Over the next several weeks, as President-elect Obama and his transition team prioritize issues to be addressed by the new administration, I urge them to give due consideration to an equity agenda.
There is no better time for implementing an equity agenda than now. Unemployment rates keep rising each month, the foreclosure crisis is at a peak, and prices for basic necessities such as food are increasing at alarming rates. According to reports, 37 million people live in poverty and an additional 40 million people live below 200 percent of the poverty level. Many more are one paycheck away from poverty. All it takes is one health crisis or a downsizing at the office.
Recently I attended a policy forum hosted by The New School featuring Angela Glover Blackwell as the keynote speaker. As founder and chief executive of PolicyLink, Ms. Glover is an advocate committed to advancing economic and social equity. At the Center for American Progress , she has served as co-chair of the project "Hope, Opportunity and Mobility for Everyone (HOME)". Ms. Blackwell defines equity as just and fair inclusion. She went on to say, "An equitable society is one in which everyone can participate and prosper. In other words, equity creates a path from hope to change." Before the evening was over, Ms. Blackwell had outlined the framework for an equity agenda:
Earned Income Tax Credit: This credit should be expanded so that large families are now eligible for enhanced benefits and individuals without children are covered.
Child Care: According to Ms. Blackwell, "In this country, where you live has become a proxy not only for opportunity but also for longevity and quality of life." We should expand child care provisions and work towards increasing programs such as Head Start.
Create Opportunity for All: Make sure young people go to college. Strengthen programs such as Youth Build which gives youngsters a second chance if they've had a troubled childhood.
Provide Second Chances: Support should be provided for individuals attempting to reintegrate into society. This is of particular concern when you consider the rate of incarceration of black men has jumped 50% since the 1950s.
Safety Net: Adequate provisions should be put in place for individuals who are unable to work due to mental illness or drug addictions.
Invest in Urban and Rural Areas: Over the past couple of years, we've seen the failure of infrastructure in major centers -- manhole explosions in New York City, bridge collapse in Minnesota, and the devastating effects of hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans. We need to invest in large cities by providing efficient mass transportation systems, and offer broadband services in rural areas.
Fresh Food and Greenmarkets: In Ms. Blackwell's opinion, one true indicator that you've reached a low-income neighborhood is the absence of a grocery store. But this need not be the rule. The state of Pennsylvania has adopted the Fresh Food Financing Initiative which can readily be adopted and implemented at the federal level.
According to Ms. Blackwell, there should be no more 'wars on poverty' since these are the first to be eliminated when hard times hit. Rather, programs should be implemented as a matter of 'good government'. When we solve problems for the most vulnerable, we solve problems for everyone.