New data from the Census shows that poverty rates are down, particularly among children. 14.5 percent of Americans are now living in poverty, down from 15 percent in 2012. Many can look at this data and say that things are improving. But even though child poverty is on the decline, it is still clear that more work must be done to make sure our most vulnerable citizens have what they need to thrive.
The Census report reveals a staggering racial inequality. The median household headed by a Black person earned $34,600 in 2013, compared to $58,300 for the median White, non-Hispanic household and $67,100 for the median Asian household. Even with poverty numbers decreasing, it is still apparent that the inequalities that still exist in a post-Jim Crow America still leave African-Americans behind. It is not enough that poverty is on the decline when there is still a huge economic disparities between the races. We need to approach poverty as an issue that further disenfranchises communities of color. Without it, there’s no clear picture of how poverty affects all Americans.
The poverty rate is still higher for women than for men across the board, even though there has been an overall decrease in poverty. The poverty rate for women is at 15.8 percent, compared to men (13.1 percent). The pay gap is one possible explanation, as women still make about 77 cents to the man’s dollar. In addition, about two-thirds of all minimum wage jobs are held by women. When women are able to succeed economically, it lifts entire communities upward. As long as women are behind men when it comes to salary and better wages, Americans will always find themselves within the cycle of poverty.
The statistics about inequality hold true In the District of Columbia where our partner the Washington Interfaith Network organizes. In the neighborhoods in the shadow of the capital and of the monuments on the National Mall the official unemployment rates among African-Americans are near 18% and for whites near 3%. WIN sees opportunity to address this gap through large scale multi-billion dollar public infrastructure projects underway. When it rains the antiquated sewer systems of DC sends untreated sewage into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers ultimately polluting the Chesapeake Bay. DC is under EPA mandate to upgrade its sewer infrastructure through a mix of gray sewage holding tanks and a series of green measures such as green roofs, rain gardens, water permeable parking lot surfaces and bioretension measures throughout the District. Installation and maintenance of these gray and green measures will create more than a thousand jobs. Historically there is a gap in hiring with only 10% of the high paying constructions going to DC residents. WIN is organizing to ensure that residents from high unemployment neighborhoods are hired on this multiyear project that could be a springboard to a career in high wage construction jobs.
The recent Census report does give us some good news—a declining poverty rate means that there is an increase of poor people getting jobs and being able to life themselves and their families out of poverty. CCC’s approach to economic justice emphasizes job creation and getting more people out of unemployment and into stable, good paying jobs. If nothing else came out of this new report, it was that there needs to be a continued effort in helping poor people find sustainable employment so that the poverty rates can continue to shrink.