Guest Opinions

Census data says ending poverty possible, but Congress must act

Dawn Pierce
Dawn Pierce

During this hectic and contentious election season, it’s easy for another set of statistics to get overshadowed, but here is one that’s important to us all.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, poverty actually fell last year, and federal anti-poverty programs are making a difference. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit lifted 9.2 million Americans out of poverty in 2015. So we should celebrate, right? Well, not so fast.

The reality is more than 43 million Americans still live at or below the poverty line. This number includes almost one in five children living in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world. That’s a moral outrage if there ever was one. However, neither presidential hopefuls, nor Idaho’s congressional candidates have prioritized solutions to poverty in campaign rhetoric. So where do we go from here?

They can start by expanding and strengthening the income credit, one of our most effective anti-poverty programs, which also happens to enjoy wide bipartisan support. The income credit allows low-income workers, such as returning veterans, farm workers, janitors, and teaching assistants, to keep more of what they earn and isn’t a “handout.” Only people who work can get it. In turn, recipients boost the local economy by using their refund to pay for essentials like food, clothes, and transportation to and from their jobs. The income credit has long-term benefits as well: Children of recipients are more likely to go to college and earn more as adults.

As it is currently, single workers under the age of 25 not raising children are almost entirely excluded from the credit. This group of workers is actually taxed into poverty. This doesn’t make sense, but we can do something about it. Right now, there are proposals from both President Obama and House Speaker Paul Ryan to lower the eligibility age for the income credit and to increase what’s available to workers not raising children. An estimated 64,000 Idaho workers would benefit under the expansion.

We are in the midst of an election with one Senate seat and both our representatives up for re-election. Ask candidates who want to lead Idaho, and our nation, what they will do to end hunger, alleviate poverty, and create opportunity in the U.S. and worldwide. Why? It’s important to know their position. If we really want to achieve a more prosperous America for everyone, we need to elect a Congress and president ready to lead us toward a more prosperous America for everyone.

I think we can agree that anyone who’s willing to work hard should not only be able to pay for basic necessities, but also have a shot at a brighter future. And that’s exactly what expanding the earned income tax credit will do.

Dawn Pierce is an LPN, Boise resident, a volunteer with the Idaho Foodbank, and an advocate for policies and programs that will help end hunger and poverty.