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Irasema Garza

Irasema Garza

Posted: December 16, 2009 06:03 PM

A Depression for the Most Vulnerable

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America’s most vulnerable populations seem to have faded into obscurity. The country’s severe economic crisis has prompted the government to act—first to save the financial services industry and then to invest billions to stimulate the economy and create jobs. But little to no attention is being paid by policy makers to address human suffering by the nation’s poorest victims.

A new report, “Battered by the Storm: How the Safety Net is Failing American Families and How to Fix It,” published by the Institute for Policy Studies, the Center for Community Change, Legal Momentum and Jobs for Justice, drives this point home: statistics show that what has been and economic recession for Whites is an economic depression for African Americans, Latinos, single moms, and children.

While the Obama Administration's recent focus on job creation is a welcome turn in the right direction, it’s not a magic wand. Especially for the women and children that make up the vast majority of the nation’s poorest residents.  The “Cash for Caulkers” program (to subsidize energy-efficient weatherization efforts for small businesses and homes) that President Obama proposed would create jobs in the construction industry that has been badly battered, however, women make up less than three percent of that industry’s workforce.  In contrast, women account for 90 percent of the adult recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the nation’s central stopgap against family poverty, hunger and homelessness.

In other words, poverty in America is a multifaceted problem, and it needs a multifaceted response.  Job creation is a critical piece for ending the recession and building a healthy, robust middle class.  Likewise, a social safety net that protects workers, single moms and families from material hardship must be part of any equation that is being formulated to achieve economic recovery, 

While the current downturn has highlighted the flaws in our unemployment insurance system, the inadequacy of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families has been brutally apparent for some time.  In 1995, the nation’s federal welfare program reached three of every five children that needed assistance.  Nearly 15 years later, only one in every five poor children receives aid. In some states, the participation rates are so low as to make the assistance program almost non-existent to the vast majority of poor families. Texas, for example, provides TANF funds to a mere nine percent of those that are eligible.  Moreover, the assistance provided does not even bring these families up to the poverty level. For the thousands of single moms and children that depend on such assistance, hunger, utility cut-offs, and evictions are every-day realities: an almost unbelievable phenomena happening today--every day--in the United States of America.

While women’s workforce participation has increased, the supply of affordable child care has lagged far behind, meaning that many single moms literally cannot afford to work: their income will be outstripped by the cost of childcare, leaving them and their kids no better off. Nearly 40 percent of single-mother-headed families are mired in poverty. 

The nation cannot afford to ignore these realities any longer, as it's crippling our future: one in five kids in America is growing up in poverty, giving us the dubious honor of having the highest child poverty rate amongst our peer nations.

Enough is enough. Escalating poverty and hunger in America is as serious a crisis as the collapse of the banking industry and record unemployment. We know the system is broken. We know how to fix it. With more single moms, children, workers and families falling into hunger and homelessness each passing day, what are we waiting for?  


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