Cutting Poverty in Half Should be a Habit

Citizen Wealth Financial Justice


Treasury tax check with cash.


July 29, 2021

            Little Rock      How about some good news for a change?  Unbelievably, this is a silver lining attached to the tragic clouds of the pandemic.

A comprehensive research project by the Urban Institute found that:

The number of poor Americans is expected to fall by nearly 20 million from 2018 levels, a decline of almost 45 percent. The country has never cut poverty so much in such a short period of time, and the development is especially notable since it defies economic headwinds — the economy has nearly seven million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic.

That’s not all.  Poverty “has dropped among Americans who are white, Black, Latino and Asian, and among Americans of every age group and residents of every state.”

The good news doesn’t stop there.

The Urban Institute’s projections show poverty falling to 7.7 percent this year from 13.9 percent in 2018. That decline … is nearly three times the previous three-year record, according to historical estimates by researchers at Columbia University. The projected drop in child poverty, to 5.6 from 14.2 percent, amounts to a decline of 61 percent. That exceeds the previous 50 years combined, the Columbia figures show.

And, there’s icing on this cake as well since… ”In addition to there being nearly 20 million fewer people in poverty, the institute projects about 10 million fewer in ‘near poverty,’ with incomes of 100 to 150 percent of the poverty line.”

Why?  We finally spent a trillion dollars to make a difference for tens of millions.  Of course, even in the midst of this historic victory, there’s pushback.  Conservatives and Republicans say we’re breaking the backs of peoples’ will to work and so on and so on.  All that with huge unemployment and uneven job prospects across the country.  They also say that it’s too much money to spend.  Presumably, that’s because they don’t have jets or ships to show for it.  You know, something tangible, not something frivolous like real people.

Spending a trillion is no trifle, I’ll grant you that.  Except, when it directly benefits 30 million people, and I’m not going to even count the indirect benefits that come from the expenditures in their communities to local grocers and other businesses and their families, it’s more than worth the money.  Do the math.  We’re talking about the federal government spending $33.33 per individual to bring them out of poverty and distance them from poverty.   That’s next to nothing!

For over fifty years many of us have said, hey, we’re the richest country in the world, we can do better, it just takes the will and the wallet.  These stimulus payments starting with Trump and now on steroids with Biden proves the point.  Spend a little and the benefits are profound and personal for our families, our neighbors, our communities, and our country.

Here’s my question.  Why is this temporary?  Why are we stopping now when we should be putting the pedal to the metal and going for more?  People are talking about ending these critical investments and settling for the fact that millions may escape poverty permanently of the 20 million who just moved over the line.

We’ve got momentum now.  We need to keep the pressure on poverty and bring another ten or twenty million out.  We’re now proving that money matters, so we need to spend more to win more.