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September 17, 2020

Lies about poverty

Opinion

September 17, 2020

Poverty in America used to be far worse; about a third of Americans lived in poverty in the 1950s. Poverty was reduced, dramatically, by Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. The war on poverty was defeated not by poverty, but by the war in Vietnam, which sapped resources, attention and will.

Most poor people work when they can. They take the early bus. They do the hardest jobs for the least amount of money. They bear the most amount of stress. They care for the children of others. They tend to the sick. They serve food in restaurants. They sweep the streets. They clean bedpans beneath hospital beds that they cannot lie in when they get sick. Many are essential workers who are at greater risk in the pandemic.

When the pandemic forced the economy to shut down, millions lost their jobs – and their health care at work, if they had any. Over 30 million still draw unemployment, with over a million new applicants each week as companies continue to lay off workers. Many more children are hungry.

Public policy – the ‘stimulus checks’, the enhanced unemployment insurance, the expansion of food stamps (SNAP), the partial moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, the aid to businesses if they kept their employees on payroll – saved millions from poverty.

Now those benefits have expired, but the unemployment remains high. Many companies are declaring bankruptcy. Many are slashing payrolls with permanent, not temporary layoffs.

Again, public policy could help. The House passed another rescue package the HEROES ACT – that would provide another round of stimulus checks, sustain enhanced unemployment benefits, continue the expanded food stamps, extend the payroll protection subsidies and provide aid to states and localities to avoid the layoffs of millions of public employees.

The Republican Senate refused to act – and refused to compromise. Senate leader Mitch McConnell put together a $1 trillion alternative but didn’t even try to get his members to support it. Twenty Republican senators opposed doing anything.

The nonpartisan Urban Institute noted that a second round of stimulus checks alone would keep 8.3 million people out of poverty from August to December. The extension of enhanced unemployment benefits would keep 3.6 million out of poverty. The continuation of food stamp expansions would keep about 1.7 million out. If all three were enacted, 12.2 million people would be kept out of poverty for the rest of the year.

Mitch McConnell refused to act. Donald Trump, the great ‘deal maker’, refused even to get involved.

Excerpted from: ‘Myths and Lies About Poverty’

Commondreams.org