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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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House Votes to Extend Unemployment Benefits

September 23, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

The House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that, if enacted, will extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks.

The extension will only apply to states that have unemployment rates higher than 8.5 percent – about 27 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  More than 300,000 unemployed workers whose benefits will run out at the end of the month and more than a million others who will lose benefits by the end of the year will be eligible for the extension.

Congress last approved a 33-week extension in February as part of the economic recovery package. 

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New Census Data Shows Rise of Those in Poverty and without Insurance

September 11, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

According to U.S. Census Bureau data released yesterday, the number of Americans living in poverty and without health insurance increased in 2008.

The number of uninsured rose from 45.7 million to 46.3 million and the official poverty rate rose from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 13.2 percent last year – the highest rate since 1997. Nearly 40 million Americans lived below the official poverty threshold in 2008.

In addition, poverty and uninsured rates increased more drastically in many minority communities than they did among non-Hispanic whites.

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Rebuilding Efforts Dampen Effects of Recession in New Orleans

August 21, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

The continuing effort to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina has partially sheltered the city from the national economic crisis.

Although unemployment rose from 5 percent to 7.3 percent this year, it remains below the national rate of 9.5 percent. According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, in the first quarter of 2009, New Orleans had the sixth lowest unemployment rate among the 100 largest cities.

The city's industrial composition has allowed it to escape the massive layoffs that have plagued other cities. Manufacturing and construction, the industries hardest hit by the national recession, make up a small portion of the New Orleans economy. Instead, New Orleans' largest sectors (trade and transportation, leisure and hospitality, and education and health services) either added jobs or remained the same. 

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New Orleans Infrastructure Still in Disrepair; Funds Still Needed

August 17, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, New Orleans still lacks adequate basic infrastructure. Striking the city in late August 2005, Katrina left more than three quarters of New Orleans underwater, causing severe damage to public services, roads, and essential utilities.

Since then, a lack of federal funding has hampered recovery and reconstruction efforts. Without basic services the city remains difficult for residents and evacuees who may want to return. Of the 23 hospitals that serviced New Orleans before Katrina, only 12 have reopened. Public transportation is unable to ferry more than about 43 percent of pre-Katrina passenger numbers, while only 50 percent of the city's child care centers are open. Repairs to roads are also still ongoing.

According to a new report by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, a local research group, only 58 percent of the $7.8 billion pledged since 2005 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for infrastructure repair has been paid to local authorities. The city authorities have repeatedly called for the federal government to honor its commitments and provide the crucial financial support necessary for the city to restore its infrastructure and rebuild its communities.

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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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