A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty (a reprise)

The following is a reprise of a post I wrote three years ago. After the pandemic and its lingering tentacles, along with increased apartment prices due to a housing boom fueled even more by investors buying up property, it is even more of a concern today. I welcome your ideas and thoughts.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

The above quote comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. Its subtitle is also telling – “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The dilemma is we have a poverty problem that stretches from urban to rural America. Yet, it manifests itself daily in the eviction courts of American cities and towns, whether it is from apartments, houses or mobile homes.

The book speaks of how fragile the rental community is regardless of race, yet the black community tends to have a higher rate of exposure to evictions in urban areas. Unexpected expenses, transportation problems, and tragedies can push people paying a very high portion of their rent over the edge and out the door. Ideally, 30% of family income should be toward housing and utilities. Too many of these folks are paying well above that percentage.

It should be noted that there are other drivers of fragility. Some have opioid and other dependencies. Some are fragile due to too many children that stretch the budgets of even the best planners. Some are in downward spirals with unsupportive landlords. And, many of those unexpected expenses that arise are healthcare related.

What are some suggestions to remedy these issues? Based on my experience as a volunteer Board member helping working homeless families and my reading, I would like to throw out some ideas for consideration.

First, we need to talk more about it. America has a huge disparity in distribution of wealth which is not talked about enough by leaders. Where and to whom one is born are greater predictors of success as the American Dream  has waned for too many.

Second, we need to fund more family planning efforts not less. There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. When family planning is funded and birth control access and education are increased, poverty declines, system health care costs decline and abortions decline.

Third, more mechanisms to reduce evictions need to be in place and funded. Crisis assistance funds show success in helping keeping the electricity on and, when funded, reducing the number of evictions. Stopping homelessness (or fragility) before it starts can make a huge difference and will have a positive echo effect.

Fourth, we must invest in impoverished  areas making them more suitable for families both with opportunity and resources. In their absence, crime and other poor influences fill the void.

Fifth, while I have concerns about the new Tax law (passed in early 2018) with its impact on debt and heavy emphasis on the wealthy and corporations, a huge opportunity was missed when we could have added an increase in the minimum wage tying it to automatic increases due to wage inflation. I worry that less money than expected by the law’s drafters will end up in the hands of workers.

Sixth, we must address our opioid crisis in America. And, we must look at our rising numbers needing mental health counseling. To be frank, cutting access to healthcare and mental care insurance benefits are not the answer. We should actually be expanding access where it does not exist. We must stabilize access and cost of healthcare, yet opposite measures have been taken in the past few years under the guise of political gain.

Seventh, too many go hungry in the United States, especially children. That may be one of our greatest tragedies as a nation. We must address food deserts where grocers choose not to go. Too many are living off horrible fast food or nothing at all. Food co-ops would be a big help to those areas, but they need help funding the build-out.

There are many more ideas, but these will help. On the investing front, many locations have seen success with using historical tax credits leveraging private money. There is a concept called ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) which shores up or repurposes a deteriorated asset creating jobs and revitalizing areas.

But, first we need to talk about this real and pervasive problem.


8 thoughts on “A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty (a reprise)

    • VJ, many thanks. There is a visual test that asks Americans to pick out our income distribution from a graph versus that of other countries. Regardless of economic strata, people guess wrongly about which graph represents America. We are far more top weighted than people presume meaning the American dream of getting ahead is not a reality for far too many. Keith

  1. Good, thoughtful post, my friend. One problem I see is that too many politicians and wealthy corporate leaders preach the myth that poor people deserve to live as they do, that they are too lazy to work and therefore brought the situation upon themselves. Rather akin to the quote falsely attributed to the French Queen Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake!” There is much that could be done, as your suggestions show, to reduce the level of poverty in the U.S., but it would require those who have more than enough to part with some of their excess $$$, and they don’t want to do that, so they promote the lie that those living in poverty deserve what they get. Minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2009, although the rate of inflation since that time is over 38%. Even people working two jobs live in poverty. What we need to do first and foremost is change the attitudes of the people in this country toward poverty, wake them up to the realities rather than continuing to perpetuate the myths.

    • Jill, many thanks. Good points. There is a great line from the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us” by Cornel West and Tavis Smiley – “Poverty is the absence of money. Period.” It is not due to not working hard or being less pious. I recognize there are some who malinger, but most folks are working multiple jobs to get by and many are quite devout. We have a more than half the country who are in poverty or just a few pay checks away from it. Keith

      • It’s almost as if Republicans and Democrats either live in two distinctly different worlds, or at least view the world through entirely different glasses. I know people who work two jobs and still can’t pay the rent. Heck, our rent increased by $183, or 15% this year. We’re very fortunate that Chris has a good paying job as a nurse, else we would be facing eviction by the end of the year! I don’t know how those making less can possibly handle the astronomical rent increases.

      • Jill, I read this statement over ten years ago – more than 1/2 of Republican voters are voting against their economic interests and have no idea they are. At the heart of the model is still the truism that Republicans like to give more money to rich people and corporations and help them keep it. Everything else is window dressing. I find it sadly amusing that Liz Truss will push a failed economic theory called “Trickle down economics” in the UK when it may push them further into a Brexit economic downswing. The analysts had predicted before the Brexit vote what we are seeing now, but few were listening. If Trickle down is added on top of that, I worry for our British friends. Keith

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