Poverty is not natural, it is a policy choice, and we can end it.
It is shocking that in the richest country in the world, well over a third of the American people are poor or near-poor. Nearly 70% of Americans would struggle to meet an unexpected expense of $400, according to a report by the Federal Reserve. The poverty level is a $30,000 annual income for a family with two adults and two children. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that approximately 38 million people were poor in 2021. That means more than one in nine Americans live below the poverty line. Poverty rates are higher for Black Americans and Native Americans – 19.5 percent and 27 percent, respectively, compared to 8.1 percent for non-Hispanic whites. When you include the near-poor, the figures rise to over 93 million people (about 29% of all people) that have income below 200% of the poverty level.
At a time when DC politicians and lobbyists have waged a war against poor and barely middle-class Americans by chipping away at social safety net programs and permitting labor exploitation by the most profitable companies, we have the moral obligation to address the crisis of poverty in America. The U.S. is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, yet poverty has not been solved. In fact, we haven’t even made any serious improvements in the state of poverty in America over the last 50 years.
Post-WWII, children had a 90 percent chance of doing better economically than their parents. However, children born after 1984 only have a 50 percent chance at doing better than their parents. In the 1980s, DC politicians began their relentless assault on programs like social security, food stamps and other social safety nets. This was a tenet of Reaganism and the advent of hyper-capitalism, which remains at the core of our socioeconomic policies. In America, poverty is in many ways a continuation of segregation. Due to the racial imbalance of wealth, Jim Crow policies like redlining continue to have rippling effects long after they have ended. Additionally, generational poverty has reduced the chances of poor people attaining the American Dream.
Should we as a country turn a blind eye to the epidemic of poverty while we are at a risk of slashing Medicare, kicking millions of Americans off of their publicly funded healthcare? Even now, as protections put in place to address the Covid-19 pandemic begin to expire, many states are planning to remove millions of Americans from their Medicaid plans. This will put poor, low-income families and those with disabilities at risk of losing access to care, exposing them to large medical debt which serves now as one of the leading causes of bankruptcy. Additionally – the federal government Medicaid budget will be cut by 6.2 percentage points, forcing individual states to face budgetary chaos.
Medicaid isn’t the only program at a risk of being slashed. As of March 1 2023, emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program enhancements, or SNAP, has ended in 32 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the District of Columbia. The enhancement lifted more than 4 million out of poverty in 2021 and decreased child poverty by 14 percent. The elimination of the emergency enhancements will average out to approximately $90 per person each month which adds up to $2,676 yearly for families with children. The richest country in the world continues to ignore the cries of over 9 million children going to bed hungry at night while school lunch programs are cut. As a nation, we continue to ignore the moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable.
These government supports that have proven time and again to be successful at staving off poverty for millions of Americans, are being cut – by Democrats no less – at a time when rents are spiraling out of control for the poorest families, wages are stagnant due to the assault on unions and working people; while poor people are being preyed on by rapacious financial institutions via higher interest rates and paralyzing fees, and we have a legal system that traps people into a cycle of poverty for the most minor of infractions. The evidence is clear that poverty is multilateral and systemic, whether it be through education, labor, the environment, or healthcare. We must have transformational change in order to save America. Poverty is not natural, it is a policy choice, and we can end it.
A Williamson administration will work with lawmakers to:
- Declare an unconditional war on poverty, and aim to relieve and cure its symptoms in order to find solutions to prevent it.
- Strengthen democracy by urging Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to enfranchise voters, stop voter suppression, enact automatic voter registration, protect election security, and reform immigration.
- Restore and make permanent the enhancement of Child Tax Credit and other critical investments that reduced poverty in the U.S. by the greatest amount in a single year in over 50 years.
- Lift poverty wages by raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. Currently, 1.1 million hourly wage earners earn the federal minimum wage or less, and a full third of the workforce earns less than $15 an hour. These wage earners are disproportionately women.
- Ensure Universal rent control and a prohibition on rental deposits.
- Fund social housing as part of the Green New Deal to build at least 15 million green, union-built, publicly-owned homes over the next 10 years.
- Provide grants to the poor, working poor, and our small businesses to retrofit their existing homes and businesses to become clean energy efficient.
- End homelessness and housing insecurity with a Homes Guarantee. A Housing First approach to ensuring stable housing has been proven to improve outcomes over mitigation-based approaches to homelessness.
- Expand the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to aid the working families of this country with the burden of heating and cooling bills.
- Strengthen the safety net by removing the obstacles to the cash welfare system, Temporary Assistance for Families (TANF). Reduce the hurdles that keep families from receiving necessary assistance, increase the income threshold at which people are eligible to receive cash assistance, eliminate harsh sanctions and time limits and hold states accountable for the funds reaching eligible families. (For every dollar currently budgeted for TANF, only 22 cents get directed to poor families).
- Restore funding for SNAP programs in every state to ensure families have access to food stamps and nutritional needs.
- Provide paid family and medical leave.
- Restore the current Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) back to its original form under the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA), which sent federal funding directly into communities via their local Community Action Agencies to eliminate poverty, expand educational opportunities, increase the social safety net for the poor and unemployed, and tend to the health and financial needs of the elderly.
- Make Education Affordable: Public colleges (both community colleges and four-year colleges) and trade schools must be made tuition free. Those trade schools will coordinate with organized apprenticeship programs to give students real-world experience.
- Forgive all federal and privately held student debt (including interest): Students are too often burdened with school loans that hold them back from following their dreams. Forgiving all student debt will allow students to work in a career they love, launch a business, or buy a home.
Banking and Access to Capital
On average, Americans pay over $120 billion in credit card interest and fees each year. In 2022 American’s total credit card balance was estimated at $986 billion. The average credit card interest rate in the U.S. on accounts with balances that accounted interest was 20.40%, according to The Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The era of banking deregulation led to an increase in overdraft fees and the creation of minimum balance requirements. This predominantly harmed the poor and marginalized, those who could not afford the fees or keep large sums of money in an account. 1 in 19 Americans have no bank account, and black and brown Americans are 5 times more likely to be unbanked than their white counterparts. We must work to roll back Reagan-era deregulation.
A Williamson administration will:
- Cap interest rates at 10 percent across all financial institutions.
- Re-introduce the Glass-Steagall Act immediately to ensure commercial banking is separated from investment banking, and prosecute banking executives for breaking those rules.
- Encourage Congress to pass the Close the Shadow Banking Loophole Act (S. 5189), ensuring that Industrial Loan Companies (ILC) are subject to every rule that traditional banks adhere to.
- Encourage Congress to pass the Postal Banking Act (S.3891), providing basic banking services to all Americans through our more 31,000 USPS Post Offices.
- Encourage Congress to pass the Stop Overdraft Profiteering Act of 2021 (S.2677), ensuring that banks do not punish their consumers for having less in their accounts.
- Encourage Congress to pass the Junk Fees Prevention Act, ensuring consumers aren’t attacked by surprising or predatory fees.
- Encourage Congress to pass the Minority Business Resiliency Act of 2021 (H.R.2689).
- Utilize executive power and Congress to continue breaking down barriers in access to capital, specifically for black and brown families across the nation.
- Encourage Congress to pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act of 2021 (S.1368), making it easier to buy a home and build wealth through homeownership
Jobs & Labor
- Pass trade deals that include worker protection provisions that prevent further deindustrialization of our communities.
- Pass the PRO Act (H.R. 842), make it easier to unionize, unionized workers enjoy better wages and protections.
- Hold Corporate Executives accountable for labor law violations. CEOs should be personally liable for unpaid wages, and criminally liable for interference with workers’ efforts to organize. Employers who engage in wage theft, misclassifying workers, and bad faith stalling during bargaining, aka “surface bargaining”, will be heavily penalized.
- Ensure that our undocumented workers are protected by labor laws. More than a third of our undocumented immigrants are paid below minimum wage, and close to 85 percent do not get paid overtime.
- Urge Congress to pass a meaningful Reparations bill, addressing the moral and economic debt we owe to descendants of enslaved and oppressed generations of black Americans. See details here.
- Enact fair taxes on the wealthy, corporations, and Wall Street, and reduce taxes on working people. The richest people in America increased their wealth by $6.5 trillion in 2021. The total wealth of the 1% reached a record $45.9 trillion by the end of 2021, and these fortunes increased by more than $12 trillion, or more than a third, during the course of the pandemic. We should repeal the 2017 Trump tax breaks for the wealthy where 83 cents on every $1 cut went to the top 1%, immediately restoring the middle class tax cuts included in that bill; restore the estate tax to fortunes over $5 million’ add a tiny tax on Wall Street trade; and put a 2% tax on wealth over $50 million, and additional one percent on wealth over $1 billion.
- Lift completely the social security cap.
- Establish a universal single payer healthcare system, in which everyone is covered for all medical services, including mental health.
- Reduce the cost of prescription drugs by repealing the law that blocks the government from negotiating lower prices. If pharmaceutical companies don’t lower prices, activate the “march-in rights” under the Bayh-Dole Act that allows the government to license a patent to another party who charges less for medicine, or the government will simply produce those medicines itself, since much of the initial biomedical research and development done on pharmaceuticals is through publicly funded universities and the National Institute of Health.
- Invest in clean energy and clean water, which will create green jobs, address climate change, and address the needs of the poor and people of color who already feel the effects of climate change.
- Provide universal affordable child care. Train apprentices to expand the quantity and upgrade the quality of competent care providers.
- Urge Congress to re-introduce the Free-Lunch-for-All Program, to ensure that every child has access to food, and the cancellation of lunch debt.