Greg Kaufmann, Nation - Below is one possible Antipoverty Contract for 2013. I have no idea if these are the right choices—and there are some notable absences—on full employment, housing and education, to name a few.
But I hope this draft serves as a conversation starter among organizations, community groups and people at the forefront of these fights—and that a core might emerge to coalesce and organize around a clear, focused antipoverty contract this year that might serve as a compelling organizing tool.
Raise the Minimum Wage
Americans generally believe that people who work hard should be able to pay for the basics, including food, housing, healthcare and education.
As Peter Edelman notes in his book, So Rich, So Poor, for most of the 1960s and 70s the minimum wage paid enough to lift a family of three above the poverty line, about $18,000 today. Not so anymore. It has been raised only three times in the past thirty years and now stands at $7.25 per hour, which results in sub-poverty earnings of approximately $15,000 for a year-round, full-time employee.
The minimum wage for tipped workers is even worse—a stunning $2.13 per hour, and it’s been locked there since 1991. As a result, food industry servers in the United States are three times more likely than the general workforce to be paid sub-poverty wages and twice as likely to need food stamps.
If Congress had indexed the minimum wage to inflation—as they did for, say, individual campaign contribution limits or the new estate tax threshold—it would be $10.58 per hour today....
Paid sick and family leave for all workers
More than 40 percent of people in the private sector workforce—including 81 percent of low-wage workers—don’t receive a single paid sick day. Millions more lack paid leave to care for a sick child or family member. Nearly 25 percent of workers polled said that they have lost a job or were told they would lose a job for taking time off to deal with a personal or family illness.
The United States is virtually alone among other high-income countries in not setting a minimal standard for paid sick days, and is in the minority in not providing paid leave to care for a family member. For families in or near poverty, this is especially critical, since a few days’ lost pay makes the struggle to provide the basics—like food—that much harder....
The Healthy Families Act would allow workers in businesses with fifteen or more employees to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year—to recover from their own illnesses, access preventative care or provide care for a sick family member.
Affordable childcare for working families
Half in Ten recently reported that the average cost of full-time childcare ranges from $3,600 to $18,200 annually per child. Since there are 7.8 million families with children under age 6 that live below 200 percent of the poverty line—on less than about $36,000 annually for a family of three—that’s just unacceptable (and it’s unacceptable for the middle class too)...
In 2010 poverty rates for families headed by a single mother dropped from 40.7 percent to 14 percent when the mother had full-time, year-round employment—and childcare is key to that equation. Research shows that low-income mothers who receive childcare subsidies are more likely to be employed, work more hours, and work standard schedules compared to mothers without subsidies...
End Childhood Hunger
In 2009, FRAC laid out seven steps to ending childhood hunger by 2015 that are still relevant today. They include a range of measures such as: raising the minimum wage; creating jobs with better wages for lower-income workers; improving the SNAP [food stamp] benefit (which averaged $4.30 per person per day in 2010); increasing participation in the school lunch, breakfast, after-school and summer meal programs; improving WIC [federal grants to states for services to women and children]; engaging all federal agencies that interact with low-income children—whether it’s the DOJ which funds after-school programs, ....and creating a national stream of grants and loans to make sure there are decent grocery stores in low-income communities.
The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program created in 1996 was touted as assistance that would help families on a path towards self-sufficiency. It’s tough to overstate what a bill of goods the American people are being sold when both parties claim it has been a success.
If success means reducing the number of families with children in poverty that receive cash assistance—from 68 for every 100 families in poverty, to 27 for every 100 over the past sixteen years—then, yeah it was successful. But then why not just throw everyone off?
If it means not indexing TANF assistance to inflation, so that the benefit is now less than 30 percent of the poverty level in most states (less than $6000 annually for a family of three)… then it was successful....
If success means virtually fifty different welfare systems—for the purpose of “state flexibility”—so that Wyoming provides assistance to just 4 families for every 100 with children in poverty, Mississippi reaches 10, and California 66… then it was successful.
The antipoverty community should fight for a TANF that meets some basic standards regarding who should receive it; supports people in work or education programs that lead to family-supporting rather than dead-end jobs; and that addresses the needs of families living in deep poverty—which are usually headed by people with the most significant barriers to employment, including mental and physical health challenges, lack of a high school diploma, caring for a child with special needs, or living with domestic violence—rather than simply throwing families off of assistance.....
An Antipoverty Contract for 2013 wouldn’t guarantee a win on one or any of these five issues this year. But it could engage people who currently aren’t being reached by the antipoverty movement; demonstrate why the movement’s policies are good for the entire nation; and offer an opportunity for people to work together for these and deeper reforms moving forward. I would be interested in constructive comments below, as well as in e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org