A Call to Action: Let’s End Poverty By 2040
We need to stop talking about fighting poverty. Instead of fighting it, we should be focused on ending it. I believe that, with the right investment, we can end poverty in DC in the next 20 years.
Time is of the essence. The statistics on poverty in our city are clear, consistent, and sobering.
According to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, D.C. has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country, with 26%of those under 18 living below the Federal Poverty Line — nearly 10% higher than the national child poverty rate. It is no surprise, then, that our city also has the largest rate of income inequality in the country. The average Black household earns just $38,000 annually, while the average Latinx household earns $65,000. For white households, the average DC household income is $127,000.
Median incomes for Wards 7 and 8, where the majority of the District’s Black residents now live, sits at $31,000 and just under $25,000, respectively. The average household income of the people Bread for the City serves is $10,000 annually — $27 per day to pay rent, transportation, food, utilities, and all other living costs. It is unsustainable and nearly impossible to live this way.
Meanwhile, while DC residents suffer, the City touts its financial strength. Last month, the mayor’s office announced tax revenues were nearly $80 million more than anticipated.
And let’s not end poverty through gentrification and displacement. From 2000 to 2013, D.C. had the highest percentage of gentrifying neighborhoods in the country, according to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. During that period, 20,000 Black residents were displaced — sending the District’s Black population plummeting from 71 percent in 1970 to 48.3 percent in 2015.
We also can’t end poverty by trying to fix people. People living on low-incomes, predominantly Black and brown people in D.C. do not need to be fixed. Bread for the City’s clients are resourceful, creative, and resilient. It’s the systems of over-policing, underfunded education, jobs that don’t pay a living wage, and lack of access to affordable, quality healthcare, that sentence them and their families to extreme and generational poverty that are broken and need fixing.
For decades, our public and private systems have worked in tandem to push Black and brown people living on low incomes out of the city by wages that do not keep up with the sky-high cost of living and property taxes that uprooted former owners. Those that weren’t pushed out found themselves at the margins of the city, caught in a vicious cycle of underfunded schools, underemployment, food deserts, lack of quality healthcare, and housing that isn’t affordable.
Meanwhile, those who turn to our government for assistance find systems that are dedicated to making it difficult if not impossible to access the social supports the system purports to offer. And the supports they are able to access are often a substandard part of a shredded social safety net. The state of our public housing stock remains in deplorable conditions. Public housing units filled with mold and pests contribute to the city’s rising asthma rate among children. Nearly one-third of the total public housing stock is virtually unlivable, with residents reporting issues that range from lead to rodents and roaches. Low-income residents still face housing challenges on the private market, with landlords illegally discriminating against prospective tenants with vouchers and similar code violations they escaped in public housing.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In Canada, an intentional alignment of public-private partnerships has brought communities together across the country to change the strategy about tackling poverty. David Brooks of the New York Times notes that Canadians “launch[ed] a different kind of conversation…they don’t want better ‘poor’; they want fewer ‘poor’. That is to say, their focus is not on how do we give people food so they don’t starve. It is how do we move people out of poverty… How do we eradicate poverty altogether?”
How can we do this?
First, we decide that we’re genuinely committed to ending poverty. It’s not enough to say we are, while our actions reflect solutions that make us feel better but don’t do better.
We also realize that the government is a significant player in ending poverty. Our elected officials must end their reluctance to aggressively use the tax code to ensure more progressive, equitable outcomes for low-income residents. We must name these systems, calling out that poverty is born of systemic racism that has threatened to crush low-income Black and brown residents.
If D.C. is a world-class city, I believe a world-class city should and would measure itself by the socioeconomic stability and well being of its most impoverished and disadvantaged citizens and not the increased comforts and wealth of its most privileged.