An Economy Strong Enough to Fight Poverty
If there were ever a time to invest in helping those who need support this would be it.
Given the many indicators of an improved economy – low unemployment, wage growth and record high stock markets – one might think that we could finally achieve a national consensus on behalf of helping the 43 million Americans living in poverty who are left out and left behind.
But despite the growing income and opportunity disparity in our country, every indication is that the Trump Administration intends to be less generous in support of assistance for vulnerable Americans rather than more.
Proposals to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and shred the safety net are seeking traction. Even something as dangerous and intrusive as the American Harvest Boxes, which would have government employees pick out the foods that families cook for their meals, suggests that our nation’s compassion and generosity does not correlate as much to economic conditions as it does to political ideology.
But poverty shouldn’t be used to play politics with the lives of our fellow Americans in need.
What a waste it would be not to leverage our growing prosperity into a stronger and more competitive future workforce through investments in fighting poverty through early education, family supports, and health and nutrition assistance.
But the news is not all bleak. Fortunately, other leaders around the country – at the state level and in business – support these critical investments.
Governors across the country, from Republicans like Brian Sandoval of Nevada to Democrats like Steve Bullock of Montana, have set politics aside to support major investments in child nutrition. They’ve helped to enroll millions more kids in school breakfast programs and summer meals, resulting in record high levels of meals reaching the kids who need them. At a time when Americans are desperate for evidence that our problems are solvable and not divided along party lines, it is encouraging to see that the percentage of children who miss meals because their families cannot afford food has fallen by one-third over the past 10 years. While too many kids are still poor, and too many are food insecure, at least fewer and fewer are hungry.
The corporate world is also leading the way. CEOs see the business benefits of investing in employees and customers who are struggling economically. Last year Amazon announced a half-priced version of its Prime membership program to qualifying individuals receiving support through programs like SNAP, expanding this offer in March for shoppers receiving Medicaid benefits. Connecting low-income households to affordable products can help families stretch their limited dollars.
Other companies from Walmart to Shake Shack to Williams-Sonoma have ramped up their philanthropy or engaged their customers in cause-related marketing to raise critical funds to support those in need.
But charity and corporations can’t do this work alone. We need a strong commitment from our federal government.
It’s hard to recall any period of national greatness that has not been marked by a spirit of generosity. Our current economic growth makes the lack of such unacceptable.
Besides, we all have vested interest in ensuring Americans can reach their full potential.
In a fragile and rapidly changing world, we should be committed to making America stronger child-by-child. Not just for the children, but for all of us. That’s the impact of a nutritious meal, an afterschool program, health insurance for kids, a well-supported teacher or a home visiting program.
Business leaders looking for return on investment know it. State and local officials who are closer to their constituents know it. Now we need leaders in Washington to embrace it, too.
There have been times in our nation’s history when politically courageous leaders called on us to sacrifice for the future. In recent decades that notion has become politically unpalatable. But given the economic growth we’re experiencing right now; couldn’t we at least share some of the benefits in ways likely to sustain this growth and give all of our citizens a shot at the American dream?
Billy Shore is the executive chairman of No Kid Hungry, a campaign of the nonprofit Share Our Strength.