Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, were both on hand to pledge their leadership on what Task Force co-chair Peter B. Edelman, professor of Law at Georgetown University, called ”a national shame…. There should be no one [in this country] who’s poor.”
This is one of the great scandals of our times. In the richest industrialized nation in the world, 37 million Americans—one in eight citizens—live below the official poverty line (just $19,971 income for a family of four); in 2005, more than 90 million Americans had incomes below 200 percent of the poverty threshold (less than $40,000 for a family of four); the United States ranks 24th out of 25 developed nations in the share of the population with an income below 50 percent of the national median income—and the US is dead last among 24 rich nations when the same measurement is used to assess child poverty. Nearly 20 percent of American children are poor, and it’s estimated that allowing children to grow up in persistent poverty costs our economy $500 billion per year. Lastly, income inequality has reached record highs and is getting worse.
”From 1947 to 1973, we saw every economic quintile growing together, and those at the lowest level were growing the fastest,” Kennedy said. ”In 1980, with President Reagan, you see the beginning of growing apart…And now, those at the lowest end of the ladder are not even keeping up while there is an explosion at the highest level.”
In fact, the post-tax income of the top 1 percent rose $145,500 between 2003 and 2004; it rose just $200 for the bottom fifth during that same period.
The report goes on to make some specific proposals on how to end poverty in America—the most dramatic of them were some changes to the EITC that would theoretically lift 5 million Americans out of poverty. The combined cost of all the steps was around $90 Billion per year.
Now, the big omission in this program was looking at how immigration policy impacts poverty in America.The simple fact is that many of the poor in America came here to be less poor than they were in Mexico or Central America. Furthermore, the expansion of the US labor pool via immigration has had a significant downward pressure on the wages of the lowest skilled, and lowest earning Americans.
We have also seen the rise in illegal immigration to the US accompanied by an increase in poverty in Mexico.
I think by and large, the steps in this report are decent ones—but if they are to work,they must be accompanied by a sane immigration policy in the US, a regional plan to address poverty throughout North America and a program to improve technology to create a realistic and sustainable basis for global prosperity.