The findings from this year’s “Half in Ten” report make it abundantly clear that it’s time to change course in this country. It’s time to have a different conversation, not about reckless budget cutting but about job creation, boosting wages, and investing in family economic security. Fifty years ago, the March on Washington and the War on Poverty marked a major national commitment, a promise that we made to ourselves as a country—one that led to a steep decline in the poverty rate and ushered in widely shared economic growth.
Our past commitment was born out of a very different economic and social context, but we have much to learn about our future direction from the business left unfinished in the wake of these two iconic milestones in our country’s history. Although new generations of Americans have come along and face 21st century challenges in our economy, the tried and true principles of economic justice and widely shared prosperity that these challenges demand have not changed over the past 50 years. This is why we need to reinvigorate our national commitment to cutting poverty by tackling today’s economic challenges in the ways we lay out in our report. To meet our goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years, we need to rebuild a full-employment economy in which everyone has an opportunity to share in its gains. Moreover, we must make sure we leave no one on the margins. When families struggle to make ends meet in our economy, we need to reinvest in sound public programs that help get them back on their feet.
We know this kind of national commitment will help us reach our goal, but the first thing we need to do is put the brakes on the current reckless fiscal debate. Congress should start by ending sequestration—the automatic across-the-board budget cuts that no one wanted. And instead of focusing on cutting budgets for the sake of cutting, they should change the conversation to one that invests in what we know works to grow our economy, create jobs, and provide wider opportunities to all Americans. One example of such an investment is the Affordable Care Act, which is already showing promising results. On the labor front, Congress needs to raise the federal minimum wage to help improve wages that have remained stagnant for more than a decade for low-income families. Finally, with an economy that still fails too many families, Congress needs to invest in programs that keep Americans out of poverty.
We weathered a severe storm during the Great Recession, and today, our short- and medium-term fiscal outlook is far improved, and our economy is growing again. With our economic forecast brightening, let’s ensure that the prosperity from these and future gains does not only help those at the very top but also all of us—particularly those of us who struggle the most. Let’s learn from our own successful past and commit again to investing in a future with a poverty rate that is half of what it is today. We did it before, and we can do it again.
Melissa Boteach is the Director of the Half in Ten campaign at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Shawn Fremstad is a senior research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and a consultant to several national nonprofits on social and economic issues.
Joy Moses is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Erik R. Stegman is the Manager of the Half in Ten campaign at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Katie Wright is a Policy Analyst with the Half in Ten campaign at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.