Half in Ten’s Annual Report on Poverty Highlights How Local, State Anti-Poverty Efforts Are Building National Momentum for Poverty Reduction
Washington, D.C. — With the midterm congressional elections over, a new report released today by the Half in Ten campaign is calling on Congress to get serious about passing legislation to cut poverty, building on the growing momentum at the state and local levels to make poverty reduction a national priority.
This year’s report—which includes a foreword from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (D)—saw the first statistically significant decrease in the poverty rate since 2006 and only the second decrease since 2000, but the actual number of Americans living in poverty remained statistically unchanged at 45.3 million in 2013. Despite this stagnant figure, the report highlights how a national anti-poverty agenda for 2016 is already building momentum at the local level, with states and municipalities across the country adopting policies that promote economic security among low- and moderate-income families.
Watch live today at 10:30 a.m. ET: Local officials, policy experts, and advocates discuss findings of report.
“Where Congress has failed to effectively address poverty—in some cases, actively making the situation more challenging for low-income families—a growing number of cities and states are adopting policies that help working families escape and stay out of poverty,” said Erik Stegman, Associate Director of Half in Ten at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. “Americans across the country are mobilizing around progressive policies to reduce poverty, but it’s time to take these efforts to the next level and make dramatic poverty reduction a national priority.”
“Fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, women, communities of color, and people with disabilities continue to face far too many barriers to economic prosperity,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a partner of Half in Ten. “We can and must do better to lift families out of poverty and reverse the destructive trend of economic inequity. It’s time for Congress to heed the calls for action from across the nation and get to work for all Americans.”
In 2014 alone, 10 states and the District of Columbia have increased their minimum wage, and a number of states and major U.S. cities have adopted paid sick leave policies. Meanwhile, the minimum-wage ballot initiatives in the 2014 midterm elections went five for five, winning by an average margin of 26 points even in four red states. Additionally, voters across the country overwhelmingly supported paid sick leave initiatives this election cycle.
“The demand for poverty reduction is being felt around the country. Washington, D.C., and 23 states have a higher minimum wage than the federal $7.25 now, and voters in four states just enacted increases; states and localities are starting to require employers to provide at least some paid sick leave,” said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a partner of Half in Ten. “We are getting sick and tired of an economy that continues to leave millions of families behind. But without more federal action, we cannot ensure that everyone has a chance to escape poverty.”
Despite some progress, several key indicators of poverty remain stubbornly stagnant or moving in the wrong direction. Additional key findings in the report include:
- Although unemployment rates are improving, stagnant and depressed wages remain. The unemployment rate fell from 7.2 percent in September 2013 to 5.9 percent in September 2014, but the economy remains an estimated 5.6 million jobs shy of reaching prerecession employment levels. Meanwhile, wage growth for low- and moderate-income workers has been declining since the 2001 recession, and wages for the bottom 40 percent of workers are lower today than they were in 2000.
- The rich continue to grow richer as income and wealth stagnate for low- and middle-income families. The level of income inequality has now reached the same levels as it was in the 1920s. In 2013, the top 20 percent of Americans took in 51 percent of all income in the United States, while the top 5 percent took home 22.3 percent of the country’s total income. The bottom 40 percent brought in just 11.5 percent.
- Our economy is seriously failing communities of color. While the unemployment rate for all workers was 5.9 percent in September 2014, the unemployment rate was 11 percent for African Americans and 6.9 percent for Latinos. Wages are also disproportionally depressed for communities of color, with 35.7 percent of blacks and 42.2 percent of Latinos making poverty wages in 2013, compared with 22.5 percent of whites.
- Congress has pulled the rug out from under struggling families before the labor market has recovered. Over the past year, Congress has cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, reduced unemployment insurance coverage, and stalled on legislation that would create jobs, straining families and the nation’s safety net. Meanwhile, Congress has failed to act on policies that would promote economic security among low- and moderate-income families, such as increasing the federal minimum wage and implementing guaranteed paid sick days.
- Federal investments in health insurance are improving lives, but many states can do a lot more right now. The Affordable Care Act has significantly decreased the uninsured rate among low-income Americans in 2014, with estimates of at least 8 million to 10 million previously uninsured adults gaining health coverage. However, there are well more than 4 million low-income people nationwide who have not yet experienced positive results under the law because their states have chosen not to expand Medicaid coverage.
Half in Ten’s report includes a comprehensive series of policy recommendations to significantly reduce poverty and expand economic security and opportunity to all Americans. Among its recommendations, the report calls on the federal government, states, and cities to enact living-wage provisions; expand access to paid sick leave; maintain and strengthen the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and American Opportunity Tax Credit; ensure affordable, high-quality child care and pre-K; expand access to health care insurance coverage; improve unemployment insurance; and support legislation that puts affordable and available housing within the reach of more families.
Read the report: Building Local Momentum for National Change by Melissa Boteach, Shawn Fremstad, Erik Stegman, Sarah Baron, and Rebecca Vallas
- Download the executive summary here.
- Access state-by-state poverty data here.
- Download fact sheets profiling poverty data among demographic groups here.
For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Chelsea Kiene at email@example.com or 202.478.5328.
Half in Ten was launched in 2008 to urge local, state, and national leaders to set a national goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years and to build the political and public will to advance legislation and programs that will help us reach it. More information can be found at www.halfinten.org.