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Congress can nearly end poverty and fix the economy with three bills

Maria Shriver's new report finds 42 million women and their 28 million children are in or near poverty in America.
Maria Shriver's new report finds 42 million women and their 28 million children are in or near poverty in America.
Photo by Jason Kempin

On the fiftieth anniversary of President Johnson’s call for a “War on Poverty”, Republicans are falling all over themselves declaring that it is time to end that war. They call it a failure, and say we lost the war. Republicans might be well-served to do a little research before flapping their lips.

First of all, Johnson’s War on Poverty was, for all practical purposes, ended by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980’s. What Reagan didn’t kill, Newt Gingrich finished off. To call for an end to the War on Poverty today is like demanding an end to World War I. It’s time for Senator Rubio and others of his ilk to join the 21st century.

Secondly, the short-lived War on Poverty was a success. It cut the poverty rate in half. True more Americans are in poverty today than in 1964, but there are more Americans now than in 1963—duh. The percentage of Americans in poverty is much lower, but it is on the rise again because of policies Republicans have championed to help the super rich get exponentially richer.

We do not need a new War on Poverty says Maria Shriver, whose father headed up that effort under Lyndon Johnson. What is needed desperately are a trio of laws Congress could pass right now that would reverse the upward trend of the number of children living in poverty, and move millions out of poverty.

And these bills would boost the economy, increase tax revenues without raising taxes, and eliminate misery for tens of millions of our citizens.

First, on the short term, we need to extend unemployment benefits for those who can not find work as a result of the Recession and the refusal of the GOP controlled Congress to pass a jobs program. There are 1.5 million families who lost all or a major part of their income when Congress refused to extend those benefits. This number increases by 72,000 a week. The majority of those families have children. This alone will cast millions more into poverty. When you are in a hole, quit digging.

By refusing to extend unemployment benefits, Republicans are punishing children for things they had no part in and no control over!

Secondly, Congress could raise the minimum wage. Doing so would raise millions of people who work--one, two, or three jobs--out of poverty. It would also save taxpayers $234 billion a year in money they pay to these workers in the form of SNAP, WIC, and Earned Income Tax Credits. They would not qualify for these benefits if they made a living wage for their hard work.

Another consequence of this is that about two thirds of all workers receiving the minimum wage are women, most of whom are single mothers. Maria Shriver found, in her in-depth study called “The Shriver Report” that 42 million women and the 28 million who depend on them are living in or on the brink of poverty. As Ms Shriver puts it—they are one single accident, one doctor’s bill, one late paycheck, one broken-down-car, or one layoff from total financial ruin. These are third-world numbers, not something the richest nation on earth can tolerate.

Previous studies and research by Maria Shriver confirm that in 2014, women still make 77% as much as men who do the very same job with the same or better qualifications. The only qualification these women trail men in is how much they were paid on their previous job—77% less than the men she is up against for a job or a promotion.

Republicans continue to oppose any laws that end discrimination in the work place recently killing laws discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. This affects gay or bi-sexual women. Republicans also repeatedly kill the Paycheck Fairness Act which would give women tools to fight outright discrimination on what they are paid versus men doing the same job.

In summary, extending unemployment benefits on the short term; raising the minimum wage, and ending discrimination in what women are paid would make huge strides in eliminating the scourge of poverty--particularly the number of children living in poverty in the richest economy in history.

If Congress won’t do it, it is time to replace Congress—or those in Congress who stand in the way.

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