Boteach Kaplan: A “Fair Deal”: From Poverty to Prosperity, An Achievable Goal

boteachby Melissa Boteach Kaplan (MD ’04)

In his 1949
state of the union address, Harry Truman laid out the cornerstone of his
domestic policy agenda, underscoring that “Every segment of our population, and
every individual, has a right to expect from his government a fair deal.”
By a Fair Deal, Truman implied that that all Americans should have access to
health insurance, fair wages, affordable housing, and a rising standard of
living.

Unfortunately,
the numbers released by the Census Bureau earlier this month imply that a “Fair
Deal” is still a far ways a way for too many Americans. The most recent data
reveal that last year 3.7 million additional people fell into poverty, for a
total of 43.6 million
, the largest number since the Census began
keeping track in 1959
. Median incomes declined, as did the number of
Americans with health insurance coverage.

While
these trends would have been significantly worse without the emergency
assistance measures enacted in the Recovery Act
,
we can’t exactly pat ourselves on the back when more
than one in five
(20.7 percent) of
America’s children lived in poverty last year, and racial
and ethnic disparities widened
at an
alarming rate.

Often
when we read these types of depressing numbers, our eyes glaze over. The
problem of poverty is too big. Poverty will always be with us. These numbers
are sad, but it doesn’t impact me.

Yet,
if we look back at our history, we can see that poverty is not an intractable
problem. There have been
periods when economic gains were more equitably shared and we were able to
significantly reduce poverty—periods when a strong near-full-employment economy
was combined with governmental and private initiatives to lift all Americans
up. Between 1964 and 1973, for example, poverty fell by more than 40 percent.
Between 1993 and 2000 it fell by 25 percent.

Half
in Ten
, the campaign I manage at the Center for American Progress Action
Fund (CAP Action), believes that we can achieve this kind of progress again, cutting
the U.S. poverty rate by half in ten
years. A study by our partner, Center for American Progress, underscored that
this isn’t some pie in the sky target, but a goal within reach if we muster the
political will to make sensible policy reforms. In fact, the study revealed
that just 3 policies: raising the minimum wage, making the tax code work better
for low-wage workers, and ensuring that childcare assistance is more broadly
available could cut poverty by 26 percent over the next decade. 

Moreover, we believe that
reducing poverty in America is not only the right thing to do, but also in our
national self-interest. A recent
study
we commissioned from noted economist Harry Holzer revealed that child
poverty alone cost the U.S. economy more than half a trillion dollars every
year. Cost-effective interventions now could increase our economic growth and
result in lower fiscal deficits in the future. 

How does the Half in Ten campaign
work to achieve its goal to halve poverty over the next decade? Together with
our three convening partners: CAP Action, The Coalition on Human Needs, and the
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, we:

 Why advocate for a national poverty-reduction goal? Having
a target is important because it can encourage collaboration across various
agencies working to reduce poverty and engage the private sector. Moreover, a
target provides focus and accountability in our efforts to rebuild the middle
class, encouraging lawmakers to judge proposals before them in relation to
progress toward a larger goal.

Much of last year’s increase in poverty was caused by
the lingering effects of the Great Recession. It is not surprising that more
people fell into poverty as unemployment remained near record highs. It is important
to remember, however, that poverty was a problem even before the Great
Recession. Between 2003 and 2007 we experienced the first-ever economic
“recovery” on record where productivity and profits grew but poverty went up
and median incomes fell. The middle class and low-income families did not
benefit from the gains accrued over the last decade.

We can and must do better this time around. A shared
goal of cutting poverty in half provides that focus. As we rebuild our economy
we must tackle poverty’s root causes. This means creating more decent-wage
jobs, strengthening work supports, and investing in children early on so that
everyone can participate in the economy. I invite all Truman Scholars to join
us in achieving this Fair Deal for all Americans and endorsing a national goal to cut
poverty in half in ten years
,

Resources:

  • Click here
    to access our interactive map, where you can find poverty data for your
    state and congressional district
  • Click here to endorse a goal
    to cut the U.S. poverty rate in half in ten years and get involved in the
    campaign.

Melissa Boteach
Kaplan (MD ’04) is the Half in Ten Manager at the Center for American Progress
Action Fund.

 

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