In Focus

Oct 4, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Stop-Gap Continuing Resolution Passes Congress


Last Wednesday night—with about 50 hours to go until the start of federal Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) and members of Congress eager to return home to campaign—the U.S. House and Senate passed a “Continuing Resolution” (CR) that will keep the federal government funded until December 9, 2016.

After negotiations, Republicans and Democrats reached a compromise that, among other things, includes $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus and $500 million for natural disaster relief, notably in flood-stricken Louisiana. Congress also reached a bipartisan agreement to reconcile the difference between the House and Senate on the amount of federal aid for the urgently needed and long-overdue replacement of lead water pipe lines in Flint, Michigan, where many people still cannot safely drink, bathe, or cook using tap water. However the final legislation to help Flint was not included in the CR and will have to wait until Congress returns after the election. The CR also temporarily continues mandatory programs that needed extensions, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

While this stop-gap measure will keep the government running until after the general election, the CR leaves considerable unfinished business because it fails fundamentally to meet the resource needs of programs that support low-income families. By temporarily continuing the inadequate funding levels in the FY16 budget for all annually appropriated federal programs, Congress did very little to address the needs of the 13.5 percent of Americans who live in poverty, according to the latest Census report on poverty.

As the nation looks ahead to a new president and Congressional leaders plan for 2017 and beyond, policymakers must fully fund effective investments in education, employment, young children, and anti-poverty strategies that ensure all benefit from the economic recovery. After the election, Congress will enter a “lame duck session” in which some members who will not be returning in January may feel unencumbered by future elections. The consequences are grim if Congress fails in the lame duck to sharply raise funding levels as it deliberates over the FY17 budget. For example: 

  • Holding child care funding at its current levels means that fewer children will receive the stable and healthy child care they need to thrive and their parents need to succeed on the job. Recent data show that participation in child care funded through the Child Care and Development Block Grant program has fallen to a 16-year low, with just 1.4 million children being served in 2014, and spending at an 11-year low as of 2013.  
  • Fewer workers will receive the skills training and postsecondary credentials they need to move toward better jobs, since this year’s funding level for adult education  is more than 6 percent below the FY 2017 amounts authorized in 2014’s bipartisan reauthorization of the federal workforce development law. Moreover, current funding for key adult and youth employment and training is more than 3 percent lower than levels authorized for next year by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). This would continue a decline in funding for these programs of more than 30 percent in real terms over the past 15 years.
  • Communities of color have been hit especially hard by federal disinvestment in key programs such as child care, workforce training, and Head Start. Youth of color, particularly out of school youth, simply don’t have the resources they need to succeed, and young children cannot get the start they need and deserve without help. With children of color soon to be half of all children—and already half of children under five—their success matters deeply to America’s future.

We can drive down the damaging prevalence of poverty and economic insecurity if the next president and Congressional leaders make a strong commitment to addressing poverty. Such a commitment should start with the enactment of an FY2017 budget that expands and invests in the crucial education, child care, safety net, and workforce development programs that help people get and keep a job, stabilize families, and promote success. In addition, the commitment must focus resources and attention on those who face the most barriers—children, youth, and families of color, immigrant families, and those whose opportunities are limited by pervasive poverty in their neighborhoods and communities.

CLASP urges Congress to pass a 2017 spending bill with additional resources to support low-income families as they seek economic security. 

Sep 13, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Strong Reduction in Poverty, Improvement in Health Insurance, But More to Do for Next Generation’s Families

View our Infographics about the 2015 Poverty Data.

Watch Olivia Golden's appearance on C-SPAN's Washington Journal to discuss the data.

Read Maintaining the Momentum to Reduce Child and Family Poverty: In-Depth Lessons from the 2015 Census Poverty and Income Reports

The Census Bureau’s annual report on poverty, income, and health coverage shows major economic improvement on a number of indicators, including a drop in poverty from 14.8 percent of Americans in 2014 to 13.5 percent in 2015.  The health coverage report shows the smallest share of Americans ever to be uninsured, with just 9.1 percent (29 million) of people without insurance in 2015, down by about 4 million people from 2014. Virtually all groups of Americans, including children, shared in the poverty reduction, with about one million fewer children living in poverty and the child poverty rate improving from 21.1 percent in 2014 to 19.7 percent in 2015. 

Yet disparities in economic security, while improved on some measures, remain substantial. America’s children and young adults—our next generation of workers and citizens—still have the highest poverty rates, and children and young adults of color, the soon-to-be majority of that rising generation, experience sharply elevated poverty even within that group.  Without additional policy interventions, high levels of poverty among these children and their families risk not only their future success in education and the workforce but also the nation’s success.

As the country prepares for a new president and Congressional leaders make plans for 2017, CLASP believes it is important to highlight the report’s good news about the effectiveness of several major national programs. Notably the report includes data quantifying the continued success of the Affordable Care Act, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), among others, in helping large numbers of Americans.  For example, the Census Bureau’s special calculations to estimate the effects of the EITC and SNAP on poverty (necessary because these programs are not included in the regular poverty measure) finds that in 2015, the EITC and other refundable tax credits raised 9.2 million people out of poverty and SNAP raised 4.6 million.

But the data also show continuing disparities. America’s next generation of children and young adults continue to experience poverty at very high rates—of particular concern because research shows the lifelong consequences of poverty in childhood. Even with the 2015 improvement, the child poverty rate remained at one in five children, still above the rate before the Great Recession.  For young adults (ages 18-24), the 19 percent poverty rate was virtually unchanged from 19.6 percent in 2014.  Despite their particular vulnerability, young children (under age 5) continued to have the highest poverty rates among children (21.4 percent or 4.2 million children). More than four in ten children (and nearly half of young children) live in low-income families with incomes less than twice the federal poverty line—meaning that a typical childhood experience is living in or near poverty in a family that struggles to make ends meet. 

Parents in these poor and near-poor families are working: in 2015, about 70 percent of poor children and 84 percent of low-income children lived with at least one worker. Low wages and inadequate hours, not the failure to work, are the barriers holding them back from economic stability. For example, one quarter of workers who report working variable hours and almost half of part-time workers who would like to be working full-time are low-income. In fact, original CLASP analysis of the Census Bureau survey finds that about one quarter of adults under age 30 who are parents live in poverty—testimony to policy and labor market failures that make it extremely hard for many families to balance raising children with economic security on the job.

Today, children of color are already a majority among the youngest children and will become a majority of all children in the next few years. Yet despite some improvement in the disparity in 2015, children and young adults of color are far more likely to be poor than White children. About one third of Black children and about three in ten Hispanic children live in poverty, despite high levels of work effort in their households—with two-thirds of poor Black children and three-quarters of poor Hispanic children living with a working adult family member.  The poverty rate for White non-Hispanic children remained largely unchanged in 2015, at 12.1 percent. 

Today’s numbers shine a spotlight on the critical difference that public policy can make, particularly the historic improvements in insurance coverage due to the Affordable Care Act. To build on policy successes to date, five additional bold steps would go a long way toward turning around child and family poverty, tearing down systemic barriers that affect families of color, and enabling children and youth now living in poor families to achieve an economically secure future:

  1. Affordable and high-quality child care for all low-income families, so parents can work and children can thrive. Current investments reach only a fraction of eligible families.
  2. A substantial jobs agenda, providing opportunities for low-income workers to earn a living wage and gain skills on the job, and including a substantial federal investment for subsidized summer and year-round employment for youth and young adults.  
  3. Financial access to postsecondary education for all low-income students, including both youth and adults, so they can get the credentials they need to succeed at work—and also make ends meet for themselves and their families.
  4. Access for all workers (including low-income workers) to paid family and medical leave, earned sick days, and fair schedules, so parents don’t have to trade off their child’s health and wellbeing to succeed on the job.
  5. Improvements to the safety net that fill gaps and build on the proven success of the EITC and other programs, such as by extending help through the EITC to low-wage adults without dependents and young adults (including non-custodial parents and others who play a crucial role in children’s lives) and ensuring that young children everywhere in the country have at least a minimum income floor.

CLASP will be releasing a policy brief next week to provide more in-depth analysis of the Census data, along with further details on our policy recommendations for helping those living in poverty and with low incomes gain economic security.

Sep 23, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Inspiring Big Changes in How We Address Poverty: What I Take Away from Pope Francis’ Visit

By Tom Salyers

Most mornings, I walk past St. Matthew’s Cathedral where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass this afternoon. I see homeless people out front seeking pocket change from parishioners leaving Mass and—on Monday mornings—receiving food, clothing, and toiletries from the church’s homeless ministry.

For me, the take away from the Pope’s visit is not a religious one.  Rather, we should all take away a sense of momentum. We should commit to truly seeing the homeless and poor people we’re accustomed to walking past, as well as pursuing large-scale changes that help the most vulnerable.

Welcome Pope Francis

One of my first experiences with social change came in my 20s when I was a member of an urban Atlanta Catholic parish with a very active social justice ministry. In addition to serving people who were hungry and homeless, the church was a pioneer in the early stages of the AIDS crisis with its outreach and support to those afflicted with HIV and AIDS. I became actively engaged in the life of Joseph, a man with HIV who lived in public housing and used a wheelchair. What began with my providing him weekly transportation to Mass blossomed into a friendship that lasted more than a decade until Joseph’s untimely death from complications of AIDS. As a young adult with a corporate job, and still in the process of finding myself, this taught me the value of seeing real needs up close and participating in a community committed to making a difference.  

Even though I moved away from regular church attendance, that early experience showed me the importance of understanding the lives of poor and vulnerable people through their eyes, in their own words and experiences—and the importance of contributing to substantial and positive change. 

Since leaving the corporate world for nonprofit social change organizations 20 years ago, I have seen those two principles—understanding the reality of low-income people’s lives and staying committed to large-scale, systemic change—motivate the work of passionate people who bring a wide range of faith and secular perspectives.  At CLASP, our talented team works every day to understand vulnerable people’s lives through both individual stories and the power of data and research to bring many stories together. At the same time, we stay focused on the opportunity for large-scale policy and systems change that can improve the trajectory of many people’s lives at once, however discouraging a particular day’s policy or budget news.  (For example, just last week we analyzed new data from the U.S. Census Bureau to shine a light on those most affected by poverty as well as public policies like the Affordable Care Act and the Earned Income Tax Credit that are making meaningful positive changes in people’s lives.) Our emphasis on facing problems head on while also insisting on solutions is what makes us an effective voice for change. And as CLASP’s communications director who is responsible for bringing to the public the depth of our knowledge about data and solutions, I relish the good stories we can tell in the face of an otherwise despairing situation where even one person living in poverty is too many, let alone the 14.8 percent of Americans who are poor.

So, when I peer down the block today at the excitement surrounding the pope’s visit to St. Matthew’s, I will channel that energy into a renewed enthusiasm for effecting change, building on the inspiration I gained many years ago through my early experiences with social justice, brought to life for me through Joseph.

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