A Look At 2010 to 2020 and Beyond: How Does the Past Decade Shape the Nation’s—and CLASP’s—Future?

By Olivia Golden

The United States began the last decade at a time of economic devastation—yet for CLASP and others fighting for economic and racial justice, it was also a time of political hope. Sadly, the decade ended with an economy that only works for some and a federal administration directly threatening the safety and economic security of people with low incomes, immigrants, and people of color. The stakes for the 2020s are higher than they’ve ever been, but hope is still in the picture.

In 2010, the economic consequences of the Great Recession for American workers and families were reaching their peak—destabilizing lives and including damage to children, young adults, and people of color. In January 2010, looking ahead to the new decade, CLASP staff published federal policy recommendations, which noted that all economic progress for workers and families since 1975 was likely to be wiped out by the Great Recession. And, according to the Census Bureau, poverty reached a peak in 2010 for the recession years of 15.1 percent or almost one in six, with a higher rate among children of 21.5 percent—a level that didn’t start improving until 2013.

CLASP played a part in repairing the economic devastation through our involvement in the design and implementation of the stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or ARRA), which was proposed by the Obama Administration and enacted by Congress in 2009. After enactment, CLASP worked to inform and support state leaders to encourage them to use ARRA funds to provide services and create jobs for people with low incomes. Ultimately, all but one state accessed the TANF Emergency Fund, including 39 states that created subsidized jobs programs for over a quarter-million people. Our unique capacity and expertise in federal and state policy and our credibility in the states allowed us to share practical information, hold state leaders accountable, and distill lessons and best practices.

But while ARRA succeeded at its urgent purpose of ending the immediate crisis, the hope of advocates during the Obama Administration was much greater: that ARRA could lay a foundation for reforms that would vastly improve the lives of people with low incomes. One big success emerged from that hope: the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including expansion of Medicaid for the people with the lowest incomes. The ACA passed in 2010 and was implemented throughout the decade.

Over the course of the decade, CLASP worked first with state agencies and later with advocates to help streamline administrative procedures in Medicaid (and other programs for working families such as nutrition and child care assistance), so eligible families could get and keep health care without bureaucratic obstacles. We also helped states promote policy improvements in Medicaid around mental health prevention and treatment for people with low incomes, especially mothers experiencing depression and young people.

As Medicaid and the ACA came under fire after the 2016 elections, CLASP—along with many others—fought back. On the legislative front, we engaged partners and networks, ranging from child advocates to higher education stakeholders and state leaders, to explain to Congress why Medicaid expansion matters. On the administrative front, through formal submissions and public commentaries, we leveraged our knowledge about how programs play out on the ground and our understanding of low-wage work, to show the harm of cutting off access to health and food. We also used our racial equity lens to highlight how the attacks on Medicaid disproportionately harm workers of color, for example because of the systemic challenges that workers of color face in the labor market and health care systems. As we enter the 2020s, CLASP is part of a broad movement to fight back at every opportunity against the Trump Administration’s attacks on health insurance. While these attacks have reversed longstanding progress in expanding health insurance coverage for everyone—including children—the ACA and Medicaid expansion are still alive today, despite continuing threats to dismantle them. More states than ever are considering expansion, including Kansas where CLASP is represented on an advisory group appointed by the governor. And the courts so far have rejected the Trump Administration’s approval of “work requirement” waivers for states, a policy that CLASP believes is illegal and deeply wrong. In one of the early court decisions on work requirements in Kentucky, CLASP’s comments were among several cited prominently in the judge’s decision.

From 2010 to 2020, demographic change shaped the nation as people of color continued rapidly moving toward a majority and reached a majority among young children and in many states. For CLASP, this national change continued to sharpen our focus on racial equity as central to an anti-poverty agenda. While we had begun this effort even before 2010, for example in work on issues affecting immigrant children and families and young people of color, we redoubled our commitment during the decade to a racial equity lens both in our external advocacy and in our internal policies and practices.

Today, CLASP is further along on that journey, including understanding how far we have still to go. We have a diverse leadership team and staff and bring an explicit racial equity lens to much of our work. Our approaches include deep partnerships with civil rights and immigrant rights advocates and on-the-ground leaders, a commitment to interrogating all policies for their impacts on people of color, and a new policy team focused on immigrant families and children.

Of course, the tragic news is that the nation is experiencing a terrible backlash of hateful and divisive policy and rhetoric flowing from the president and top administration leaders at the end of the decade. But just as in the health care battles, CLASP is part of a broad movement of resistance and energized advocacy, with successes measured in policies stopped or delayed and in growing coalitions and power. For example, more than a quarter-million people braved the complexity of the federal regulatory process to file a comment against the administration’s anti-immigrant “public charge rule.” The credit goes not only to the incredible work of CLASP staff, our partners at the National Immigration Law Center, and the campaign’s 400+ organizational members—but also to a growing commitment to fight back against hate.

At the beginning of a new decade, the nation is at a pivot point. In the coming months and years, our country could take dramatic steps toward economic and racial justice—or turn back the clock by decades. If threats to nutrition and health care, the security and safety of immigrants and their families (including citizen children), and people of color escalate, the lives, health, and opportunities of millions of people—along with the nation’s future and its values—will be further devastated. Or, if the passion for economic and racial justice we see in grassroots organizing, resistance energy, state-level momentum, and policy creativity gains traction, we could be at a moment of big positive change.

CLASP is ready to play our part in shaping this future. Our deep knowledge of the policy details and how to use them to drive bigger change is essential if the big ideas in today’s public discussion are to deliver for workers and families with low income and for people of color. Whether it’s child care and health care for all, paid family and medical leave, college affordability, or transforming policies at the intersection of economic justice and criminal justice reform, our job is to make sure vision translates into reality.

And after a decade that has posed such difficult tests, our deep and trusted partnerships are broader and deeper than ever. We will commit to taking these partnerships to a next level in the new decade—whether to sustain the fight or, as we hope, to repair the harm, heal the damage, rebuild the federal government’s capacity, and put in place bold reforms for economic and racial justice.