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Granite State Rumblings: 10 Ways To Cut Poverty And Grow The Middle Class

Happy Family ( FLIKR CC David Amsler)
Happy Family ( FLIKR CC David Amsler)

Happy Family ( FLIKR CC David Amsler)

I spend a lot of time writing and working on poverty related issues and to some it may seem that I have little interest in talking about or protecting the middle class. This is not case. Issues that affect those living in poverty and policies that help move individuals out of poverty all relate to and have a direct impact on the middle class. A large and stable middle class has been central to America’s wealth and stability for decades. To help make the case, I am sharing a recent brief from Rebecca Vallas, Associate Director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress and Melissa Boteach, Vice President of Half in Ten and the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center.

The Top Ten Solutions to Cut Poverty and Grow the Middle Class

The Census Bureau released its annual income, poverty, and health insurance report yesterday, revealing that four years into the economic recovery, there has been some progress in the poverty rate as it fell from 15 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent in 2013, but there was no statistically significant improvement in the number of Americans living in poverty.
Furthermore, low- and middle-income workers have seen little to no income growth over the past decade, as the gains from economic growth have gone largely to the wealthiest Americans.

With flat incomes and inequality stuck at historically high levels, one might assume that chronic economic insecurity and an off-kilter economy are the new normal and that nothing can be done to fix it. But there is nothing normal or inevitable about elevated poverty levels and stagnant incomes. They are the direct result of policy choices that put wealth and income into the hands of a few at the expense of growing a strong middle class.

The good news is that different policy choices can bring different outcomes. When the government invests in jobs and policies to increase workers’ wages and families’ economic security, children and families see improved outcomes in both the short and long term.

Here are 10 steps Congress can take to cut poverty, boost economic security, and expand the middle class.

1. Create jobs

The best pathway out of poverty is a well-paying job. To get back to prerecession employment levels, we must create 5.6 million new jobs. At the current pace, however, we will not get there until July 2018. To kick-start job growth, the federal government should invest in job-creation strategies such as rebuilding our infrastructure; developing renewable energy sources; renovating abandoned housing; and making other common-sense investments that create jobs, revitalize neighborhoods, and boost our national economy. We should also build on proven models of subsidized employment to help the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged workers re-enter the labor force.

In addition, the extension of federal unemployment insurance would have created 200,000 new jobs in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Indeed, every $1 in benefits that flows to jobless workers yields more than $1.50 in economic activity. Unfortunately, Congress failed to extend federal unemployment insurance at the end of 2013, leaving 1.3 million Americans and their families without this vital economic lifeline.

2. Raise the minimum wage

In the late 1960s, a full-time worker earning the minimum wage could lift a family of three out of poverty. Had the minimum wage back then been indexed to inflation, it would be $10.86 per hour today, compared to the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and indexing it to inflation—as President Barack Obama and several members of Congress have called for—would lift more than 4 million Americans out of poverty. Nearly one in five children would see their parent get a raise. Recent action taken by cities and states—such as Seattle, Washington; California; Connecticut; and New Jersey—shows that boosting the minimum wage reduces poverty and increases wages.

3. Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers

One of our nation’s most effective anti-poverty tools, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, helped more than 6.5 million Americans—including 3.3 million children—avoid poverty in 2012. It’s also an investment that pays long-term dividends. Children who receive the EITC are more likely to graduate high school and to have higher earnings in adulthood. Yet childless workers largely miss out on the benefit, as the maximum EITC for these workers is less than one-tenth that awarded to workers with two children.
President Obama and policymakers across the political spectrum have called for boosting the EITC in order to right this wrong. Importantly, this policy change should be combined with a hike in the minimum wage; one is not a substitute for the other.

4. Support pay equity

With female full-time workers earning just 78 cents for every $1 earned by men, action must be taken to ensure equal pay for equal work. Closing the gender wage gap would cut poverty in half for working women and their families and add nearly half a trillion dollars to the nation’s gross domestic product. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act to hold employers accountable for discriminatory salary practices would be a key first step.

5. Provide paid leave and paid sick days

The United States is the only developed country in the world without paid family and medical leave and paid sick days, making it very difficult for millions of American families to balance work and family without having to sacrifice needed income. Paid leave is an important anti-poverty policy, as having a child is one of the leading causes of economic hardship. Additionally, nearly 4 in 10 private-sector workers—and 7 in 10 low-wage workers—do not have a single paid sick day, putting them in the impossible position of having to forgo needed income, or even their job, in order to care for a sick child. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, would provide paid leave protection to workers who need to take time off due to their own illness, the illness of a family member, or the birth of a child. And the Healthy Families Act would enable workers to earn up to seven job-protected sick days per year.

6. Establish work schedules that work

Low-wage and hourly jobs increasingly come with unpredictable and constantly shifting work schedules, which means workers struggle even more to balance erratic work hours with caring for their families. Ever-changing work schedules make accessing child care even more difficult than it already is and leave workers uncertain about their monthly income. Furthermore, things many of us take for granted—such as scheduling a doctor’s appointment or a parent-teacher conference at school—become herculean tasks. The Schedules That Work Act would require two weeks’ advance notice of worker schedules, which would allow employees to request needed schedule changes. It would also protect them from retaliation for making such requests—and provide guaranteed pay for cancelled or shortened shifts. These are all important first steps to make balancing work and family possible.

7. Invest in affordable, high-quality child care and early education

The lack of affordable, high-quality child care serves as a major barrier to reaching the middle class. In fact, one year of child care for an infant costs more than one year of tuition at most states’ four-year public colleges. On average, poor families who pay out of pocket for child care spend one-third of their incomes just to be able to work. Furthermore, federal child care assistance reaches only one in six eligible children.

Boosting investments in Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, as well as passing the Strong Start for America’s Children Act—which would invest in preschool, high-quality child care for infants and toddlers, and home-visiting services for pregnant women and mothers with infants—will help more struggling families obtain the child care they need in order to work and improve the future economic mobility of America’s children.

8. Expand Medicaid

Since it was signed into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has expanded access to high-quality, affordable health coverage for millions of Americans. However, 23 states continue to refuse to expand their Medicaid programs to cover adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level—making the lives of many families on the brink much harder. Expanding Medicaid would mean more than just access to health care—it would free up limited household income for other basic needs such as paying rent and putting food on the table. Having health coverage is also an important buffer against the economic consequences of illness and injury; unpaid medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy. Studies link Medicaid coverage not only to improved health, improved access to health care services, and lower mortality rates, but also to reduced financial strain.

9. Reform the criminal justice system and enact policies that support successful re-entry

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. Today, more than 1.5 million Americans are behind bars in state and federal prisons, a figure that has increased fivefold since 1980. The impact on communities of color is particularly staggering: One in four African American children who grew up during this era of mass incarceration have had a parent incarcerated.

Mass incarceration is a key driver of poverty. When a parent is incarcerated, his or her family must find a way to make ends meet without a necessary source of income. Additionally, even a minor criminal record comes with significant collateral consequences that can serve as lifelong barriers to climbing out of poverty. For example, people with criminal records face substantial barriers to employment, housing, education, public assistance, and building good credit. More than 90 percent of employers now use background checks in hiring, and even an arrest without a conviction can prevent an individual from getting a job. The “one strike and you’re out” policy used by public housing authorities makes it difficult if not impossible for individuals with even decades-old criminal records to obtain housing, which can stand in the way of family reunification. Furthermore, a lifetime ban—for individuals with felony drug convictions—on receiving certain types of public assistance persists in more than half of U.S. states, making subsistence even more difficult for individuals seeking to regain their footing, and their families.

In addition to common-sense sentencing reform to ensure that we no longer fill our nation’s prisons with nonviolent, low-level offenders, policymakers should explore alternatives to incarceration, such as diversion programs for individuals with mental health and substance abuse challenges. We must also remove barriers to employment, housing, education, and public assistance. A decades-old criminal record should not consign an individual to a life of poverty.

10. Do no harm

The across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration—which took effect in 2013—slashed funding for programs and services that provide vital support to low-income families. Sequestration cost the U.S. economy as many as 1.6 million jobs between mid-2013 and 2014. Some relief was provided this January, when Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, but many important tools to help low-income individuals and families pave a path to the middle class—such as adult and youth education and training programs, child welfare, and community development programs—were on a downward funding trend even before sequestration took effect.

As Congress considers a continuing resolution to fund the federal government past October 1 and avoid another government shutdown, it should reject further cuts to programs and services such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, which provides vital nutrition assistance to pregnant women and mothers with new babies. Thereafter, Congress should make permanent the important improvements made to the EITC and the Child Tax Credit as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which are set to expire in 2017. And it should avoid additional cuts to vital programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, which suffered two rounds of deep cuts in 2013 and 2014.

Conclusion

It is possible for America to dramatically cut poverty. Between 1959 and 1973, a strong economy, investments in family economic security, and new civil rights protections helped cut the U.S. poverty rate in half. Investments in nutrition assistance have improved educational attainment, earnings, and income among the young girls who were some of the food stamp program’s first recipients. Expansions of public health insurance have lowered infant mortality rates and reduced the incidence of low birth rates. In more recent history, states that raised the minimum wage have illustrated the important role that policy plays in combating wage stagnation.

There is nothing inevitable about poverty. We just need to build the political will to enact the policies that will increase economic security, expand opportunities, and grow the middle class.

GROWING UP GRANITE

The NH Center for Public Policy Studies recently released their report, “What is New Hampshire?” 2014 Edition. Here is just a small piece of the report and here is where to go find and read the rest of it!

New Hampshire is navigating a series of shifting economic, demographic, social and political forces. Among the new trends shaping the state into the 21st Century: an aging population; increasing racial and ethnic diversity; a shift away from the high-growth economic model of the past; and continued demand on the state budget for public services. While the implications of these and other challenges are still unclear, they do raise critical policy questions explored in this report.

Throughout its history, New Hampshire has worn many identities: agricultural outpost on the edge of New England; bustling engine of the Industrial Revolution; oasis for nature-seeking tourists; haven for tax-fleeing transplants. In the early years of the 21st Century, New Hampshire is still evolving amid shifting economic, demographic, social and political forces.

Among the new trends shaping the “new” New Hampshire: an aging population; increasing racial and ethnic diversity; a shift away from the high-growth economic model of the past; and continued demand on the state budget for public services

While the implications of these and other challenges are still unclear, they do raise critical policy questions, including:

  • Economy: New Hampshire suffered the effects of the Great Recession less severely than many other states, but slow job growth continues to gnaw at the state’s economy. As of the summer of 2014, New Hampshire lagged behind the nation and the rest of New England in recovering jobs lost during the recession. What is the state’s economic development plan, especially in relation to demographic trends that show New Hampshire’s population growth slowing in coming years? What specific industries or regions of New Hampshire will help shape the state’s economy in coming years? What regional approaches to economic development will find greatest success?
  • Demographic change: While New Hampshire is consistently rated one of the best places in the country to raise children, our population as a whole continues to age. Meanwhile, our school enrollment continues on a decade-long decline, and several measures of youth well-being in the state show worrisome trends, including rising levels of childhood poverty. What are the implications of these developments on education policy, housing, public services and transportation?
  • Health care: New Hampshire’s health policy landscape faces great uncertainty amid recent reforms at the national level, as well as continued rises in cost and the continued aging of the state’s population. What impact will the shifting health marketplace have on New Hampshire’s economy and the well-being of its residents?
  • Long-term planning: State policymakers face a long list of critical issues in coming years: public infrastructure investment, education finance, corrections spending, health care, and energy policy, among others. Many of these require a long-term perspective and an understanding of multi-year trends. How will the state – which has a two-year budget cycle and a two-year term for all major state offices – manage to plan decades into the future?

This report is our annual survey of the major policy issues and critical questions shaping our future. The data explain where New Hampshire has been, forecast where it is heading, and explore how current trends and policy choices facing the state will affect the well-being of its citizens.

Granite State Rumblings: Census Data Shows Many Are Being Left Behind

Homeless women poverty (Franco Folini CC FLIKR)

Homeless women poverty (Franco Folini CC FLIKR)

New Census Data Confirm Too Many
Granite Staters Are Still Being Left Behind:

Wrongheaded Policy Choices Will
Leave Even More on the Brink

Too many Granite Staters are still being left behind even as our economy continues to recover, four years after the end of the Great Recession. Data released last week by the Census Bureau show poverty remains stubbornly and unacceptably high, and too many Americans are struggling to find a job, pay their rent, and feed their families.

We are clearly not doing enough as a country to make progress on reducing poverty. Our safety net programs are effective in keeping millions of people out of poverty and in keeping many from becoming more deeply poor. But they do not reach everyone in poverty, and recent cuts to these programs have left them less able to help the number of people who need it. Further automatic funding cuts or wrongheaded budget proposals, as well as plans that claim to fight poverty by turning social service programs into block grants, would actually increase poverty and only make the situation worse. We need more investments in the programs that keep our neighbors from falling even deeper into poverty, not less.

Years after the Recession Ended, Millions are Still Struggling

While the recession officially ended in June of 2009, millions of Americans have yet to see any relief. In 2009, 14.3 percent of the country was poor. State and local data for 2013 released by the Census Bureau on September 18 show that in New Hampshire, 8.7 percent of people were poor in 2013 – roughly the same as in 2009 when 8.5 percent were poor. For a family of four, that means living on an income under $23,834. The share of households with income under $25,000 has grown, while the share of households making $50,000 or more has fallen.1 This survey found that 15.8 percent of the country was poor, a higher percentage than the national data released earlier in the week. 2

There are also 6 million more people living in near-poverty than in 2009; one-third of the nation and nearly one-quarter of New Hampshire live below twice the federal poverty level, or less than $47,668 for a family of four.3 Those who work are not immune to poverty, either; 12.9 percent of families headed by part-time or part-year workers are poor,4 and 29.4 of similar families are near poor.5 We’ve long known how important education is in fighting poverty, and the Census Bureau data reinforce that – In New Hampshire, one out of six people who have not finished high school is poor.6 For the U.S., one out of four people with education below a high school degree is poor, while one out of seven with a high school degree and one out of 20 with a college degree are poor.7

Children remain the age group most disproportionately poor – roughly one in five children in the country is poor. The child poverty rate in New Hampshire in 2013 was 10.2 percent. This is a decrease of 5.3 from 2012 and a 0.6 percent decrease from 2009. Yet, it is important to note that with the small sample size of New Hampshire, these are estimates and the large decrease could partly be due to error.8 In a ranking of 2013 child poverty rates of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, New Hampshire ranked 51st with the lowest child poverty rate.9 Numerous previous studies have shown that children who grow up poor are more likely to suffer from poor health, developmental delays, behavioral problems, and lower academic achievement. They are also more likely to be unemployed as adults.10 Poverty statistics are far worse for children of color – nationally, more than one out of three African American children and nearly one out of three Hispanic children are poor.11 In a country where half of our children are children of color and where they are a growing percentage of the population, these are very worrying statistics.

Inequality has also grown since the recession. Between 2009 and 2013, inequality as measured by the Gini index rose by 1.7 percent.12 The income of the top 1 percent of U.S. earners grew by 31.4 percent, while incomes for the other 99 percent grew only by 0.4 percent.13 The wealthiest are getting richer and enjoying more tax breaks and loopholes, while those at the bottom are struggling to stay afloat – and in many cases, to stay in their homes. In New Hampshire, 37.9 percent of tenants are paying 35 percent or more of their income on rent.14 Nationally, 42.5 percent of renters pay more than 35 percent of their income in rent, well over the official definition of families overburdened by rent costs (30 percent).

In addition to the Census Bureau data, other data also depict a nation in which too many are left behind, even years after the recession officially ended. In 2009, the year the recession ended for the  statisticians, the national annual unemployment rate was 9.3 percent.15 The official unemployment rate declined to 7.4 percent in 2013, and dropped further to 6.1 percent nationally in August of 2014. But there are still 9.6 million people who are unable to find a job. Nearly 7.3 million workers are working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job or because their hours have been cut back,16 and still millions more have given up looking for a job altogether because they believe none exists for them.

Unemployment declined in New Hampshire from 6.2 percent in 200917 to 5.3 percent in 201318, and was 4.4 percent in August 2014. 19 According to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this month, here in New Hampshire, one in 10 households struggled to put food on the table (were “food insecure”), compared with one in seven U.S. households in 2013. The number of people struggling against hunger remains dramatically higher than it was before the Great Recession. In 2007, before the recession, 36.2 million people were in a food insecure household (12.2 percent). In 2013, 49 million faced hunger (15.8 percent).20 Another recent study notes that one in seven Americans rely on food pantries and meal programs to feed themselves and their families.21 Again, the statistics were worse for African American and Hispanic households and for households with children.22

One bright spot in our nation’s picture is health insurance. A new report from the Urban Institute shows that the number of uninsured adults fell by 22.3 percent from September 2013 to June 2014, with most of this drop coming from low- and middle- income adults. In states that implemented the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, the uninsured rate dropped 37.7 percent. The uninsured rate for low- income adults remains high, at 31.7 percent, but it’s much higher in non-expansion states (40.0 percent) than in expansion states (23.1 percent).23 In New Hampshire, over 140,000 people remained uninsured in 2013.24

What We Can – and Must – Do to Reduce Poverty

Clearly, more must be done to lift up the millions of Americans who have been left out of the recovery. Strong federal programs create jobs, grow the economy, reduce inequity, and keep millions out of poverty. In 2013, 3.7 million people were kept out of poverty when benefits they receive from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were counted as part of their income. Similarly, unemployment insurance kept 1.2 million people out of poverty last year,25 and unemployment insurance expansions during the Great Recession prevented roughly 1.4 million foreclosures.26 The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit lifted 10.1 million people, including 5.3 million children, out of poverty in 2012.27 In New Hampshire, 17,000 people and 9,000 children were kept out of poverty by these credits each year, on average, during 2010 to 2012.28 Children from families that  benefit from the EITC also do better in school and end up working and earning more as adults. 29

Other federal legislation can also break down the barriers that leave millions of Americans in dire conditions. Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would lift nearly 6 million people above the poverty threshold and help the families of nearly 14 million children,30 all while saving $4.6 billion in SNAP expenditures31 and adding $33 billion in new economic activity. 32 In fact, 12.8 percent of New Hampshire’s children have at least one parent who would benefit from this raise.33 Raising the federal minimum wage for tipped workers is just as important; poverty rates for tipped workers are roughly twice as high as rates for workers overall. However, the average poverty rate for female tipped workers in the eight states where employers must pay their tipped employees the regular minimum wage is 33 percent lower than in states with the $2.13 per hour tipped federal minimum cash wage.34 Unfortunately, New Hampshire is not one of these states.

Without these programs, the number of those in poverty would be much higher. We know these programs work for those who are able to access them, but limited funding means that too many aren’t able to get the help they need to move up. Stopping cuts to these proven programs should be the first step. Nearly 100 human needs programs that require annual appropriations saw their funding cut by more than 10 percent since 2010, adjusted for inflation. Some important low-income programs have been cut very deeply: heating and cooling assistance for low-income households was cut 38 percent over this period; juvenile justice programs were slashed by one-third or more; child welfare services were cut by more than one-third; the public housing capital fund was cut by 31 percent.35

As we’ve previously noted, access to quality education is critical in fighting poverty, but federal education programs have been cut by almost $40 billion since 2010.36 The 2013 sequester cuts resulted in 57,000 fewer children enrolled in Head Start.37 In New Hampshire, the sequester resulted in 176 fewer children in Head Start, as well as $1,734,000 in cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and $2,368,000 in cuts to Special Education Grants.38 Housing vouchers lifted 2.8 million people — including 1 million children — above the poverty line in 2012,39 but only one in four households eligible for federal rental assistance receives it because of limited funding. Additionally, sequestration cuts caused the loss of 70,000 housing vouchers in 2013,40 which left 311 fewer households in New Hampshire with this assistance.41 Only one in six eligible children receives subsidized child care.42 More than eight in ten low-wage workers have no paid sick leave, forcing them to go without pay to take care of themselves or a sick family member.43 Expanding Medicaid provides health coverage for millions, many for the first time, but too many states have chosen the self-inflicted wound of refusing to extend coverage to their low-income neighbors. And the House has voted more than 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act altogether.44

Beyond halting cuts, we need additional investments in these programs to be able to reach those who haven’t yet been helped and remove the barriers that prevent all Americans from getting a fair shot to fulfill their potential. Too many aren’t able to access these lifesaving programs because of limited funding. Closing tax loopholes and ending tax breaks that allow corporations to avoid paying their fair share will provide necessary revenues for these investments. The House Ways and Means Committee approved $614 billion in unpaid tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy in 2014.45 The House- passed budget, introduced by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), would provide at least $200,000 to each millionaire in FY 2015 alone and would increase Pentagon spending by $483 billion over sequestration levels.46 Tax reductions for the rich create few jobs. In fact, research of countries around the world – including the U.S. – found that cutting taxes for the wealthy does not lead to economic growth; instead, it leads to higher levels of inequality.47 It’s not that we as a country can’t afford to make the investments we need to increase jobs for all and help our struggling neighbors; it’s that we’re choosing not to.

Some Proposals that Purport to Fight Poverty Will Actually Increase It

In addition to providing tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, budgets drafted by Chairman Ryan and adopted by the House over the past several years would drastically cut human needs programs that keep people out of poverty. Specifically, the House budget would slash SNAP by $137 billion, which would cut or end food assistance for millions of low-income families. The budget would gut Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program by $732 billion, drop 170,000 children from Head Start and 200,000 moms and children from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), repeal the Affordable Care Act and swell the ranks of the uninsured by at least 40 million, and on and on. All told, 69 percent – or $3.3 trillion – of the budget cuts in the most recent House-passed budget come from programs for people with low or moderate incomes.48 At the same time, the plan slashes taxes for the rich and super-rich by about $5 trillion.49 Just like his budgets, Chairman Ryan’s recently-released plan to fight poverty will actually do more harm than good, driving more people into poverty and driving the already poor further down.  His plan would allow states to opt for a block grant of up to 11 safety net programs, including SNAP and numerous housing assistance programs. SNAP’s current effectiveness at reducing poverty comes from its ability to respond to increased need during hard times.  But Ryan’s block grant would largely end that flexibility. Historically, most block grants have received fewer and fewer funds over time, resulting in reduced benefits and services.50 He promised that total funding to states taking the grant would not decrease, despite the fact that his budget proposes drastic cuts for most of the programs he would pool in the grant.

Rep. Ryan says we need customized and personalized case management for each person needing aid. Some people would almost certainly benefit from these services, but they are expensive. Increased costs for case management will have to come from cuts in other services. His plan eliminates the Social Services Block Grant, despite the fact that it provides $1.7 billion in services to children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.51 His plan would exclude working poor immigrant families without a Social Security number from receiving the Child Tax Credit for their children, despite the fact that as many as 5.5 million low-income children would be affected, 80 percent of whom are U.S. citizens (a similar bill that passed the House in July would do this as well).52 His plan would require work in exchange for benefits, despite the fact that there are still two job seekers for every job available,53 with the situation far worse in many low-income communities, leaving many more out in the cold.

Congress Needs to Make the Right Choices to Move Us All Forward Together

We need more investments, not less, in programs that help people move up and out of poverty. Massive cuts like those in the House budget and wrongheaded policies like those in Rep. Ryan’s plan will not reduce poverty – they would increase it.  At a time when poverty, unemployment, and food insecurity remain stubbornly high and our economy continues to leave too many behind, we need more investments in the programs that help our neighbors from falling even deeper into despair. Only this will lead to a shared economic growth and a shared prosperity for all, not just the wealthy and big corporations.

This report was prepared by Every Child Matters in New Hampshire and the Coalition on Human Needs.

1 American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
2 American Community Survey (ACS) data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014. In order to maintain consistency with related state data, this report uses ACS findings, which differ somewhat from the Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement data released by the Census Bureau on September 16. National CPS data give some reason to hope that poverty rates will show future improvement, as their more recent time window captures end-of-year improvements in employment and income.
3 American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
4          http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032014/pov/pov06_100.htm
5          http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032014/pov/pov06_200.htm
6 American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.   7 Census Bureau Current Population Survey and American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
8     http://scholars.unh.edu/carsey/221
9 American Community Survey data for 3013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
10          http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/07_02_03.pdf
11 Census Bureau Current Population Survey and American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
12            http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-249.pdf
13        http://eml.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2012.pdf
14 American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
15      http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat01.pdf
16       http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t08.htm
17      http://www.bls.gov/lau/lastrk09.htm
18      http://www.bls.gov/lau/lastrk13.htm
19      http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/lauhsthl.htm
20        http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1565415/err173.pdf
21            http://help.feedingamerica.org/HungerInAmerica/hunger-in-america-2014-full-report.pdf
22        http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1565415/err173.pdf
23        http://hrms.urban.org/briefs/taking-stock-at-mid-year.pdf
24            http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-250.pdf
25            http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-249.pdf
26      http://www.nber.org/papers/w20353
27      http://apps.cbpp.org/3-5-14tax/?state=US
28        http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=4097
29       http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3793
30             http://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/Working-Poor-in-America-report-Oxfam-America.pdf
31              http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/report/2014/03/05/85158/the-effects-of-minimum-wages-  on-snap-enrollments-and-expenditures/
32          http://www.epi.org/publication/bp357-federal-minimum-wage-increase/
33          http://www.epi.org/publication/raising-federal-minimum-wage-to-1010/
34            http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/tipped_minimum_wage_worker_wage_gap.pdf
35             http://www.chn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Shrinking-Funding-Since-2010-plus-FY-15-Updates-   Attachment.pdf
36           http://cef.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Education-Budget-cuts-since-2010.pdf
37              http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/budget/report/2014/04/09/87430/how-the-ryan-budget-fails-our-  economy-by-failing-economics/
38      http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BUDGET-2014-PER/pdf/BUDGET-2014-PER.pdf    and  http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2015/assets/topics.pdf
39        http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=4098
40             http://www.offthechartsblog.org/why-and-how-congress-should-restore-lost-housing-vouchers/
41        http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3586
42             http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/publication-1/Olivia-CCDBG-testimony-3-25-final.pdf
43          http://www.nationalpartnership.org/issues/work-family/paid-sick-days.html
44              http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/03/21/the-house-has-voted-54-times-in-four-years-    on-obamacare-heres-the-full-list/
45 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-
bin/cpquery/?&dbname=cp113&sid=cp113CY1L4&refer=&r_n=hr509.113&item=&&&sel=TOC_150983&
46              http://www.chn.org/human_needs_report/chn-chairman-ryans-budget-plan-passes-house-hitting-poor-harder-  ever/
47                http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/budget/report/2014/04/09/87430/how-the-ryan-budget-fails-our-
economy-by-failing-economics/
48              http://www.chn.org/human_needs_report/chn-chairman-ryans-budget-plan-passes-house-hitting-poor-harder-  ever/
49             http://taxvox.taxpolicycenter.org/2012/03/23/paul-ryans-budget-plan-more-big-tax-cuts-for-the-rich/
50             http://www.offthechartsblog.org/history-suggests-ryan-block-grant-would-be-susceptible-to-cuts/
51       http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3765
52           http://www.chn.org/human_needs_report/chn-ryan-poverty-plan-increase-poverty/
53         http://stateofworkingamerica.org/charts/job-seekers-ratio-total/

Granite State Rumblings: Congress Reauthorizes Child Care Block Grants And That Is Good News

Child Care Facility (EAGLE102_Net CC FLIKR)
Child Care Facility (EAGLE102_Net CC FLIKR)

YMCA child care room (EAGLE102_Net CC FLIKR)

Here is some important news from our friends at Zero to Three and the National Women’s Law Center.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Senate and House have reached an agreement to reauthorize the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the primary federal program that provides funds for child care subsidies for low-income working families and to improve child care quality.

The House voted Monday to pass the legislation and the Senate will vote on the bill before Congress goes into recess on Sept. 23.

(Read the joint statement of the bipartisan group from the House and Senate who came together to forge this legislation here.)

The bipartisan bill promises to:

  • Improve the health and safety of children in child care settings;
  • Make it easier for families to get and keep the child care assistance they need;
  • Enable children to have more stable child care; and
  • Strengthen the overall quality of child care.

Most notably for infant-toddler advocates, the agreement would create a 3% set-aside of funds to improve the quality of infant-toddler care. These funds will increase states’ capacity to invest in helping programs reach a high level of quality as well as specialized training and support for infant-toddler providers.

High-quality child care is linked to the success of children and their parents. Child care provides early learning opportunities to children and enables women to work so they can support their families. With significantly increased funding, this bill can make a critical difference.

While this agreement is an important step toward the reauthorization of CCDBG, the Senate must now vote to approve the compromise bill and get this to the finish line. Phone calls to your Senators are especially needed this week.
~

And this from our friends at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Our new report provides context for the official poverty and income figures for 2013, which the Census Bureau will release on Tuesday, September 16th.

Here are the highlights:

  1. As in other recent recoveries, poverty has been slow to decline.  Over time, poverty rates tend to move roughly in tandem with economic indicators, which generally improved slightly in 2013.  Thus, the poverty rate — which jumped from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 15.1 percent in 2010 and remained essentially unchanged at 15.0 percent in 2011 and 2012 — may start to improve in 2013 as well, although the improvement might not be statistically significant .A return to pre-recession poverty levels is unlikely soon.  To replace the millions of jobs lost in the Great Recession anytime soon and keep up with population growth, the economy must create jobs faster than it has to date.  Although the economic recovery (which officially began in June 2009) is not uniquely disappointing in this regard, it is still problematic — and because the economic downturn was so deep, there is much more ground to make up.  Recoveries in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s featured quicker reductions in poverty.
  2. Austerity policies likely hampered progress against poverty in 2013.  The economy almost certainly would have improved more in 2013 had austerity policies not reduced the government’s contribution to the economy.  These included the “sequestration” spending cuts of the 2011 Budget Control Act and first implemented in 2013 and the expiration of the payroll tax holiday, which reduced most workers’ take-home pay by 2 percent of earnings.
  3. Unequal wage growth also slowed progress.  Between 2009 and 2013, inflation-adjusted hourly wages rose by 1 percent for workers at the 95th percentile (workers whose wage levels exceed those of 95 percent of all workers but are less than the remaining 5 percent), but fell by about 4 to 6 percent for workers in the bottom 60 percent of the wage scale, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
  4. Income inequality tied a record-high level in 2012.  The income gap between rich and poor as measured by the Gini index — the Census Bureau’s main summary indicator of inequality in pre-tax cash income — tied a record in 2012, with the data going back to 1967.  Other inequality measures also stood at or near record levels in 2012.
  5. Most poverty figures released on Tuesday won’t reflect non-cash benefits.  The Census figures will focus on the official poverty statistics, which are based on pre-tax cash income and omit support such as food assistance and rental subsidies as well as tax-based assistance such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  An alternative Census Bureau poverty measure, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), includes these types of assistance, and experts generally consider it a more reliable tool for measuring changes in poverty over time as well as the safety net’s impact on poverty.  Unfortunately, Census will not release SPM figures for 2013 until later this year.  However, Census will release a table on Tuesday providing data on the poverty-reducing effects of certain programs, including SNAP (formerly food stamps) and the EITC.

Granite State Rumblings: Making Your Work Schedule Work For Your Family

Image by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (FLIKR)
Image by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (FLIKR)

Image by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (FLIKR)

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting low income women in the workforce. It was facilitated by the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor. A theme that ran through each of the discussions was the affect that job schedule instability has on the lives of low income women and their children. With that in mind, I came across an e-mail on the topic from our friends at CLASP that I’d like to share with you.

Job Schedule Instability in the
Lives of Poor Children and their Families
By Rhiannon Reeves

For low-income parents with volatile job schedules, obtaining safe, reliable child care is extremely challenging. This was illustrated in a recent New York Times article about a young single mother whose personal, professional, and family lives were severely disrupted by her employer’s scheduling practices. With her schedule constantly changing—often at the last minute—she was forced to patch together care for her son that combined time in a subsidized preschool program with support from various relatives.

Unpredictable work schedules and the resulting scramble for stable child care have dire consequences for young children’s healthy development. As the body of evidence builds, more and more people are calling for changes to workplace policies, child care subsidy policy and practice, and further research to help stabilize the lives of poor children and their families.

In November 2013, the Urban Institute, with support from the Foundation for Child Development, convened practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to explore the impacts of instability on children, as well as implications for policy and practice. Last month, the Urban Institute published a report based on the November meeting along with a series of essays from some of the participants insights from a variety of disciplines on how federal and state policies can address the developmental risks that instability—in housing, health care, education, daily routines, and caregiving—poses for children. Last month, the Urban Institute published a report based on the November meeting along with a series of essays from some of the participants.

An essay from CLASP Executive Director Olivia Golden suggests several broad policy approaches, including:

  • Improving continuity of services in public programs, such as child care subsidies, to support children and families experiencing instability.
  • Interrupting cycles that disrupt continuity of services.  For example, the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act gives children without housing the right to remain in the same school they attended before becoming homeless—even if they’re residing in another district.
  • Protecting stable relationships in a child’s life to mitigate the impact of other instability challenges.
  • Tackling challenges in the low-wage labor market, such as lack of access to paid leave that contribute to cycles of instability.

The continued growth of low-wage employment demonstrates a clear need for policy and practice reforms that support stability for children and families. Policies that strengthen workforce development, support continuity of income supports, and promote fair job schedules can help families achieve economic security while supporting children’s healthy development during critical early years.

Recently, the Schedules that Work Act was introduced in Congress by Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA).

This legislation would provide relief to workers facing irregular and unpredictable schedules by:

  • Protecting all employees from retaliation for requesting a more flexible, predictable or stable schedule.
  • Creating a process for employers to consider requests that is responsive to the needs of both employees and employers. Employees who make requests because they have caregiving duties, are dealing with a health condition, are pursuing education or training courses, or need to meet the demands of a second job must be granted the schedule change, unless the employer has a bona fide business reason for denying it.
  • Compensating retail, food service, and cleaning workers for at least four hours of work if an employee reports to work when scheduled for at least four hours but is sent home early.
  • Providing that retail, food service, and cleaning employees receive work schedules at least two weeks in advance. Though schedules may later be changed, one hour’s worth of extra pay is required for schedules changed with less than 24 hours’ notice.
  • Providing workers an extra hour of pay if scheduled to work split shifts, or non-consecutive shifts within a single day.

This legislation is particularly important for low-income working parents trying to access licensed child care. Child care providers, in particular center-based providers, are typically unable to accommodate last-minute scheduling changes or variable hours of care.

Child care providers have basic business costs they must cover, including rent, utilities, and personnel. Because these costs are fixed, they often cannot accommodate families who enroll children less than full time.  Licensed child care providers are also most likely to operate during regular weekday business hours; evening and weekend options are extremely limited for parents across the country.

Not only do these unstable schedules make parenting difficult, but studies show that children in low-income families have the most to gain from access to high-quality child care that prepares them for success in school and in life.

GROWING UP GRANITE

Here is a new report from our friends at the NH Fiscal Policy Institute:

The State of New Hampshire recently opened coverage for the New Hampshire Health Protection Program (NHHPP), the state’s public health insurance program for low-income adults. This flagship program will provide health insurance through New Hampshire Medicaid until 2016. The state is concurrently building the framework for the next component of the NHHPP, the Premium Assistance Program, in which coverage will be provided through commercial insurance carriers in the federal Marketplace starting in 2016. While New Hampshire must structure this private market coverage within the parameters of the federal Medicaid program, the state has the opportunity to design a unique program that addresses Granite State goals.

Whether to require financial contributions, such as premium payments or cost sharing, from enrollees is a question that requires careful analysis. A substantial body of literature suggests that low-income people are very sensitive to even the most modest costs in relation to health insurance. Imposing such financial obligations on low-income enrollees may be counterproductive to the state’s overarching goals of achieving sustained health insurance coverage for New Hampshire residents and encouraging effective use of health care resources by those who are newly insured.

This paper examines the premiums and cost sharing currently allowed within Medicaid, trends in imposing out-of-pocket costs on low-income adults covered by Medicaid, and potential risks of imposing out-of-pocket costs on financially vulnerable adults.

You can read the full report here.

Granite State Rumblings: Economic Hardships Can Have Lasting Effects On Children

poverty

Screen shot 2014-08-12 at 6.58.12 PMA new report from Child Trends shows that just under half of children in the U.S. have had at least one of a series of major, potentially traumatic events associated with an increased risk of poor health and illness as adults. One in ten kids has experienced three or more of eight adverse childhood experiences included in the National Survey of Children’s Health, which was used for this study.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. The prevalence of adverse childhood experiences, including economic hardship, witnessing domestic violence at home, living with a divorced parent or guardian, and others, varies dramatically across the states. In Arizona, for example, more than one in four teens have lived with someone with alcohol or drug problems. In Kentucky, more than one in ten have lived with a parent or guardian who has been incarcerated. Some states have lower incidence, such as New Jersey, where more than 60 percent of kids have never had any of the experiences the survey measured.

Key findings of the report are;

  • Economic hardship is the most common adverse childhood experience (ACE) reported nationally and in almost all states, followed by divorce or separation of a parent or guardian. Only in Iowa, Michigan, and Vermont is divorce or separation more common than economic hardship; in the District of Columbia, having been the victim of or witness to violence has the second-highest prevalence, after economic hardship.
  • The prevalence of ACEs increases with a child’s age (parents were asked whether their child had “ever” had the experience), except for economic hardship, reported about equally for children of all ages, reflecting high levels of poverty among young families.
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs, exposure to neighborhood violence, and the occurrence of mental illness are among the most commonly-reported adverse childhood experiences in every state.
  • Just under half (46 percent) of children in the U.S. have experienced at least one ACE. In 16 states, a slight majority of children have experienced at least one ACE. In Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey, 60 percent or more of children have never experienced an ACE.
  • States vary in the pattern of specific ACEs. Connecticut and New Jersey have some of the lowest prevalence rates nationally for all ACEs, while Oklahoma has consistently high prevalence.

Researchers measured the prevalence of eight adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), consisting of whether the child ever:

  1. Lived with a parent or guardian who got divorced or separated;
  2. Lived with a parent or guardian who died;
  3. Lived with a parent or guardian who served time in jail or prison;
  4. Lived with anyone who was mentally ill or suicidal, or severely depressed for more than a couple of weeks;
  5. Lived with anyone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs;
  6. Witnessed a parent, guardian, or other adult in the household behaving violently toward another (e.g., slapping, hitting, kicking, punching, or beating each other up);
  7. Was ever the victim of violence or witnessed any violence in his or her neighborhood; and
  8. Experienced economic hardship “somewhat often” or “very often” (i.e., the family found it hard to cover costs of food and housing).

“The data show that these experiences are not rare, but their prevalence varies dramatically state-to-state,” said Vanessa Sacks, a research analyst at Child Trends and an author of the study. “For example, more than one in ten kids nationally has lived with someone who has an alcohol or drug use problem. In Montana, almost one in five children has, while in Georgia, it’s less than one in 10.”

How adverse experiences affect teens:

Researchers also examined the association between teenagers’ well-being and their history of adverse experiences. “Nationally, 15 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 have had three or more of the adverse experiences we looked at,” Sacks said. “These youth are not doing as well as their peers.”

Nearly half of teenagers who have had three or more adverse experiences have low levels of engagement in school, and more than 20 percent have repeated a grade. These youth are far more likely to argue a lot or even to bully or be cruel to others.

Action Steps

The report, which was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, calls for increased attention to the conditions in families and communities that contribute to the occurrence of adverse childhood experiences. It also suggests having more training of pediatricians, child welfare and juvenile justice caseworkers, family court judges, school personnel (including for early childhood), and others who work closely with children, for the early detection and treatment of children affected by trauma.

“Policymakers should review the prevalence of these experiences for their state,” Sacks said. “Once they know where the problems are most pronounced, they can begin to prioritize and address them.”

GROWING UP GRANITE

So how are Granite State children doing? The following is from Policy Blog NH, from the NH Center for Public Policy Studies.

Child well-being in NH: Where we rank

New Hampshire has long enjoyed the top spot in the annual Kids Count index, which ranks the relative health, safety, and education of children from state to state. But in the most recent ranking, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, New Hampshire fell from first to fourth among the states for child well-being.

What’s behind this drop?

First, let’s look at the workings behind the rankings. The Kids Count index is broken down into four categories: economic well-being; education; health; and family and community. Each category contains four measurements, and the index compares each state’s 2014 data to the data for the same measurements in 2005. In most areas, New Hampshire’s numbers improved or held steady from previous years.

But in one area of particular, the state saw drops across the board: economic well-being.

The measurements in this category include child poverty rate, children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in a household with high housing cost burden, and teens out of school and not working. In each of those measurements, New Hampshire’s numbers are worse than in 2005.

The child poverty rate, in particular, saw a big change, according to the Kids Count data, which is based on the U.S. Census’s annual American Community Survey (ACS). The New Hampshire child poverty rate in 2012 was 15.6 percent, with a 2.1 percent margin of error, according to the ACS data. The previous year, the state child poverty rate was 12 percent. New Hampshire saw the largest single-year jump in child poverty rate of any state (though the margin of error for New Hampshire also among the largest, since the state has one of the smallest population of the states, and is thus more subject to fluctuations in the survey data.)

That the state’s poverty rate for children has increased is not news.  We can also consult data from the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program of the Census, which allows us to compare annual poverty rates over a longer period of time. Since 2003, New Hampshire has seen child poverty rate increase from an estimated 7.8 percent to 13.6 percent in 2012 – a roughly 74 percent increase.

Across that same time period, child poverty rates in the US generally increased by a relatively smaller amount: 28 percent.

The economic well-being measure may be the most important for the overall well-being and success of a child. Research indicates that living in poverty can impede a child’s cognitive development, and children from low-income households typically fare worse on measures of academic success, such as test scores and high school graduation rates.

There was also plenty of good news in the recent Kids Count data too. New Hampshire earned the top spot among the states in the family and community ranking, which takes into account measures such as the percent of children in single-parent families, children living in high-poverty areas, and teen births.

In the education category, which measured the percentage of children not in preschool, math and reading levels, and high school graduation rates, New Hampshire did quite well, also. In each of those measures, New Hampshire actually saw an improvement in every measurement since 2005. (New Hampshire’s full data profile can be found here.)

It’s important to note: In all but two of the index’s 16 data measurements, New Hampshire scored better than the national rate. The two places where New Hampshire lagged behind the rest of the country were in the percentage of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs (7 percent for New Hampshire, vs. 6 percent nationally) and the percentage of children in a household with high housing cost burden (39 percent for New Hampshire vs. 38 percent nationwide.)

New Hampshire is in a relatively high-ranking region of the country when it comes to child well-being. Two of our neighbors – Massachusetts and Vermont – shot past New Hampshire in the rankings and now occupy the first and second slots, respectively. Maine ranked 14th overall. Rounding out New England, Connecticut ranked 7th, and Rhode Island was at 26th place among the 50 states.

Granite State Rumblings: Even Paul Ryan Sees We Must Do Something About Poverty

SNAP

Last week Representative Paul Ryan unveiled his plan to fight poverty in America. He calls it “Expanding Opportunity in America”. In this plan States would have the option of combining up to 11 safety net programs to pilot what he calls new approaches to case management and services delivery.

Well, not all states, as Chairman Ryan writes in his plan, “….this proposal would create a new pilot project in a select number of states. In participating states, the federal government would consolidate a number of means-tested programs into a new Opportunity Grant (OG) program. The largest contributions would come from SNAP, TANF, child-care (CCDBG), and housing-assistance programs and the funding would be deficit-neutral relative to current law”.  (page 14)

In other words this plan would consolidate the programs into a single block grant for states. Block grants tend to reduce the efficiency of the program over time, as we have witnessed with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (TANF). This program was block granted in 1996 as part of welfare reform and has never seen an increase in funding. In fact, it has lost more than 30% of its value when adjusted for inflation.

Block grant programs cannot respond to economic downturns that result in increased needs. As noted by Melissa Boteach and Rebecca Vallas in a July 24th blog post, “this was apparent during the Great Recession. While the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, proved incredibly responsive to the economic downturn, with enrollment increasing from about 20 million individuals in 2007 to more than 44 million in 2011, the number of families that TANF helped barely budged and actually declined in some states despite the tremendous increase in poverty and hardship. Yet Rep. Ryan’s plan includes SNAP—one of our strongest countercyclical and anti-poverty programs—as a candidate for consolidation. While he claims that ultimately a countercyclical element could be built into the block grant, he acknowledges that in the pilot stage it would not be included, making the state pilots looks more like TANF. This type of reform does not build on what works”.

The plan also calls for those who receive assistance to work with state agencies or community organizations to develop a life plan – “…a customized life plan to provide a structured roadmap out of poverty”. That sounds great, a roadmap out of poverty. But, this roadmap comes with a timeline for meeting benchmarks written into the life plan, and sanctions if you miss that benchmark, as well as a time limit for remaining on assistance.

Haven’t we been down this road before in welfare reform too?

Like the current time limit for those in today’s TANF program, what happens to those who have not yet reached financial independence in the required amount of time because their earnings from employment do not raise them out of poverty?

Contrary to Representative Ryan’s assertion that “the biggest snag in the safety net is that it discourages work,” many individuals living in poverty are employed. There is no plan to raise the minimum wage in this proposal. This is unfortunate given that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that if the minimum wage were increased to $10.10 an hour by mid-2016, it would immediately lift about 900,000 workers out of poverty.

Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities writes, “While some other elements of the Ryan poverty plan deserve serious consideration, such as those relating to the Earned Income Tax Credit and criminal justice reform, his “Opportunity Grant” would likely increase poverty and hardship, and is therefore ill-advised”.

We agree. However, Representative Ryan has opened the door to having a national discussion about poverty. We must not allow that door to close.

GROWING UP GRANITE

From our friends at NH Kids Count:

New Hampshire Drops in National Child Well-Being Ranking from #1 to #4

Demographic, social and economic changes combined with major policy developments have affected the lives of children in both positive and negative ways since 1990, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 25th edition of its annual Kids Count Data Book.  New Hampshire, which has been ranked first in the nation in overall child well-being for more than ten years, fell in ranking this year, moving from first to fourth behind Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa.

Mimicking national gains, New Hampshire saw measurable improvements in education, health and safety.  More children are attending preschool, the number of children without health insurance declined and the number of teens who abuse alcohol and drugs also decreased.

Despite these positive advancements, negative trends in economic well-being continue to significantly impact the vitality of New Hampshire’s children and families. New Hampshire’s child poverty rate continues to rise more than the national average, and surged from 9 percent to 16 percent between 2005 and 2012.  The number of New Hampshire children whose parents lack secure employment increased by  24 percent since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008. And, between 2005 and 2012,New Hampshire saw an increase in the number of children in single parent families, from 24 percent to 30 percent (80,000 children); a 25 percent change.

In addition, the high cost of housing continues to affect 39 percent of NH children and their families.

While New Hampshire fell in ranking, it is still within the top five states nationally.

Granite State Rumblings: For Some Children Summer Is Not Fun In The Sun, It Means An Empty Belly

Image by USDA.GOV (Flickr CC)
Image by USDA.GOV (Flickr CC)

Image by USDA.GOV (Flickr CC)

Summer is coming and children will soon be getting out of school. For many kids summer vacation means cook outs and family reunions to attend, with lots of food, and plenty of fun.

But for millions of low-income children, it means empty stomachs and uncertainty. They will lose access to school breakfast, lunch and afterschool meals that are available during the regular school year. So what happens to the children during the summer months when school is not in session?

The Summer Food Programs are there to fill this gap by providing free meals and snacks to children who might otherwise go hungry.

Many summer food sites provide educational enrichment and recreational activities along with meals and snacks, helping children continue to learn and stay safe when school is not in session. The meals provided through summer nutrition programs act as a magnet to draw children to these activities.

Schools can apply to operate the Seamless Summer Option through the National School Lunch (NSLP) or School Breakfast Programs (SBP). Continue the same meal service rules and claiming procedures used during the regular school year. Although the traditional Summer Food Service Program is still available to schools, the Seamless Summer Option offers a streamlined approach to feeding hungry children in your community.

Promoting summer feeding sites in your community is one of the most important things you can do to ensure no child goes hungry this summer.  The more parents, children, and teenagers know about where sites are located, the more children will come to eat.  Anyone can do outreach using the resources on the Summer Food Service Program site.  Sites, sponsors, community advocates, and volunteers can use a variety of tools to draw attention to summer meals.

A new report from FRAC shows that summer food participation is growing across the Nation:

In 2013, for the first time in a decade, the number of low-income children eating summer meals saw a substantial increase year-over-year, according to Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, a new report released today by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). Nearly three million children participated in the Summer Nutrition Programs on an average day in July 2013, an increase of 161,000 children, or 5.7 percent, from July 2012.

Not only did the number of low-income children eating summer meals grow, but there also was progress in reaching a higher proportion of children in need. FRAC measures the success of the Summer Nutrition Programs at the national and state levels by comparing the number of children receiving summer meals to the number of low-income children receiving school lunch during the regular school year. The programs grew to serve 15.1 children for every 100 low-income children who participated in school lunch during the 2012-2013 school year, a modest increase from the 14.3:100 served in the 2011-2012 school year.

A good deal of the growth in summer food participation can be attributed to the leadership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack set the goal of providing five million more meals in the summer of 2013; the results show that USDA surpassed its goal, serving seven million more meals in 2013 than in 2012.

In short, this is encouraging news for families and communities across the nation. Summer meals are moving in a positive direction, but still only reach one in seven low-income children. Accelerating progress will further reduce the summer hunger gap. Looking ahead to the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization, FRAC noted that Congress should make some key investments in the program, most notably looking at ways to help more areas qualify for the Summer Nutrition Programs—making the rules conform to those in other programs – and easing administrative requirements.

Share this report and help spread the word about summer food!

Granite State Rumblings: 1 in 5 Children Are In Poverty, Now Is The Time To Raise The Minimum Wage

Child in poverty (Image Tim Grable FLIKR)

Child in poverty (Image Tim Grable FLIKR)Right now, more than 46 million people are living in poverty in America, including more than 1 in 5 children; another 60 million people are just a single hardship away from falling into poverty. This is the sad news from a new collaboration of poverty experts called TalkPoverty.org.

Here are the numbers:

  • U.S. poverty (less than $18,284 for a family of three; less than $23,492 for a family of four): 46.5 million people, 15 percent of U.S.
  • Poorest age group: children, more than 34 percent of all people in poverty are children.
  • Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 21.8 percent of all children under 18.
  • Poverty rate among children in single parent families: 42 percent.
  • Number of married parents in poverty (raising minor children): 5.8 million.
  • Number of never married parents living in poverty: 4.6 million.
  • Educational attainment of adults in poverty: approximately 70 percent have a high school degree or above.
  • Costs of child poverty: $550 billion per year, or 3.8 percent of GDP.
  • Households without sufficient net worth to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income, 2011: 25.4 percent.
  • Jobs in the US paying less than $35,100 a year: 50 percent.
  • Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four (less than $23,000 annually): 25 percent.
  • Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.
  • Economic gains since 2009: 95 percent to top 1%; 60% to top .1% (people with annual incomes of more than $1.9 million.)
  • Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers—not raise since 1991)
  • Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation for past 40 years: $10.86.
  • Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains since 1968: $18.67
  • Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06

Source: http://talkpoverty.org/basics/

In April the United States Senate had an opportunity to do something positive for the millions of children living in poverty and their hard working low-income parents, by supporting Senator Tom Harkins’ (D-Iowa) bill to Raise the Minimum Wage. But they failed when they could not reach the  60 votes needed to even debate the measure. Both Senator Ayotte of NH and Senator Collins of Maine were among the 42 Senators casting votes to quash the debate.

And over in the House of Representatives, leadership has shown little interest in giving a vote to the bill sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.)

Economists and other researchers investigating the minimum wage agree that raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty. That’s the conclusion of a major paper by UMass Amherst economist Arin Dube  titled “Minimum Wages and the Distribution of Family Incomes.”

A February 2013 poll conducted by PEW Research found the following:  Public Support for Raising the Federal Minimum Wage

  • 71 percent of Americans support a federal minimum wage increase to $9.00 per hour including
    • 87 percent of Democrats
    • 68 percent of Independents
    • 50 percent of Republicans

A March 2014 report by the Center for American Progress found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and tying it to inflation, could reduce federal spending on food stamp benefits by $46 billion over 10 years. Also, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that by putting more income in low-wage workers’ pockets, the higher minimum wage would cut back their reliance on public assistance, to the tune of $4.6 billion annually. That amounts to roughly 6 percent of current food stamp spending, or about a tenth of 1 percent of the federal budget.

So, if economists and researchers conclude that raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty and the dependence on government assistance programs, and 71 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage, why has it met such resistance from some of our elected leaders?

During a February 2014 town hall meeting in Cheshire County, Senator Ayotte was asked if she would support an increase to the minimum wage.

Senator Ayotte responded that her concern with the federal government raising the minimum wage is that it would cut young people out of the workforce who seek entry-level positions. Instead of increasing the minimum wage, she would like to see Congress work together on policies that would put the country in a position to have better jobs.

Would raising the minimum wage cut young people out of the workforce who seek entry-level positions?

No. A recent rigorous study by economists at the University of California examining the impact of minimum wage increases on teen unemployment found that even minimum wage increases implemented during times of high unemployment – such as the recessions of 1990-1991, 2001 and 2007-2009 – did not result in job losses for teens or slow employment growth.

Critics like to suggest that the last increase in the federal minimum wage in 2009 caused a spike in teen unemployment.  But as a NELP report demonstrated in 2011, teen unemployment rises faster than adult joblessness during every recession – whether or not the minimum wage goes up. This is because teens are the last hired, and so are always the first fired when the economy shrinks and adults compete with them for scarce jobs.

Senator Collins was hoping to find support from fellow Republicans to support a minimum wage increase under the proposed $10.10 per hour, but was unable to do so.

“I’m confident that the votes are not there to pass a minimum wage increase up to $10.10 therefore it seems to me to make sense for senators on both sides of the aisle to get together and see if we can come up with a package that would help low-income families with causing the kind of job loss that the Congressional Budget Office has warned against,” she said.

What impact would raising the minimum wage have on our struggling economy and businesses?

Raising the minimum wage right now is more important than ever. Minimum wage increases stimulate the economy by increasing consumer spending, without adding to state and federal budget deficits. Consumer spending drives 70 percent of the economy, and increasing demand is key for jumpstarting production and re-hiring. A raise in the minimum wage puts money into the pockets of low-income consumers, who immediately spend it at local businesses.  The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, would generate $22 billion in new economic activity in communities across the country. Strengthening the minimum wage can help build a sustainable economic recovery – without increasing costs for taxpayers.

And more families than ever are relying on low-wage and minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. This is because job losses during the Great Recession hit higher-wage sectors like construction, manufacturing and finance hard, while new job growth has been concentrated disproportionately in low-wage industries. Fully 58 percent of all jobs created in the post-recession were low-wage occupations, according to a 2012 report by the National Employment Law Project. This is not a short term trend – six of the top ten growth occupations projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for next decade are low-wage jobs, including home health aides, customer service representatives, food preparation and service workers, personal and home care aides, retail salespersons, and office clerks. Raising the minimum wage would boost pay scales in these types of jobs where millions of Americans today spend their careers.

The most rigorous economic research over the past 20 years shows that raising the minimum wage boosts worker pay without causing job losses – even in regions where the economy is weak or unemployment is high. A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research reviews the past two decades of research and concludes that raising the minimum wage had no adverse impact on employment.

What can you do and what is the message?
Make phone calls, send e-mails, apply pressure.

Create better jobs Senator Ayotte. Build a package to support low-income families, Senator Collins. But at the same time, dignify work for those who want to work, by making it pay. No person working 40 hours a week or more, should be earning poverty wages.

 GROWING UP GRANITE

Those who know me well will tell you that I am passionate when it comes to the subject of poverty, especially child poverty. I am privileged to work for an organization that allows me to invest my time and energy in advocating for children who live in poverty, working on solutions to poverty and the programs that serve our most vulnerable population, and educating our elected officials and the public about the hazards of growing up in poverty.

Sometimes I go to bed wondering why this work has chosen me as there are many days that I feel burned out and frustrated and powerless. But then I see the smiling face of a child in a Head Start program when he proudly shows me how he has learned to write his name, or I listen to a mom who is struggling to find a job that will pay her enough to keep food on the table and a roof over the head of her children, and the fire ignites once again.

There are a lot of great people who work on this issue. They proudly wear their orange badges in the Legislative Office Building and State House of New Hampshire. They sit in committee hearings, testify on bills, call and meet with legislators and the Governor’s office, meet and strategize with others who are working on the issues, and rally the troops.

Others do their work outside of the legislative process, working in the departments, agencies, and programs that serve children and families. Their dedication to those families and their willingness to share their knowledge with advocates and others is essential to the process.

As the New Hampshire legislative session comes to a close, I want to take this opportunity to thank them for the work they do. I also want to thank all of you who have answered our requests to write letters, call your representatives, talk to your friends, co-workers, and neighbors and have gotten involved. We could not do our work without your assistance.

We also could not have done our jobs without the voices of those who have been willing to tell their personal stories. They are the true heroes.

They often open themselves up to stereotyping and mockery from some of the people who have been elected to serve them. Their voices are important and necessary, as they speak with the knowledge and urgency that an advocate who has not walked a mile in their shoes can even approximate.

The Legislature has formed several study committees that will be looking at some of the programs and issues that affect vulnerable populations and we will be sharing the information with you as they progress this summer.

One of the issues that will be studied this summer is the use of Electronic Benefit (EBT) cards. Three bills from this session are being wrapped into this study, SB 203, HB 1213, and HB 1299.  It is our hope that the voices of those who rely upon these programs will have an opportunity to be heard in these committee meetings as well.

This Morning: The “Give America a Raise” Bus Tour Comes to Nashua

Give America a Raise

Give America a RaiseWashington DC – Americans agree: No one who works should live in poverty. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening to workers around the country who are earning the current minimum wage. While the federal minimum wage has stayed the same since 2009, the price of food, gas, utilities, and basic necessities has, with inflation, made it nearly impossible to live anywhere in America on $7.25 an hour or $15,000 a year.

 It’s long past time for Congress to give America a raise. And to help drive the point home, Americans United for Change has hit the road with the 11-State “Give America a Raise” Bus Tour supporting President Obama’s plan to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.  The tour will end outside the U.S. Capitol on April 3.

Next stop: in front of the Nashua Public Library TODAY, Tuesday, March 25 at 9:30 AM, with Rev. Gail Kinney of South Danbury Christian Church and US Department of Labor official Laura Fortman.

It’s been more than five years since minimum wage workers have gotten a raise – workers that include child care providers, janitors, and nursing assistants and who are 35 years old on average. It was hard enough to live on $15,000 a year in 2009, and it’s near impossible in 2014.

All that stands in the way of stronger economy – built from the middle out – are Tea Party Republicans in Congress who only seem to care about voting for minimum tax responsibility for huge corporations that outsource jobs.

Raising the minimum wage would provide a needed boost not just for the millions of struggling low-wage American workers that can barely survive on $7.25, but for the U.S. economy as a whole.  It will create jobs because it puts more money in the pockets of workers who will quickly inject it back into the economy. Millions of people with more money to spend on goods and services means businesses will need to hire more workers to meet the demand.  Decades’ worth of research done after previous minimum wage increases shows nothing but net economic benefits as a result, which is why so many successful business leaders and over 600 economists are calling on Congress to raise it again now.

No one who works a full-time job should have to live in poverty.

According to MIT, the living wage in Nashua is $21,422 a year be able to afford housing, medical care, transportation and food. If full-time New Hampshire workers made $10.10 an hour, they would earn $21,008 a year.

#RaiseTheWage

A Strong Safety Net Is Keeping People Out Of Poverty

poor child poverty hunger

Fifty years ago this week, in his first State of the Union speech, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War On Poverty.” Johnson’s declaration came just weeks after succeeding to the White House upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

“This budget, and this year’s legislative program, are designed to help each and every American citizen fulfill his basic hopes — his hopes for a fair chance to make good; his hopes for fair play from the law; his hopes for a full-time job on full-time pay; his hopes for a decent home for his family in a decent community; his hopes for a good school for his children with good teachers; and his hopes for security when faced with sickness or unemployment or old age.

Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope — some because of their poverty, and some because of theft color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.”

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it. One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return $40,000 or more in his lifetime.”

Making poverty a national concern set in motion a series of bills and acts, creating programs such as Head Start, food stamps, work study, Medicare and Medicaid, which still exist today. The programs initiated under Johnson brought about real results, reducing rates of poverty and improved living standards for America’s poor.

As Shawn Fremstad writes in his blog on the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “there is a good historical case to be made that the “war on poverty era” continued at least through 1974 and arguably 1977 (and it was definitely over by Reagan’s election). As a practical matter, Nixon did much more to build on Johnson’s anti-poverty initiatives than to tear them down.

While Johnson may have initiated the War on Poverty, it was Nixon who institutionalized much of it.

For example, while the Food Stamp Program (now SNAP) was expanded from a pilot program to a permanent one in 1964, only about 1.5 percent of the U.S. population were receiving benefits the month after Johnson left office, and the decision to operate a food stamp program as well as the eligibility standards was still left to local areas. It was legislation adopted during the Nixon Administration (particularly in 1971 and 1973) that made food stamps a truly national program with uniform eligibility standards and availability nationwide. By October 1974, about 7 percent of Americans were receiving benefits. And it was the Food Stamp Act of 1977, which owes its existence in large part to the bipartisan efforts of Senator Bob Dole and George McGovern that established the modern program we have today.

Similarly, Supplemental Security Income was established in 1972 to replace state programs for the elderly and disabled (funded under the Social Security Act) with a federal program with uniform eligibility criteria throughout the nation. And the EITC was first established in the Tax Reduction Act of 1975, signed by President Ford. Both SSI and the EITC had their beginnings in Congressional debates in the early 1970s over President Nixon’s otherwise ill-fated Family Assistance Plan proposal.

And, in 1969, Nixon called for adding an automatic COLA to Social Security as well as an across-the-board benefit increase); he signed both into law in 1972.”

President Nixon also signed legislation enacting the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC). The program provides nutritious foods, nutrition education, and referrals to free health and social services to pregnant, postpartum and lactating women and their infants and children up to age five.

(To see what other Presidents have done to increase the well-being of America’s children watch our video Presidents Helping Children.)

We have been hearing, and I am sure will continue to hear, legislators declare that the war on poverty has been a failure. But I beg to differ. That assumption is incorrect. The truth is that the percentage of poor Americans went down substantially in the sixties, from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, a 43 percent reduction in six years. These programs were also adequately funded during that time, a critical component to ensuring success.

We also know that without many of the programs established in the sixties, the poverty rate would be much higher today. What has failed is our legislators’ determination to continue the war on poverty in a meaningful way. Cuts to funding, changes in the structure of some of the programs, and shifting political ideologies have all impacted progress. But legislation aimed at strengthening instead of shredding the safety net here in the State can put us back on the right course.

There is legislation being proposed at the State level that will have a direct impact on poverty in our state. In the next few weeks and months we will update you on the bills and action that you can take to continue the war on poverty here at home.

As President Johnson said in his State of the Union address, “Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and the local level and must be supported and directed by State and local efforts.”

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