Trump Administration Declares Poverty is Over, We Can All Go Home Now

July 24, 2018 | 11:00 am
Michael Vadon
Sarah Reinhardt
Former Contributor

Picture it: The loading dock of the city’s largest food bank is shrouded in silence. Pallets of food are stacked inside, draped with cobwebs, waiting for volunteers who will never come to unload them. The food bank is now a relic of a bygone era—when people befallen by any number of ills needed help feeding their families. From a window above, a boy’s face appears. “Haven’t you heard?” he shouts. “Poverty is over!”

Okay, okay—I know this is absurd. But does the Trump administration?

Earlier this month, its Council of Economic Advisers released a report defending its proposals for stricter work requirements in major social safety net programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). If you’ve been following the 2018 farm bill reauthorization, you’ll recall that a host of unnecessary and punitive work requirements were included in the House bill. The White House report justifies these work requirements by citing a decline in self-sufficiency alongside a decline in material hardship—in other words, many households continue to participate in public assistance programs, despite the fact that their purchasing power seems to be increasing on the whole. And it’s under this pretense that the authors make a dangerous claim: the “war on poverty” has been successful, and is effectively over.

We’ve discussed the work requirements contained in the House bill—by and large, they’re built on misinformation, prejudice, and partisan ideology. But this inaccurate and wildly irresponsible declaration of victory over poverty in America warrants a discussion of its own.

In a country of wealth and abundance, everyone should be able to eat

The new White House report contends that “most” people in the United States now have their basic needs met, and that’s true. But while more than 99 percent of us have housing on any given night, that still leaves more than half a million people on the streets. Similarly, “only” 4.6 percent of people live in households with very low food security—meaning an unthinkable 15 million people worry that their food will run out, cut back on portions, or skip meals altogether with some regularity. (This doesn’t include the additional 27 million people living in households with low food security.)

Caring only about what happens to most of us isn’t good enough in one of the wealthiest and most resource-abundant countries in the world—particularly when the “few” represent millions of people struggling to get by, with prospects for upward mobility that are increasingly bleak.

Prosperity is more than the absence of poverty, and it’s getting harder to come by

The administration correctly identifies that there are many able-bodied, working-age adults who don’t have consistent employment, but it’s wrong in naming “the American work ethic” as the culprit. The reality is that it’s getting harder and harder to climb the economic ladder—particularly if you’re starting at the bottom rung.

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that income inequality—the gulf between the haves and have-nots—continues to widen in every state, as it has since the 1970s. On average, those in the top 1 percent of US families by income earned 26.3 times more than the those in the bottom 99 percent. Not 26.3 percent more; 26.3 times more. As the authors state, “The gains of those at the top have come at the expense of the vast majority of working families.”

And the inequitable distribution of income affects some families more than others. Structural racism remains a powerful force that keeps doors to opportunity closed to people of color. A recent report found that rates of home ownership and unemployment among black Americans have remained virtually unchanged for the last five decades. Over the same time period, the share of black Americans in prison or jail nearly tripled and currently outpaces the incarceration rate of white Americans by a factor of six.

Asserting that the state of economic well-being in this country is just fine, thank you, should elicit the same response as the declaration to Make America Great Again. For whom?

SNAP helps with more than just food – and it needs our support

Until our country gets its act together, we need to maintain a strong social safety net—and SNAP is a critical part of that safety net. Every year, it helps millions of households put food on the table. But more importantly, as we’ve shown, it also enables people to set aside more of their income for other necessities like housing, utilities, and transportation—as well as things like education, which is a key contributor to higher income and lifetime earnings.

As the 2018 farm bill enters a critical stage of negotiations, the fate of SNAP hangs in the balance. The best thing we can do for the millions of families across the United States who face the very real consequences of poverty—whether temporary or persistent—is to ask our senators and representatives to reject the draconian and ill-advised work requirements contained in the House version of the bill, and to adopt the Senate bill instead. Visit our website to take action today.