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Jobs and families are key to curbing poverty

With more than 46.2 million Americans and one in five children living below the poverty line, our economy spends more than $500 billion a year solely on child poverty.

In Washington County alone, more than 10 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. And, according to Michael Burnham of Portland State University, Washington and Multnomah County hold over 30 percent of Oregon’s families and individuals living in poverty.

As of today, we are doing the minimum in relieving this large deficit in our nation. While our economy’s middle class is dwindling, our lower class is growing rapidly. There are strategies in reducing poverty and growing our economy. In Congress, the Half in Ten Act of 2011, legislation aimed at cutting poverty by half in 10 years, was introduced by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California. If we can create good jobs, strengthen families, and promote economic security, then we can start condensing poverty rates.

Jane Waldfogel, a social work professor at Columbia University, suggests that if we follow Britain’s strategy in reducing poverty, we could meet the 50 percent goal. The British strategy Waldfogel refers to is to increase job opportunities, gain financial stability for families and put the focus on children’s needs.

Nancy Folbre, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, conducted more research in comparing Britain and the United States and found that the key to curbing poverty is “an increase in the national minimum wage, tax incentives to encourage single parents to move into paid employment, increased public benefits for parents and provision of regulations making it easier for parents of young children to request flexible work schedules.”

Although Britain has strategically and successfully reduced poverty, there is one major difference between our country and Britain: political support. One of the outcomes of poverty in low-income individuals is that they don’t fully exercise their rights as citizens, which results in upper class policy decision-making.

The Half in Ten Act has modeled Britain’s strategy, and individuals who are aware of this act wonder where the money will come from. What they forget is that we spend over $500 billion a year in aiding poverty. If we put that money into reducing poverty rather than enabling it, we can rebuild our nation over time. Today, the Half in Ten Act has stalled, and it’s not clear if this legislation will be reintroduced.

The United States has the tools, knowledge, and the ability to make a considerable difference in today’s poverty. What would happen if we met our goal in reducing poverty by half? We would have 23 million fewer Americans living below the poverty line and place millions of people into the middle class.

We would be able to grow our economy through more people having the ability to buy products due to obtaining better employment and gaining an increase in minimum wage. Having better pay would help our families and communities become healthier and more educated which, in turn, could help reduce racial inequalities.

The Half in Ten Act is a legislation that can do all of these things. Unless it gets reintroduced into the U.S. House, our poverty rates will continue to go up until our society changes.

Samantha A. Hormann lives in Forest Grove and works as a client service specialist for De Paul Treatment Centers in Hillsboro.




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