Thirty-seven million Americans live below the official poverty line. Millions more struggle each month to pay for basic necessities, or run out of savings when they lose their jobs or face health emergencies. This week, American Idol and the Center for American Progress both reached important landmarks in the fight against poverty.
American Idol this week aired a two-night special, “Idol Gives Back,” which spokesman and founder of Red Nose Day Richard Curtis explains “may be the beginning of what is … [a] National Day of Giving.”
The Center for American Progress celebrated this National Day of Giving in its own way—by releasing a comprehensive set of 12 recommendations from its Task Force on Poverty and setting the goal of reducing poverty in the United States by half in the next 10 years.
American Idol judge Simon Cowell described his experiences visiting poverty-stricken areas in the United States and Africa as being utterly eye-opening. Combating poverty, he said, “is simply about opening your eyes to a couple of things and simply making a choice whether you want to help or not.”
The Center for American Progress agrees; the tools to combat poverty are well within our grasp. Poverty levels have increased over the past six years, and one in eight Americans in currently living in poverty; but, we have seen periods of dramatic poverty reduction at times when near-full employment was combined with sound federal and state policies, motivated individual initiative, supportive civic involvement, and sustained national commitment.
We do not need to tolerate persistent poverty in the United States. These 12 steps, three of which were modeled by the Urban Institute and shown to be effective in significantly reducing poverty, are a great place to start:
1. Raise and index the minimum wage to half the average hourly wage.
2. Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.
3. Promote unionization by enacting the Employee Free Choice Act.
4. Guarantee child care assistance to low-income families and promote early education for all.
5. Create 2 million new “opportunity” housing vouchers, and promote equitable development in and around central cities.
6. Connect disadvantaged and disconnected youth with school and work.
7. Simplify and expand Pell Grants and make higher education accessible to residents of each state.
8. Help former prisoners find stable employment and reintegrate into their communities. 9. Ensure equity for low-wage workers in the Unemployment Insurance system.
10. Modernize means-tested benefits programs to develop a coordinated system that helps workers and families.
11. Reduce the high costs of being poor and increase access to financial services.
12. Expand and simplify the Saver’s Credit to encourage saving for education, homeownership, and retirement.
Idol Gives Back’s goal to “raise as much money as we possibly can for kids in Africa and the U.S.” is laudable, but civic awareness and involvement is not enough. We need strong policies like those the Center for American Progress has outlines to effectively address poverty at its root.
Learn more about the Center for American Progress Task Force on Poverty’s recommendations:
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