The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Poverty & Welfare

There has long been a close association between the struggle for civil rights and the fight against poverty in the United States. The drive to dismantle segregation and defeat discrimination has been centered on the need to open the gates of economic opportunity, mostly closed to minorities, women, and other by both governmental and private action. 

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Welfare Reauthorization Should Meet Needs of Low-Income Families

August 6, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Civil rights groups say that when Congress reauthorizes Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the nation's primary welfare program, it must ensure that all eligible families receive welfare assistance and help more people find jobs or return to the workforce.

TANF provides money to states to administer welfare to low-income families. The program was intended to temporarily protect vulnerable families and promote long-term work, by providing education, job preparation, and training services.  To be eligible to receive TANF funds, parents must work, attend job trainings, or participate in community service for at least 30 hours a week.

However, these strict requirements often prevent the most vulnerable families with severe employment barriers from receiving financial assistance or finding jobs. Since 1996, the percentage of eligible families receiving assistance has decreased by half (down from 86 percent to 42 percent in 2004).  The number of low-income single mothers who neither work nor receive welfare has increased from around 14 percent in 1987 to 34 percent in 2007.

In addition, the recession and budget crises have forced some states reduce the number of families that receive welfare assistance.

All of these factors underscore the need for Congress to give states more flexibility to develop programs that better meet the diverse needs of low-income families, advocates say. 

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Hip Hop Caucus and Green For All Kick Off Their 'Green the Block' Campaign

August 4, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

Green the Block logo

Today, leaders of the green economy movement kicked off their "Green the Block" campaign, which aims to educate and mobilize urban and low-income youth to push for public policies that address poverty and climate change at the same time.

"From policy creation to community implementation, the Green the Block campaign wants to see access and opportunity created for all Americans, to build prosperity and a healthier planet for future generations," said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., president and CEO of Hip Hop Caucus.

The campaign, a joint venture between Hip Hop Caucus and Green For All, will encourage education, legislative advocacy, private-sector development and youth activism.  On September 11, young people around the country will participate in Green the Block service events all over the country in a National Day of Service partnership with President Obama's United We Serve initiative.

Learn more about the campaign today at 3:00 p.m. ET during a live chat on Facebook or at WhiteHouse.gov/live/discuss with CEQ's Van Jones and Christine Glunz. 

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Minimum Wage Increase Will Help Millions of Low-Income Workers

July 20, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

This Friday, the federal minimum wage will increase from $6.55 an hour to $7.25 an hour.  The change is the last of three increases over the past two years as mandated by the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007.

The increase comes at a time a time when many Americans need it the most.  More than 2.8 million workers will receive a pay increase due to the new minimum wage. 

But even with the increase, many of these workers who struggle to support families with their incomes will still fall below the poverty line. An individual earning $7.25 an hour in a 2,000-hour work year would earn an annual income of $14,500, a number still below the 2009 federal poverty level of $18,310 for a family of three.

The raise in the minimum wage is expected to increase consumer spending, which would be an important stimulus to the economy.  According to Kai Filion, policy analyst for the Economic Policy Institute, the upcoming increase will generate $5.5 billion in consumer spending over the next 12 months.

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Increase in Child Poverty Started before the Recession

July 17, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

America's Children report cover

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Homelessness Increases among Families

July 15, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

The number of homeless families who spend some time in a shelter increased by 9 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) annual report on homelessness. The report, released last week, also showed significant increases in homelessness in suburban and rural areas.

The overall number of homeless people that spend some time in a shelter has changed very little since 2007, but the report identified important differences among homeless families and individuals. Families living in shelters are most likely to be headed by a single woman under the age of 30, whereas individuals in shelters are most likely to be disabled men between the ages of 31 and 50. Whites are also more likely to experience homelessness individually, whereas minorities are more likely to enter homeless shelters accompanied by family members.

The report also found that 42 percent of homeless people at any given point in time are "unsheltered on the street or in other places not meant for human habitation."

The report reflects some of the toll that the housing crisis and the economic recession have taken on American families. However, because the report doesn't include data after September 2008 when the economic downturn worsened, the recession's impact on homelessness may be even greater than the report suggests. HUD began monitoring homelessness on a quarterly basis this year in order to further explore the effects of the financial crisis.

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Modernizing the Way Poverty Is Measured

June 29, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

The focus on accounting for results in the economic recovery package has intensified the call by anti-poverty advocates to modernize how the nation measures poverty.

The current measure, which was created in the 1960s and based on data from the 1950s, sets the poverty threshold at $21,000 for four, a figure that advocates say does not accurately reflect the economic realities faced by millions of Americans.

On June 17, Rep. Jim McDermott, D. Wash., reintroduced legislation designed to modernize the calculation of poverty.  The Measuring American Poverty Act of 2009 proposes a measure of poverty that would be based on current consumption patterns for food, clothing, shelter and other basic needs.  It also takes into account income assistance from public programs and geographic differences in the cost of living. A parallel bill will be introduced by Senator Christopher Dodd, D. Conn., later this year.


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Legal Services Corp. Must Be Free to Help Low-Income People

June 25, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) is calling for the Senate to lift restrictions that make it harder for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to provide legal services to low-income people.

The LSC is a non-profit corporation created by Congress in 1974 to ensure equal access to justice for millions of Americans who need but cannot pay for a lawyer. The LSC is primarily funded by Congress and gives grants to free legal aid organizations around the country that help low-income Americans with legal matters. 

In a letter to the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, LCCR said: "In these times of economic distress, when more and more people require help in battling foreclosure and eviction, securing unemployment and benefits, and dealing with medical and insurance matters, the Senate must assist those most vulnerable by funding the LSC sufficiently and by lifting no-cost restrictions."

Since the 1990s, the LSC has suffered budget cuts and a number of restrictions – including those preventing legal aid lawyers from collecting attorneys' fees and LSC clients from joining class action lawsuits – which have forced it to turn away nearly a million cases a year.  The House passed a budget recently that included significant increases in funding and removed the restriction on the collection of attorneys' fees, but left in place many of the other restrictions.  The Senate is expected to consider the funding bill for the LSC this week.

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Hip Hop Caucus Fights Poverty and Climate Change by 'Greening the Block'

June 12, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Urban poverty and climate change significantly affect low-income and minority communities. A new Hip Hop Caucus campaign, Green The Block, aims to educate and mobilize urban and low-income youth to push public policies that address poverty and climate change at the same time.

In this video segment from CNN, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, shares his hope that creating a green economy with more jobs will enable unemployed people in low-income communities to work.

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New Foreclosure Protection for Renters

May 27, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

You may think that not owning a home will protect you from foreclosure - but an estimated 40 percent of households facing eviction due to foreclosure are renters, not homeowners. Many renters have been evicted from their homes with little or no notice - sometimes with no idea that a foreclosure was pending - after their landlords were unable to pay their mortgages.

But renters now have some protection against eviction under the foreclosure prevention bill signed by President Obama last week. The new law, which took effect immediately, requires the new owners of a property to allow tenants to remain in the home, as long as the tenants pay their rent on time. Renters will be able to stay until the end of their lease, or will get at least 90 days notice if they do not have a lease or if the new owner intends to reside in the home.

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It Costs More to Be Poor

May 18, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

The window of a payday loan store, reading: Fast Friendly Service, $50 to $500, Payday Loans, No Credit Checks, Same Day Service

A payday loan store in Henrico County, VA. Photo credit: Andrew Bain.

Today's Washington Post article, Poor? Pay Up, details how low-income people often end up paying more for basic goods and services - both in money and time - than middle-class people pay for the same items.

For example, in Washington, D.C., where LCCR/EF's office is located, some low-income neighborhoods don't have a supermarket. If you don't have a car, you can either go to a corner store, where you would pay $3.79 for a loaf of wheat bread, or you could take the bus to a supermarket in another part of the city, where you would get that loaf of bread for only $1.19 - but you've wasted hours waiting for and taking the bus to get to the store.

The article also details the problems caused by payday lenders, to whom low-income people often turn if they need money quickly for unplanned expenses such as car repairs, prescriptions, or higher-than-usual utility bills. It's fairly easy to get a short-term loan, but you may end up paying fees and interest that add up to an annual percentage rate of more than 400 percent. In contrast, the average rate for credit cards in the United States is less than 15 percent. Payday lending is currently legal in 37 states.

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