Thirty-seven million Americans live in poverty, an outrageous number in a country that boasts of its economic growth. While the poverty rate for the general population is 12.3 percent, the poverty rate is much higher for women who live independently from men and men’s wages. With a poverty rate of 37 percent, single mothers are especially vulnerable to poverty. Single mothers of color are more vulnerable than white women, with poverty rates of 43.9 percent for African American single mothers and 46.6 percent for Latinas. Gender and race inequality reside at the core of income inequality and poverty, reflecting discrimination in the labor market and the economic neglect of caregiving work within families.
Almost 3 million persons now living in poverty work full time year round. Another 6.3 million work full time for part of the year. A full-time minimum wage does not lift a family above poverty, so full-time labor market work does not cure poverty. While low-income workers barely make ends meet, Fortune 500 CEOs average pay of $37 million, and more than 300,000 millionaires file tax returns to the IRS (and that’s the income they actually report).
Something is amiss, and the following actions will begin to turn the nation around:
- Establish a national living wage.
- Reform the welfare system (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) to restore the social safety net and support low-income mothers in meeting the care needs of their children. A reformed TANF system should assure quality child care to low-income families; provide income assistance to caregiver parents; assist survivors of domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues in overcoming barriers to employment; promote education, and the development of job skills; and offset transportation costs for workers who must travel long distances to a job.
- Strengthen unemployment insurance programs by expanding coverage and extending benefits in areas of high unemployment, as well as by broadening coverage to include workers who must leave jobs due to sexual harassment and/or intimate violence.
- Provide paid family and maternity leave, universal access to affordable, high quality childcare, and allowances for caregivers, including Social Security credit for caregivers.
- Ensure the availability of affordable housing to meet the nation’s goal established more than half a century ago: a decent home for all Americans. The housing needs of low-income families will remain unmet if we rely solely on vouchers and the private market. Once again the federal government, in cooperation with localities, must assume its responsibility to build and fund decent low-income housing. We commend the 110th Congress for creating a Housing Trust Fund, despite President Bush’s threatened veto, the right start toward increasing the nation’s supply of housing for low-income families.
- Pass the Employee Free Choice Act which will help workers join unions and collectively bargain for better wages, better benefits and a safer workplace.
Low Income Housing, by Jane Adams Finn (2009)
TANF Reauthorization: An Opportunity to Invest in America's Future