Spotlight Exclusives

Among Poverty Issues, Work and Jobs Dominate in 2019 State of the State Addresses

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

As governors across the country delivered their annual State of the State addresses in recent weeks, several used the occasion to note the progress their states made over the past year and highlight upcoming opportunities. Many also addressed the stark realities of poverty plaguing their communities and what steps they are taking to address it.

The importance of work and access to quality jobs emerged as key topics in every state. Of the 47 states for which full transcripts of addresses were available, all mentioned work in some capacity, most often touting low unemployment statistics and job growth.

A common theme in the work discussion was an acknowledgment that states need to provide strong technical skills training for workers in order to fill jobs and adapt to a changing economy. For example, Gov. Mike Parson (R-Mo.) announced he would put $22 million toward a scholarship program to give Missourians the opportunity to receive training in high-demand fields at community colleges, technical schools, colleges, and universities.

Many also alluded to up-and-coming industries within their states – often tech and clean energy – and how these sectors are vital to bringing in new job opportunities. The governors of Colorado and Illinois also spoke about how the legalization of cannabis will help create new positions.

Though many governors focused on positive growth in their economies, some also acknowledged that a healthy economy is not measured simply by the unemployment rate, but also by the extent to which jobs allow people to live prosperous, productive lives.

Gov. Tony Evers (D-Wis.) noted in his speech that Wisconsin’s economy will not just be measured by the number of jobs they create, but also “by the number of workers who will work forty hours each week and still won’t make enough to keep their family out of poverty.”

Medicaid was also frequently highlighted, with 26 out of 47 governors addressing this program. Most often, governors mentioned how the expansion of Medicaid in their state had benefited citizens.

In particular, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D-Nev.) noted, “Our state took an incredible step when we expanded Medicaid. It gave the chance for hundreds of thousands of Nevadans to go to the doctor and gain the coverage they need.”

At the same time, many governors argued that there still needs to be a place for the private sector to provide insurance, and some alluded to recently implemented work requirements for Medicaid recipients.

Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.) noted that Montana has required those receiving health care “to have skin in the game” and that they are offering “those receiving healthcare an opportunity to improve their lives and their employment by connecting with our Department of Labor.”

Seventeen governors mentioned housing, most often in the form of a call for greater investment in affordable housing.

In particular, Gov. Phil Scott (R-Vt.) said that his budget will propose revitalizing and investing in existing properties and neighborhoods in order to grow the housing supply. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa) requested that the state legislature double the amount of workforce housing tax credits for rural communities so that families employed in rural parts of the state could have access to housing.

Notably, the minimum wage was discussed by only eight of 47 governors. The topic was often used as a starting point for further interventions to make work pay.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-Ill.) argued in his address that the state’s “current minimum wage is a lifetime sentence to poverty” and called on lawmakers to raise it.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Cal.) added that raising the minimum wage was not enough and pressed for an expansion of the EITC. Overall, there was little explicit mention of this particular tax benefit by other governors.

Lastly, five governors mentioned the issue of hunger.  Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) said he wants to make it easier for older and disabled adults to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

A full analysis of the of the poverty-related mentions by state for the 9 issue areas surveyed is listed in this link.

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