her audience hears directly from people living in poverty, something we think is far too rare in the media.  She does this not only in her weekly segments, but through a long-form documentary series, Breaking Ground. She is also the reporter behind the popular annual series Beating the Odds, which highlights students who have overcome tremendous obstacles.  At a time when reporters generally aren’t given much time and space to really dig deep on a beat—and certainly not a poverty beat—WAMU also deserves credit for investing in Kavitha and quality poverty journalism.

TalkPoverty had the opportunity to speak with Kavitha about her work.  The interview is cross-posted at

Greg Kaufmann: Do you consider yourself solely an education reporter, or a poverty reporter as well?

Kavitha Cardoza: I think you can’t separate the two. When I first started it was strictly education and it was like test scores, test scores, test scores—and then the more I spoke to people who were actually in the classroom doing the work, it was clear these kids have a lot of challenges that are coming from their outside lives.  And then I realized a lot of it was related to poverty. So I asked my news director to broaden the beat to education and poverty because you can’t separate the one from the other.

Greg: So was this a realization you made here in DC, or in a previous gig?

Kavitha: Here.  But having said that I was very familiar with poverty because I grew up in India and knew a ton of people who were poor. And the one thing I noticed was how easy it was to be separate in the U.S. In India, you would hear these stories all the time: my husband doesn’t pay for the children. I can’t pay for my kid’s school fees. I don’t have a car and the bus didn’t come. I hear these stories here too but the difference is that here it’s really hidden.  If you live in a nice neighborhood you are not likely to see poverty. Office cleaners come overnight. When you go to a McDonald’s or any place paying a minimum wage, people are wearing uniforms. We’ve sanitized poverty. And so when I report, I overwhelmingly get listeners who say, ‘Oh my god, I never knew that was happening.’

Greg: You have been on the beat for four years now.  Is it striking to you that people continue to react to your work in this way—like God, I never knew?

Kavitha: I don’t blame listeners, or viewers, for being surprised. I don’t think we’ve done a very good job as journalists. We are very reactive over here. We cover Katrina, and then how many stories do you find about New Orleans and poverty after that? I heard former Washington Post reporter Katherine Boo talking once—she said we have a tendency to tie everything up with a little bow at the end of a poverty story, and she said poverty reporters do a disservice to readers by doing that. And I think she’s right—because life isn’t like that.

Greg: And so how do you avoid that trap?

There is a range of people within this beat just like any other. You have to show that range.

Kavitha: I have really good relationships with a lot of schools, and principals, and guidance counselors, social workers, teachers, nonprofits…So when I first started they would say, ‘Oh, the media twists things.’ And I would say, ‘Look at my body of work.’  And I would send them examples of my work or ask them to sit in on interviews, I have nothing to hide.  So now it’s easier because I’ve built up some trust that my story is not going to be, ‘Oh, how pathetic these kids’ lives are,’ and it’s not going to be, ‘They are all angels.’ No, there is a range of people within this beat just like any other.  You have to show that range. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem real, and it’s not real. I think what I try to do is get to the why.

Greg: Tell me more about that.

Kavitha: For example, I saw a line in the newspaper once, it said about a third of crime committed on the Metro is done by teenagers. And I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I should interview some kids to see what’s going on behind the statistics.’  I interviewed this 11-year-old boy. And he talked to me about how he robbed someone’s wallet. As we continued chatting he told me he was wearing his school uniform and did it right outside of his school. And he looks like a little baby at 11—he was like a small, little boy. And not bragging or anything, very innocently telling me about it.  And so I started asking questions—what was going on? And he said, ‘It was getting dark and I didn’t have a way to go home. So I saw this person, and I thought, he can afford like 100,000 bus passes.  And so my friend said just go and take his.’  And the guy identified the boy the next day in school.  So I said, ‘What did your mother say?’  And he said, ‘She was very upset. She said why didn’t you call me? And I said, with what phone and what money?’ And he said she never spoke about it again. So it’s never simple. There’s so much going on, and I think just getting to the why is the best I can do.

Greg: And what are some other powerful moments that really stand out for you and say a lot about your beat?

Kavitha: The more time I’ve spent in schools, the more I see what kids deal with—just a lot of issues: scared to come to school because of gangs, or feeling that they don’t have the right clothes to wear. Like one of the kids told me his mom used to shop for him at Payless and Walmart, and those were not the cool clothes, and so he was always teased… So when people say, for example, ‘poor people—how come they have nice clothes?’ It’s because they don’t want to show that they’re poor. Because the stigma is so great here. It’s such an American story, right? You can make it happen, you can do anything if you believe, you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And so if you’re poor, it means you haven’t tried hard enough. That’s the underlying narrative that people know and [so] they want to hide.

Or, one of the kids in [my] Beating the Odds series—her parents were immigrants, and she was living a very comfortable lifestyle. Her dad was a lawyer and then he was caught for fraud and deported. They spent all of their money on his trial. Overnight, she had nothing. She said they had to decide whether to have food, or electricity and water. They chose food. So they had to go to the Chik-fil-A nearby to wash up and brush their teeth and use the bathroom. The mother and the three kids slept in the basement on one bed because it was the coolest place in the house. And I think that’s another thing we don’t think about enough, how fluid poverty can be—people are middle class, and then low-income. It’s not like these rigid structures that people often think it is.

Greg: Do you often find when you go after a story about poverty, you end up getting something completely different than what you expected?

Kavitha:  Always.  There is so much going on inside of people and their backstories.  I remember interviewing an elderly lady when the DC plastic bag tax took effect and she didn’t like it.  And I said, ‘But it’s only 5 cents.’  And she said, ‘If I save up some of those 5 cents I can buy an egg.’  And I remember just stopping and thinking, ‘Oh my lord, this is just a whole different scale we’re talking about here.’

Greg: In addition to ‘getting to the why’, are there other fundamentals to good poverty reporting that you think about?

Kavitha:  I’m always interested in how poverty plays out in very specific, day-to-day ways. You want those specific details where you are like, ‘Oh, I had no idea’—both for you, and your audience.  Like when I did my Yesterday’s Dropouts documentary series [for Breaking Ground], literally every person I interviewed was telling me ‘I forgot my glasses.’  And suddenly I was like, ‘Wait a sec, what’s the glasses deal?’  And so I asked this woman, ‘It’s not your glasses, right?  You can’t read?’  And she said, ‘No, I can’t.’  And so once I realized people are hiding it I started asking, ‘What are the different ways in which you hide it?’  Looking at colors on medicine bottles; or colors on skim and whole milk.  I remember one guy telling me he was sent to buy grits, but that the picture on Quaker Oats and Grits is the same, and so he brought home the wrong thing, and that’s when his wife realized he can’t read.  Lots of people keep it from their spouse.  And I thought, ‘God, how alone must you feel, right?  How invisible and full of shame and sadness.’

And with children I think it’s even harder because they are so small.  So when they talk about like violence, or—things that even adults would have a hard time comprehending—you have to really develop a level of trust.… Like one boy who hadn’t graduated and he was talking about running with street gangs, and he totally accepted that he was making poor choices.  But at the same time he was very proud—in middle school he used to make honor roll, his teachers loved him… And so we got to talking further and I asked, ‘So what happened?’  His twin brother was shot in front of him.  And then it’s like of course he didn’t stick around in high school.   What would I do?  Or thinking about that kid who [robbed] the bus pass—I remember leaving that interview and thinking, ‘What would I have done if I was 11 years old and it was getting dark and I didn’t have a way to go home?’

Greg:  As you have put together this body of work, and have gotten to know so many children and families living in poverty—are there things that you feel like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe as a country we are doing A or B, or failing to do C?’

In the mix of all of the stories you hear about all of these different viewpoints and policy debates, I want you to think of a person.

Kavitha: As a reporter I really believe it’s up to the community to decide what kind of community they want, and what kind of world they want to live in. Personally, yes, to see the amount of poverty, especially in DC, and to see what these children have to deal with—and yet we say, ‘Oh, why don’t they succeed?’  When I hear that I just feel [like] people are operating without all the facts.  And so that’s where I think my role comes in—I will show you a different side that you are not seeing.  I will present people and voices.  Any time you say, ‘People are lazy,’ I’ll show you someone who’s working really, really hard, and it’s just—incredibly hard.  And listen to those stories too.  So in the mix of all of the stories you hear about all of these different viewpoints and policy debates, I want you to think of a person—a mother, a child, a parent who doesn’t have the skills or the training, or is paid low wages…

Greg:  When it comes to the intersection of poverty and education, are there things that you think are missing from the current debate about education reform?

Kavitha: When people talk about education reform—we should have implemented reforms a long time ago.  Because it’s clear our kids are not learning. But the reality is that poverty does affect these kids. And I remember someone said to me many years ago, ‘Well in D.C., we have a social worker and we have a guidance counselor and serve breakfast in school.’  Yes, except you’ve got one social worker for 200 children.  There are a lot of poverty issues that spill into the schools—whether it’s violence, teen pregnancy, hunger, stress of things they see at home, substance abuse, homelessness, obesity. I did a series on obesity, and teachers were talking about how it’s hard to schedule classes. If a class is on the third floor, some kids can’t walk up to the third floor. Suddenly, they have to rearrange classes. Or, I remember this little child saying, ‘I need to go to the bathroom often.’ Because his belly is so big, it pushes down on his bladder. And the teacher is like, ‘No, you can’t go. What is this? You keep going to the bathroom.’ And so there are these kinds of misunderstandings. That’s the challenge of poverty reporting—there is no simple A to B to C line.

Greg: As a DC resident and as a reporter, what’s most stunning to you about the economic divide and the lack of awareness about what people are experiencing?

Kavitha: I think that the lack of awareness goes both ways. A lot of the kids I speak to have no idea that people care west of the [Anacostia] River, or want them to do well in school. I remember once, ‘Beating the Odds’ listeners had called and offered money to help a student. And when I told the student she said, ‘Why would a white person care about me?’  I remember another white lady called me and she said, ‘You know, this story really touched me because I went to Georgetown University, and I met my husband there, and he was living in his car.’ And when I told that to a student I was interviewing she said, ‘That can’t be possible. White people don’t live in cars.’  So there are all these kinds of misconceptions.

But telling these stories through children [results in] tons of listeners calling up and saying, ‘We want to help.’ They want to donate money, time, or volunteer.  After that kid who robbed the wallet for a bus pass, several people called up and said, ‘We want to donate bus passes to him so he can get home.’ Homeless college kids, people are like, ‘We want to invite them for Thanksgiving so they have a place to stay’ or ‘For summer, I want them to have my basement apartment.’ The divide comes when people ascribe fault. I remember doing a story on two kids—one was homeless, lived in a shelter and was doing really well, and talked about how he had to pack up all the time and it was so hard.  A ton of people reached out to help, to give him money for school.  But then the other boy talked about how [in the past] he had assaulted someone, did drugs, went to jail.  He was like 19 or 20 now and had really turned his life around and was mentoring other kids. No one called about him.

Greg: As we enter 2016, potential presidential candidates are already talking about poverty and it looks like it will be a campaign issue.  What are your hopes and fears for how the media might cover it?

Kavitha: I hope that poverty is covered in terms of real people, not just in a theoretical way in terms of policies. I hope people who have solutions and programs that work are highlighted, so people don’t think this is an issue that cannot be tackled. I hope the diversity of poverty is covered, and I don’t mean that it affects all races. But how does poverty play out differently in the suburbs? What is it like for the newly poor versus the generationally poor? The elderly versus children? The working poor? There are just so many aspects to get at this issue.

Greg: Thanks for all of your great work and for talking to us.

You can follow Kavitha Cardoza @KavithaCardoza.  The next Breaking Ground will be out later this year and you can check out previous pieces at



Invest in Women to Reduce Poverty

Women’s History Month is a time when we celebrate the incredible strides of women and girls in our country. But even as we continue to talk about shattering the glass ceiling and breaking down barriers, far too many women have their dreams of college and a successful life dashed by economic adversity.

To examine these struggles, The Women’s Foundation published Poverty Among Women and Girls in the Washington Region late last month. We found that well over 450,000 women and girls live near poverty or below twice the poverty line. Moreover, the cost of living in the Washington region makes it nearly impossible for these families to make ends meet without assistance. For instance, a family of three (one adult and two children) that lives at twice the poverty line earns only $39,060 per year; but in order to meet basic needs, a family of three living in the District of Columbia requires an annual income of more than $85,000.

We also found that there are strong economic disparities based on race, ethnicity, and gender. Across the Washington region, women have higher poverty rates than men. Among adults in the region, Black and Latina women face the highest rates of poverty at 15.6 and 14.2 percent, respectively.

Low levels of educational attainment and poverty are also strongly correlated. In the Washington region, women with less than a high school diploma are six times more likely to be poor compared to women with a bachelor’s degree. Indeed, education remains one of the surest pathways to building a foundation for economic security, but low-income women often experience barriers to access. That’s why proposals such as President Obama’s America’s College Promise which would provide free community college have sparked so much interest from organizations working to end poverty. But in addition to meeting the high costs of post-secondary education, women may also require transportation supports or dependable, quality child care in order to attend classes.

The challenges don’t end there. Once a woman achieves the qualifications and credentials she seeks, she may not earn the pay equivalent of her male counterparts. These factors are compounded when women serve as the sole head of their household, which is the case for more than 60 percent of families in poverty in the Washington region. When child care costs in the District of Columbia are 90 percent of earnings for low-income women, not only are families unable to advance out of poverty, they struggle simply to make ends meet on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, what we see happening in communities across the Washington region is also a national trend. But there are some key steps we can take to help women on the path to economic security, including: adopting critical policies and supports like quality, affordable early care and education; strengthening available safety net programs, and encouraging jobs with family-sustaining wages and benefits. We must also raise awareness about the needs and vulnerabilities of women with the recognition that their economic security isn’t just a “women’s issue.”

Women’s philanthropy has played a critical role in pushing for policy reform; investing in direct service programs to help women access job training, quality early care and education, along with financial literacy and asset building skills; and raising awareness across the country (and the world) for more than 40 years.  Its impact is growing every day. Recognizing that gender matters, we invest in women, and in doing so we impact entire families and whole communities for the better.

You can read the Poverty Issue Brief and get involved here.