In 64′, we waged war on poverty – today we are tightening its grip

After a mass casualty event that’s the aftermath of a natural disaster like Sandy, there’s a tally of the dead, but the damage is also easily noticeable with downed power lines still sparking and flooded basements.

Across the country, two years into a global pandemic that has killed nearly a million Americans and infected tens of millions more, the Omicron wave is receding and the wreckage is unseen, compartmentalized in the deprived misery of individual families and diminished lives.

In cases where catastrophic physical destruction has occurred, such as after the collapse and fire of the World Trade Center, it is necessary to clean up the debris while assessing the damage to what remains standing.

But, with Washington’s bipartisan failure to embrace President Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion reconstruction plan, there is a lack of sufficient interest to fully investigate the impacts of this mass death event a times a century, let alone to respond to our previous failures that set the stage. of a series of totally predictable tragic events.

New Jersey has recorded nearly 33,000 COVID deaths and 2.1 million infections. Our state has the third highest per capita COVID death rate in the nation, behind only Mississippi and Arizona.

Yet even these data points do not accurately map the extent of collateral damage in our neighborhoods of color where residents have been particularly hard hit by COVID where access to quality health care has historically been problematic.

Countless studies have linked poor health care outcomes to the prevalence of chronic disease, disparate medical outcomes, and premature death.

“The relationship between poverty and poor health is striking in the United States,” according to Julie Wagner, a health researcher at the University of Chicago. “People living below the federal poverty level have a shorter life expectancy and a higher incidence of chronic disease than those with higher incomes. The poor, however, are less likely than the non-poor to have had recent contact with a physician or to engage in preventive care.

When driving through New Jersey neighborhoods, residential facades don’t betray the psychosocial dislocation that occurs inside behind closed doors. Nationally, NPR reported that 200,000 children, and counting, have been orphaned by COVID, while simultaneously millions of children face the fallout of two years of at best an erratic upbringing.

According to the Measure of America, which tracks the number of teens and young adults, ages 16 to 24, who are neither working nor in school, up to nine million young people were out of school and out of work as of May 2020,” more than twice as many as in 2019.”

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that in 1999 only 3.9% of this age cohort were offline. In 2019, it was nearly 12% nationwide, an improvement from the Great Recession.

In some communities in Cumberland County, according to the Measure of America, more than one in five teens and young adults are out of school and out of work. In some neighborhoods in Essex County, nearly twenty percent of this cohort is inactive.

Research shows that being disconnected has lifelong socio-economic consequences in terms of lower educational attainment, lower lifetime earnings, as well as an increased risk of incarceration.

Last June, Governor Phil Murphy, who has an idea of ​​the extent of the damage being done and its roots in our state’s social conditions, appointed a COVID 19 Pandemic Task Force on Racial and Health Disparities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged minority communities across the United States,” said Senator Sandra Cunningham, who co-sponsored the bill that called for the panel’s creation. “Predominantly black counties make up only 30% of the U.S. population, yet they were the location of 56% of COVID-19 deaths. In order to effectively help these communities and prevent it from happening again in the future, we need to understand why the pandemic has hit them so hard and come up with sustainable strategies to eradicate health disparities.

Even before the pandemic hit, poor and low-income families in New Jersey were struggling, according to United Ways’ Asset Limited Income Constrained Employer (ALICE) project, with 37% of households in the state living below the poverty line or struggling from week to week to cover basic needs like rent and childcare.

In the most recent ALICE analysis that uses 2018 data, Bergen County, which is considered an affluent county, had 38% of its families struggling. In Cumberland County, 51% fell into this crucible. ALICE households represented 48% of Passaic County; 46% from Essex County; 46 percent from Atlantic County; 44 percent of Salem County.

“From 2010 to 2018, New Jersey showed consistent economic improvement by traditional measures,” according to the latest United Way ALICE report for New Jersey. “Unemployment in the state and across the United States has fallen to historic lows, GDP has increased, and wages have edged up.”

Centraide’s analysis continued. “Yet in 2018, eight years after the end of the Great Recession, 37% of New Jersey’s 3,248,970 households were still struggling to make ends meet. While 10% of those households lived below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), an additional 27% — nearly three times as many — were ALICE households. These households earned above the federal poverty level, but not enough to afford basic household necessities.

Initially, when much of America was in lockdown, Congress funneled hundreds of billions of dollars to airlines, while keeping Main Street and MLK Blvd. afloat. But early in President Biden’s term, a handful of Democrats joined Republicans and voted against raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour from $7.25 since 2009.

Yet President Biden’s US bailout contained a lifeline for the same households that would have benefited from the long-awaited minimum wage hike. It came in the form of a major expansion of the Child Tax Credit which, in just a few months, had the potential to lift 35 million families with 65 million children out of poverty.

The legislation increased the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 with a premium of $600 for children under six. From July to December, these families were entitled to an allowance of $300 per month for their children under six and $250 for children aged 6 to 17.

According to an analysis by the Urban Institute, if this program had been enacted in 2022, our country would have reduced child poverty by 40%.

But Beltway’s compassion for America’s struggling working-class families was wearing thin even as their corpses of essential workers continued to pile up. Delta Airlines executives wrote to the CDC complaining that the health agency’s COVID quarantine guidelines were too strict and made it impossible to keep America flying.

So even as Omicron surged, there was this shift in the conventional corporate wisdom that defines the news and the political agenda, that the economy demanded that Washington break the whip and get us all back to work.

Clearly, the powers felt by Uncle Sam had been too generous to households that received COVID benefits and eviction protection. It was time to force those sloths back into the harness that pulls the great pyramid of American wealth.

This was around the time Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) began to drop the expansion of the extensive child tax expansion, saying he feared it would be used by struggling parents to buy drugs instead of food to feed their children.

Families, already hard hit by a rollercoaster pandemic economy. were down again, but not because of a new wave of the virus, but because of Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s resistance to Biden’s program and the end of the expanded child tax credit at the end of the year.

“The monthly child poverty rate fell from 12.1% in December 2021 to 17% in January 2022, the highest rate since the end of 2020,” according to Columbia’s Center on Poverty and Social Sciences. “The 4.9 percentage point (41%) increase in poverty represents an additional 3.7 million children in poverty due to the expiration of monthly Child Tax Credit payments. Latino and black children experienced the largest percentage point increases in poverty (7.1 percentage points and 5.9 percentage points, respectively).

Congress’ ruthlessness in not extending this essential lifeline has been compounded by runaway inflation for struggling families in New Jersey and other northeastern states and cities with higher costs of living. .

According to the Urban Institute, in every county in New Jersey except Cumberland, the actual cost of a basic USDA Food Stamp meal exceeds the federal government’s allowance. In Essex it is 24% higher, while in Sussex there is a 21% premium.

Tomorrow, subject matter experts for New Jersey Policy Perspectives will advocate for Trenton to help working families by expanding the child tax credit at the New Jersey state level. Hopefully our state legislators will follow through on some actions.

A generation ago, President Lyndon Johnson enlisted the nation in a war on poverty to uplift the poor. Today, a national government captive to big business interests is tightening the grip on them.

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