Issue Position: Poverty
The benefits of the administration's economic policies have clearly failed to reach most Americans - especially those who are struggling to make ends meet. While corporate profits are at record highs, millions of Americans lack decent paying jobs and basic health care. Budget cuts to low-income housing, education, Medicaid, nutrition programs, and any number of effective anti-poverty initiatives are harming those most vulnerable in society. Large tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals have resulted in low wages and benefits for middle- and lower-income Americans.
True anti-poverty policies require compassion and fairness for all Americans. Democrats have a real agenda to fight poverty, providing opportunities in affordable housing, access to high-quality health care, funding for nutrition programs, and an investment in good jobs through education and job training. In addition, the federal government must invest in the country's future by fully funding No Child Left Behind and making an honest commitment to Head Start and child care. Finally, raising the minimum wage is one of the most effective mechanisms for lifting people out of poverty. Minimum wage earners have not received a raise in eight years. During this same period of time, Congress voted themselves eight pay increases.
Real policies are needed to eliminate poverty in this country and ensure that men and women who work hard and play by the rules have the capacity to achieve the American dream.
* Nearly 37 million men, women, and children in the United States now live below the poverty line - an increase of over 5.4 million since President Bush was first elected.
* Nearly 570,000 people in Massachusetts currently live below the poverty line.
* In the 1950s and 60s, the minimum wage averaged 50% of average hourly earnings. Today that has dropped to 33%. This translates into barely more than $10,000 a year for full-time workers, almost half of the official poverty level of $19,350 and two-thirds below what experts believe it takes a family to provide for their basic needs.
* Poverty among the elderly has decreased dramatically over the past four decades. In 1959 the poverty rate of those age 65 and older was 35%. Largely due to increases in Social Security benefits, the elderly poverty rate fell dramatically between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, declining to about 15% by 1975. The percentage of older Americans in poverty has stayed steady at roughly 10% since the mid 1990s. Although a smaller percentage of the elderly are in poverty than are people under 65, in 2004 nearly 3.5 million older Americans had family incomes below the federal poverty threshold.
* The number of Americans living in poverty has increased every year since President Bush took office. [U.S. Census Bureau]
* Approximately 45.8 million Americans lack basic health insurance coverage.
* In 2004, median income failed to increase for the fifth straight year, the first times that's happened since the government began collecting statistics in 1967.
* Over the past eight years, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has deteriorated by 17 percent. After adjusting for inflation, the value of the minimum wage is at its lowest level since 1955.