“A Historic Opportunity”

Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden opens up about her own personal story facing poverty as a child and explains why we have an historic opportunity right now to take meaningful steps to reduce poverty in America.

Key Lessons In The Fight To Reduce Poverty

TalkPoverty.org—a project of the Half in Ten Education Fund—is dedicated to demonstrating that we know how to dramatically reduce poverty. The website brings together basic data about poverty in America; the voices of those living in poverty and those dedicated to the fight against poverty; and resources to get involved with local, state and national organizations to take action.

Today, it features a post from Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden, who opens up about her own personal story facing poverty as a child, and explains why we have a historic opportunity right now to take meaningful steps to reduce poverty in America. She recalls the times, after her parents divorced, when her family benefited from a federal housing subsidy, and when they “were the only shoppers in line using food stamps.” An expert on poverty and a witness to it, she shares some key lessons:

1. The Safety Net Is A Bridge: “For my family, as for many American families, the safety net was a bridge that carried us through hard times. That’s why it’s important that I tell my story.”

2. This Is A Historic Opportunity To Address Poverty: “I believe we have a historic opportunity to address poverty today, because the interests of low-income people and the middle class are converging. Median wages—the wages of middle-income earners—have been stagnant for twelve years. People recognize there is growing inequality in this country and that something is amiss when companies are doing well but people aren’t – when dividends, stock prices, and CEO salaries rise but wages don’t.”

3. The Political Strategy To Avoid Talking About Poverty Is A Mistake: “Among some on the center left, there is a political strategy to not talk directly about poverty. Many will say things like ‘trying to get people to the middle class.’ I think that strategy is a mistake. If we fail to talk openly about poverty, we miss an opportunity to address people’s anxieties and misconceptions about low-income people. We fail to correct the misunderstandings about who poor people are, and we fail to make progress we otherwise could.”

4. Low-Income People Need More Of A Platform: “We need to give more low-income people the opportunity to tell their stories at Congressional hearings, so our elected officials see the true face of poverty in America, and I applaud the Senate HELP Committee for providing [low-income worker Armanda] Legros a platform.”

5. We Need To Force The Issue Of Poverty To The Forefront In 2014 And 2016: “It’s time for a new focus on the solutions to poverty, both in the November elections, and during the presidential election in 2016. To force the issue to the forefront of the national conversation, advocates in Washington and in communities across the country will need to mobilize and speak out. People will need to raise the issue at town halls just as we did for health care reform. We all need to stand with workers who are fighting for better wages and working conditions and give them opportunities to tell their stories. It’s not a question of whether change will come from the grassroots or Washington—we need to fight for good policy in Washington and raise our voices at the state and local levels.”

6. We Can’t Miss This Opportunity: “We’re all in the same boat now, searching for economic stability for our families and an economy that raises wages for everyone. It’s time for us to make that case clearly and unapologetically. There are many times when we miss opportunities in public policy. We can’t miss this one.”

Be sure to visit talkpoverty.org to read the whole thing. (And check them out on Facebook and Twitter, too!)

BOTTOM LINE: 46 million Americans live in poverty, including more than one in five children. We need to have an informed conversation about how to dramatically reduce poverty in this country. And we can’t miss the opportunity we have right now.

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Advocacy Team