Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Today is National Blog Action Day on Poverty. People all over the country are blogging about why poverty is an important topic for discussion and why we must work toward ending it in our communities across the nation and worldwide.
Last week, representatives from WOW and some of our state partners met in DC to discuss the importance of language in creating policy and program change to eliminate poverty. We believe eliminating poverty is an important goal. Another goal, and perhaps more important, is getting women and their families on track to self-sufficiency and lifelong economic security.
During our meeting, one of the exercises involved placing a list of words, such as deprivation, poverty, income inadequacy, middle class, decent living standard and economic independence, on an income continuum, ranging from $0 to economic nirvana. Interestingly, I noticed that our state partners did not equate “middle class” with “economic security”. But in retrospect, there are many levels of economic (in)security. Many hard working Americans are living paycheck to paycheck without being able to save for their retirement, education or an emergency, and that is not a secure place to be. Yet, this reality is neither discussed nor captured in most anti-poverty policies and programs.
WOW supports and encourages the discussion taking place today. Nevertheless, we are working to create a national shift in the language surrounding poverty to one of economic security for all. Part of this effort involves re-examining the way poverty is measured and offering concrete alternatives and solutions. To truly solve the problem of poverty, or economic (in)security, we need a more precise tool to measure economic security.
The Federal Poverty Line is an antiquated and insufficient standard of economic living which assumes one-third of an American family’s income is used for food. The Federal Poverty Line grossly underestimates economic (in)security in the United States. Many Americans know first-hand what it means not to have enough. They sacrifice heating or cooling their homes, eating nutritious foods and cut pills in half to get by. An arbitrary number that quantifies this reality is not a useful tool in moving out of their circumstance. What they really need to know is how much is enough and how to get there. Policymakers also need to know what it takes to be economically secure in order to shape effective policy.
WOW’s tools, the Self-Sufficiency Standard and the Elder Economic Security Standard Index, provide a geographically-based measure of what it really takes to make ends meet. These measures provide families and elders a map to economic security, whether it be a result of education and training, a job, income or work supports or some combination of these. Only when one knows where they are going can they reach economic security.
Today I challenge you to think about poverty in a slightly different way. Instead of defining the issue in regard to what one does not have, let’s try to change the national discourse one voice at a time by blogging about helping all Americans leverage the talents and personal assets they do have to become economically secure.
Posted by The Elder Economic Security Team at 3:35 PM