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Bonnie W.
Democrat NJ 12

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  • Poverty and Its Impacts on American Families

    by Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman

    Posted on 2015-12-09

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    WATSON COLEMAN. I thank the gentlewoman for yielding and for organizing, coordinating, this opportunity for this discussion. I thank the gentlewoman because she is the most vibrant and is the strongest voice for those who are the most vulnerable in our communities across this Nation.

    Mr. Speaker, poverty isn't just a problem in America. It is a crisis. We are not doing enough about it.

    In September, the Census Bureau released the newest data on the number of Americans living below the poverty line. The report further confirms what my colleagues and I have been trying to get the majority in this body to acknowledge, and that is that poverty may be one of the greatest challenges facing our Nation right now.

    The median household income stayed the same. The poverty rate remained the same as well. Women and minorities did worse than the average. Overall, nearly 15 percent of American families--almost 47 million people--earn less than $24,000 a year.

    The fact that terrifies me the most is that the way we calculate the poverty rate has several inherent flaws, and when you dive deeper into the numbers on this issue, you come up with a picture of an America that is deeply broken.

    The poverty rate is just a snapshot of a single year. Last year, for example, 22 percent of all children lived in families that fell below the poverty line, something we should be embarrassed by in not devoting more resources to fixing.

    But childhood lasts more than 1 year, and when you look at the span of childhood, you find that nearly 40 percent of our children have spent at least 1 year in poverty, double what we see in a single year. We have more children who are living in poverty than in most developed nations.

    That alone should serve as a wake-up call to all of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who so frequently invoke the need to protect our children's futures when they are debating bills here on the floor.

    In case that is not enough, here is another indicator: The number of people who are living in high poverty areas--better known as slums-- doubled between 2000 and 2013. That is a very big deal because living in an impoverished community fundamentally changes the futures of children.

    Study after study has found that they are more likely to be poor later in life, less likely to achieve in school, less likely to find jobs, less likely to achieve the milestones that are necessary to change their trajectories, like graduating from high school and attending college, and they are more likely to end up in one of our penal institutions.

    The biggest problem, Mr. Speaker, is that we are not doing enough to fix poverty. In fact, in some cases, we are making it worse. Take housing assistance programs, for example.

    We leave it up to the States to dole out funds for low-income housing programs. These States then place the overwhelming majority of low- income developments in already low-income areas, depriving those families of quality schools, of access to jobs, and of a variety of social services that more affluent communities benefit from.

    At home in New Jersey, I have fought hard against just such discrimination with legislation that required all communities to build affordable homes. We need the same kind of initiatives at the Federal level, laws that will ensure affordable housing exists beyond urban and lower income boundaries, that will give working families access to child care, that will lower the cost of college, and that will increase wages.

    We also need to think about what it really means every time we deny a cost-of-living increase or refuse to give Federal workers the pay they deserve. Groceries still cost more every year. Rent still goes up. Bus fare gets higher. We are asking them to do more with less because we are unwilling to enact policies that actually work. That is flat out wrong.

    Mr. Speaker, for many of the challenges facing our Nation, we have yet to find a clear solution. Poverty isn't one of those. With the willpower to act, we could eradicate poverty and build a stronger future for generations to come.

    I thank the gentlewoman from California.

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