Ending Poverty in the United States

by Margaret Kimberley, published on Black Agenda Report, March 17, 2021

President Franklin Roosevelt made profound changes in the US political-economic structure, while Joe Biden only does temporary patchwork on the late-stage capitalist carcass.

“There isn’t even a pretense of ending poverty in the United States.”

The propaganda campaign is in high gear on behalf of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. We have been told by Democratic politicians and the media that the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act will “cut child poverty in half.” If only that were so.

The $1,400 per child stimulus payment will certainly help distressed families across the country. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a boon to the working poor, has been expanded to include childless workers. Likewise, an additional $300 per week to the unemployed, and an increased Child Tax Credit of $3,000 per child will bring relief to millions. But these one-time solutions are a far cry from cutting child poverty in half, as the Democrats spin machine would have us believe.

No one should be fooled into thinking that the American Rescue Plan is an adequate solution to high rates of poverty. These measures are temporary, lasting for just one year. The unemployment supplement ends in September, as does the increase in SNAP food assistance benefits. The small stimulus payments are a far cry from other nations that have replaced income lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unless these measures become permanent policy the help is literally of limited benefit.

“These one-time solutions are a far cry from cutting child poverty in half.”

It should also not be forgotten that some of these provisions are less than what was provided under the first Donald Trump stimulus plan, which gave an additional $400 per week for those receiving unemployment benefits. Biden’s plan provides for $100 less. While campaigning for two senate seats in Georgia, Biden and those candidates repeatedly said that the stimulus payment would be $2,000. Instead, they subtracted the $600 received in the last Trump stimulus and claimed to have kept their promise.

But the biggest problem in the claim of cutting child poverty in half, is the absence of an increased minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is a paltry $7.25 per hour, an amount deemed sufficient by the Democrat-controlled Congress under Barack Obama in 2009. The trope of halving the child poverty rate is accurate only if these measures become permanent and the minimum wage rises to $15 per hour.

“The biggest problem is the absence of an increased minimum wage.”

Black women are disproportionately represented  among minimum wage workers. While many states have minimum wages that exceed the federal limit, the South , where most Black people still live, is the region least likely to allow for a higher minimum wage. Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all use the $7.25 per hour federal metric.

Biden said he supported a $15.00 per hour minimum wage during his campaign. His proposal would have raised the amount incrementally, not reaching the full $15 until 2025. Even that meager sum would have required a super majority vote in the Senate, which is divided evenly between the two major parties. The stimulus could have been the vehicle to raise the minimum wage but Biden and the Democratic leadership had an excuse up their collective sleeve.

They announced that the Senate parliamentarian deemed minimum wage legislation impermissible in the stimulus bill. Most people were unaware that such a role even existed, and this occasion was the first time in anyone’s memory that a parliamentarian made a decision supplanting what a president wanted to get done. So the primary vehicle for ending poverty was dead on arrival and is unlikely to move anytime soon. That is why the unfounded claims of cutting poverty have become so universal. They need the spin in order to fool the public.

“The South is the region least likely to allow for a higher minimum wage.”

Any shortcomings in the stimulus plan are blamed on recalcitrant Democrats constantly labeled as “moderates.” West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is always the villain in these tales. But Republicans opted out completely and not one of them in the House of Representatives or the Senate voted for the Rescue Plan. That means anything missing can be blamed on Democratic leadership, which is right wing and hardly moderate.

Manchin knows that his vote is needed and simply refuses to go along with anything he doesn’t want. What do the so-called progressives do in these situations? Do they withhold support in exchange for anything they don’t like? No, they do not. The Squad, the Progressive Caucus, and the Congressional Black Caucus all go along with Biden and Nancy Pelosi and ultimately with the Manchins of their party.

That is why Black people will continue to be over represented among the poor in this country. The party they depend upon points to anyone further to the right as a bogeyman who then cooperates by giving them a get out of jail free card.

“The Squad, the Progressive Caucus, and the Congressional Black Caucus all go along with Biden.”

The American Rescue Plan Act is no Social Security Act, which changed the country forever by establishing that the government had a role to play in helping the people. Medicare and Medicaid are permanent fixtures that provide health care to millions of people some 50 years after they were established.

Joe Biden has not presented a plan to fight COVID-19, the impetus for the stimulus bill. He only promises to increase vaccine production but has said nothing about addressing the inequities in the profit driven health care system that created a death toll of more than 500,000 and a decimated economy.

While the Democrats and the media practiced public relations and defended half measures, the People’s Republic of China announced that their ten-year long effort to alleviate extreme poverty  was a success. Their goal was to meet the needs of the 99 million rural poor and create what they call “a moderately prosperous country.”

Their results will of course be questioned in this country, but in the United States there isn’t even pretense of ending poverty. It isn’t on the agenda at all. Neo-liberal austerity rules in politics and any claims that it doesn’t will be found wanting upon closer examination. Keep that in mind when the next pro-Biden trope is pushed upon the public.


Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere.  Her new book, “Prejudential“, looks at the history of US Presidents treatment of people of color.  She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at patreon.com/margaretkimberley and she regularly posts on Twitter @freedomrideblog.   She is a member of the Administrative Committee of the United National Antiwar Movement.  Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

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