Think Tank Unveils Benchmarks to Cut Poverty in Half in Ten Years

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(APN) ATLANTA — A progressive think tank, The Center for American Progress (CAP), released a report on April 25, 2007, outlining a strategy to cut poverty in half in the United States in 10 years, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

The Task Force on Poverty (TFP), a project of CAP, composed “From Poverty to Prosperity,” a report detailing 12 key steps the United States should take in order to reduce poverty by half in 10 years.

“The Task Force is a mix of representatives from several groups,” Mark Greenberg, Executive Director of the TFP, told Atlanta Progressive News.

TFP is comprised of people “who are involved with progressive policy and poverty issues,” he added. It was formed with 2006 with a goal of devising strategies for reducing poverty.

“It’s in the best economic interest of the country,” Peter Edelman, a Task Force Co-Chair and Law Professor at Georgetown University, said of the recommendations. “A country that is wealthy as this is not living up to its values if it lets this many people remain poor.”

One in eight Americans now live in poverty and one-third of all Americans will experience some form of poverty in a 13-year period, the report notes.

“One of the things that gives me hope is we’ve learned so much,” Angela Glover Blackwell, a Task Force Co-Chair and Founder of PolicyLink, said of methods for reducing poverty.

THE PLAN

The Task Force report says the United States should set a national goal of reducing poverty by half in the next 10 years. The four guiding principles should be: promoting decent work, providing opportunities for all, ensuring economic security, and helping people build wealth.

“We’re trying to be practical,” Edelman said. “Everything we talk about is practical if we’re willing to make the investment.”

Four of the 12 key steps alone could bring the United States halfway to the goal, based on models created by The Urban Institute.

Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, raising and indexing the minimum wage to half the hourly wage, guaranteeing child care assistance to low-income families, and promoting early education for all could reduce poverty by 26 percent.

“The biggest single thing is if people have more income, then the quality of their life is going to improve and there’s a whole lot of things that’s going to come from that,” Edelman said.

“If we want parents out there getting a paycheck, the kids have to be taken care of in a safe place and they need a good school,” he added.

The report estimates the total cost in federal dollars would be $90 billion. It notes the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts are in the range of $400 billion a year, suggesting one way to pay for the $90 billion is to roll back some of the Bush tax cuts.

Other steps speak to making it easier for everyone to achieve secondary educations by expanding Pell Grants and supporting organizing workers into unions.

Perhaps the most important step as it relates to the crisis in affordable and public housing in Atlanta is step number five: creating two million new vouchers and promoting equitable development in and around central cities.

HOUSING PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

In 2005, 17 million households spent over 30 percent of their income on rent–and thus had housing cost burden–while another 8 million spent over half their income on rent. Both figures exceed the federal definition of “affordable.”

“The affordable housing crisis is becoming a national crisis,” Blackwell said.

The report recommends creating communities “rich with opportunity, offering their residents access to good paying jobs, proximity to public transit, good schools, diverse housing choices, and important services and amenities such as supermarkets, cultural centers, and parks.”

“The question becomes: what’s the best way to make sure no one is thrown away?” Edelman said.

Edelman is big on the idea of including residents in making improvements to their public housing communities. “You’re getting work done and getting people involved [so that] they have pride in themselves.”

“I think it’s very important we always look for ways to get multiple things done,” Blackwell said.

Often, the benefits of “public/private partnerships for large scale development projects…have not been equitably shared,” the report notes.

“Mixed income [communities] tend to be healthier but what tends to happen is people get displaced and nobody cares what happens to them,” Edelman said. “It’s great to have middle income in the city but you have to do it in an equitable way and make sure its fair and includes everybody.”

The report recommends equitable development because it “infuses the goal of racial and economic inclusion into local planning and development at the regional level and in the inner city.”

“Solving the crisis in affordable housing must involve preserving existing and producing new affordable housing, with a focus on expanding affordable housing in communities of opportunity,” the report adds.

But the report is not suggesting tearing down all the public housing in America, not building any housing, affordable or otherwise, in its place, handing residents worthless vouchers, and wishing them the best of luck.

Instead, TFP, like the Atlanta-based organization Jobs with Justice, is advocating pouring money into communities in order to expand pubic transportation and promote public transportation-oriented development, create better schools, create job training and assistance programs, and a myriad of other things.

The report suggests cities adopt inclusionary zoning laws so that low- and moderate-income families have an equal opportunity to reside in whatever mixed-use developments that may appear.

The report is also not suggesting vouchers are somehow the magic bullet to deconcentrating poverty, though it does recommend making the system better by creating 2 million new vouchers that contain higher payment standards so recipients can find a broader range of housing.

“Voucher funding should be combined with funding for housing-search assistance and case management services so families can participate in HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency program, which connects recipients to employment-related services and allows them to accumulate savings as their earnings increase,” according to the report.

Blackwell said vouchers are only good if they can get people into “opportunity rich” communities that will help families get the services and amenities they need, not push people from one run down area to another.

GETTING STARTED RIGHT AWAY AT THE STATE LEVEL

Local and state governments can take action now, rather than waiting on the federal government, the report says.

“There are parts [of the plan] only the federal government can do but there are many things state and local [governments] can do,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg told APN that action is already occurring in large Cities like New York and Los Angeles where the Mayors of the respective Cities are working on important initiatives like living wages and helping low wage workers organize.

“The point is you need to do the things that relate to work, an income safety net, child development, education, and enhancing the labor market for young people,” Edelman said.

He hammered home the importance of quality education and early child development. “I’d talk to some people of the importance of everything that happens between birth and age five. If kids don’t have a chance to go to school when they’re five, there are a lot of deficits that are created that have to be made up later on.”

“I don’t know why anyone would be against helping send people to school,” Edelman added.

“There can, and should, be an active debate about the best ways to reach a goal of cutting poverty in half,” the report concludes. “It is time for a national commitment to move forward.”

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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