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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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