Cuts only hurt families
A strong economy is measured by the economic security of Alabama families. The release of state-level poverty information recently is an important and unfortunate reminder of how far many Alabama families are from that stability.
New data released by the Census Bureau finds that 18.9 percent of all Alabama residents were in poverty in 2011, including 27.8 percent of all children and 10.3 percent of all elders — rates quite similar to 2010. These levels of economic hardship are disturbing, but the prospect of future federal and state budget cuts that will undoubtedly result in an increase in the poverty rate is equally disturbing.
The causes of this hardship are well understood — unemployment remains high, our recovery has been led by the growth of low-wage jobs with no benefits, real median wages have declined since the 1960s, and the cost of living continues to rise. Many families have exhausted unemployment insurance. While much hardship is attributable to the ongoing effects of a severe recession, it is also clear that government has compounded market effects in its misguided focus on austerity.
The poverty release is an important reminder that the recession and the strains of low wage work and unemployment are far from over for too many hard working, low income families. As we collectively work to rebuild our communities’ stability, we must both fight poverty and promote genuine economic security. We must take account of the costs that working families face, create jobs that pay for basic expenses, and provide supports that allow workers to adequately care for their families. Most immediately, our nation needs a balanced approach to federal and state budgets that goes beyond the simple-minded cuts-only approach that hurts families and threatens economic recovery.
Ron Gilbert is the executive director of the Community Action Association of Alabama, a network of local agencies working to alleviate conditions of poverty in all 67 counties.