America has a poverty problem. This is how it can be corrected.
In 2019, when I was mayor of Stockton, California, I launched the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, the first major guaranteed income program in an American city. The pilot project provided 125 randomly selected residents with $ 500 per month for two years – with no strings attached and no work requirements. To be eligible, a person only had to be at least 18 years old, reside in Stockton, and live in a neighborhood with a median income equal to or lower than the city’s median household income of $ 46,033.
I was motivated to try something radically different because the status quo was unacceptable to me: the median household income in Stockton was well below the state median of about $ 62,000; we were also among the worst in the country when it comes to child poverty.
The racial wealth gap did not happen by accident.
The findings of our pilot project were significant: Compared to the control group, those receiving the allowance experienced significantly lower income volatility, so they were able to plan, pay unforeseen expenses, and repay debts. They were also healthier, had less depression and anxiety, and reported better well-being. The beneficiaries spent the money on essential items such as food, utilities and transport. And full-time employment increased dramatically for residents who were part of the pilot (from 28 percent to 40 percent) as people were able to stop working multiple jobs and take some time to find just one. , better job.
Many of these findings go against the stereotypes this nation has held for generations about people in difficulty, and especially people of color. However, for me, someone who grew up in poverty, the results weren’t that surprising. I have long known that talent and intellect are universal, but resources and opportunities are not.
Indeed, the results of giving more resources to people have been so positive that now more than 60 mayors across the country have pledged income security as a tool to end poverty, with about half already in the process. to run pilot projects in their own cities.
We absolutely can implement bold policies at the local, state and federal levels that will drastically change the trajectory of people’s lives, eradicate poverty and improve the productivity of the country. But we can only achieve this kind of change if we disrupt and replace the current discourse on poverty based on racist, classist, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes. It’s a narrative that blames people for their struggles – calling them lazy, corrupt, unintelligent, or worse – and sees them as undeserving of our trust, investment, or even their own dignity.
This framing allows politicians to ignore and maintain blatantly unfair systems that keep people trapped in poverty – like jobs that pay unlivable wages or students in poor schools that lack adequate or no access. , resources such as guidance counselors and extracurricular activities offered by wealthy schools.
We absolutely can implement bold policies at the local, state and federal levels that will drastically change the trajectory of people’s lives.
By viewing the poor as less than the rich – or even as disposables – actions like treating their communities as America’s dumping ground for hazardous waste and pollution will continue, while leaving them without health care infrastructure.
A narrative that accuses people of not getting out of poverty also allows policy makers to hijack the not a silver bullet) to advance in today’s economy. It’s a narrative that contributes to the continued mass incarceration that shatters families and strips the talent and potential of black and brown communities.
But what if we replaced this false and destructive narrative with an authentic narrative that centers the experiences of people who actually live in poverty? They are people like my mother, my grandmother and my aunt – my “three mothers”, as I call them in my memoir “The Deeper the Roots” – who raised me together while my father was serving a 25-year life sentence due to a draconian “Three knocks, you’re out” law. A fundamental change in the way we talk about communities like the one I grew up in would recognize the strengths, assets and dignity of individuals and families. It would clearly examine how people are prepared for failure in underfunded, low-paying schools with no benefits, on the police and more, and so it would create space for new policies which, as I call it. , would upset the configuration.
The stakes for a new narrative, a new policy and a new policy around poverty could not be higher. That’s why I started this seemingly radical policy pilot in Stockton, and why lawmakers on both sides in cities across the United States are following suit now.
A fundamental change in the way we talk about communities like the one I grew up in would recognize the strengths, assets and dignity of individuals and families.
With an estimated 37 million people in the United States living below the official poverty line ($ 26,496 for a family of four) – a woefully inadequate measure that ignores the true cost of living – we are at a pivotal moment when we will make significant gains, progress or retreat in the face of the backlash. Government assistance in response to the pandemic kept 53 million people above the poverty line in 2020, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis of Census Bureau data. Stimulus checks (cash), increased food aid, emergency rental aid and the extension of UI have all played a significant role and, in many cases, literally. provided people with a lifeline. And since the child tax credit was extended in July, 3 million children have been lifted out of poverty each month, according to estimates from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University.
Yet we are already seeing the backlash. As the Biden administration and most Democrats strive to make the child tax credit permanent through the Build Back Better Act, others are urging to include work requirements and wonder so parents deserve this benefit without the extra effort.
There is no more difficult job than raising children in poverty. Nothing requires more effort: from advocacy in schools to DIY transportation, childcare and other essentials; deal with the harmful effects of the environment on health; try to keep your children safe from state and neighborhood violence; juggling bills and multiple jobs in the formal or informal economy; and navigate the Byzantine bureaucracies for a little help.
Plus, we’ve seen that hard work doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything other than hard work. You can do everything right and still not receive the promised payoff. The saying “If you work hard and play by the rules, anyone can do it” just isn’t true.
What is true is that a little help can go a long way – and we have known this for a long time. It is therefore high time to put an end to paternalistic and stigmatizing policies and to seek instead bold, morally just and economically intelligent solutions.
Besides giving people money, other bold policies include the creation of baby bonds so that everyone has access to capital for further education, entrepreneurship, or home ownership when they need it. ‘he reaches adulthood. The racial wealth gap did not happen by accident: Contributing factors included black and brown people excluded from Social Security and New Deal labor protections, excluded from IG benefits, denied mortgage loans through redlining, targeted through employment and salary discrimination and blocked from access to capital to start, support or develop small businesses.
We also need to create good jobs with wages and benefits for the family – and if you visit a poor community in the country, that’s one of the first things they’ll say they want (the other being probably more resources for their schools). If the private sector cannot do it, then the government should provide a job. Call it a job guarantee or a Green New Deal (the climate change proposal includes a federal job guarantee) – call it what you want – but there is still work to be done in many areas like childcare. elderly and children; public transport and infrastructure; build, rehabilitate and renovate affordable and energy efficient housing; the creation of parks and green spaces; and more.
Finally, we will never end poverty unless we create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented migrants already here – the vast majority of whom already contribute to our economy and our communities every day. Citizenship is one of the clearest routes out of poverty. Compared to work authorization programs like Temporary Protected Status, it offers greater protection against exploitation by employers, ends the fear of expulsion (as well as its abuse for political purposes) and enables individuals and families to access support when they need it. Remember how undocumented immigrants – many of whom pay taxes and were essential frontline workers at the height of the pandemic – were found ineligible for stimulus checks?
How are we going to pay for these new policies and others? We can start by demanding – as most Americans do – that wealthy businesses and individuals finally pay their fair share of taxes. We can also revamp an upside down tax code that largely rewards people who are already wealthy, generates economic inequality and worsens racial inequality, according to Prosperity Now.
When I was a child, my mother used to say to me, “Don’t tell anyone about our affairs. It was based in part on a sense of shame that she and many others absorbed just for having to struggle. I have since learned that telling the truth actually frees us. It has been the case for me in my life, it has seen turmoil for our nation and it will again if we decide to identify and dismantle the systems that create, maintain and perpetuate poverty.
It all starts with telling a new and authentic story.