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Campaign Priority:

Poverty & Inequality

Did you know that while the U.S. economy has grown 18-fold in the past 50 years, wealth inequality has expanded, the costs of living have increased, and social programs have been restructured and cut dramatically?

We challenge the idea that our economy rewards hard-working individuals and, therefore, if only the millions of people in poverty acted better, worked harder, complained less and prayed more, they would be lifted up and out of their miserable conditions.

Beginning in the 1970s, wages for the bottom 80 percent of workers have remained largely stagnant and today there are 64 million people working for less than $15 an hour.

Meanwhile, the top 1 percent’s share of the economy has nearly doubled to more than 20 percent of our national income. In 2017, the 400 wealthiest Americans owned more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the entire U.S. population, or 204 million people. Just three individuals possessed a combined wealth of $248.5 billion, an equal amount of wealth as the bottom 50 percent of the country.

At the same time, the costs of basic needs like housing, health care and education have risen dramatically. Over the past 30 years, rents have gone up faster than income in nearly every urban area of the country. In 2016, there was no state or county in the nation where someone earning the federal minimum wage could afford a 2-bedroom apartment at market rent. Only one in four of those eligible to receive federal housing assistance actually do so. This has precipitated a structural housing crisis with 2.5 to 3.5 million people who are living in shelters, transitional housing centers and tent cities. This population includes a significant number of women, children, LGBTQIA youth, veterans and the elderly.

There are 32 million people who lack health insurance. Further, an estimated 40 percent of Americans have taken on debt because of medical issues, making medical debt the number one cause of personal bankruptcy filings. In fact, the bottom 90 percent of Americans hold more than 70 percent of debt in the country. Student debt has grown to $1.34 trillion and affects 44 million Americans. Excluding the value of the family car, 19 percent of all U.S. households have zero wealth or negative net worth. They owe more than they own.

Despite the growing need for federal assistance, social service programs have been restructured to shift critical resources away from the poor. The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program only assists 23 percent of poor families with children. The current administration has proposed a 30 percent cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and a restructuring that would impose onerous work requirements that threaten to destabilize this highly effective program.

Our public resources are not reaching the people who need them. Given the absence of good jobs and a strong social safety net, millions of people are left to fend for themselves.

The truth is that the millions of poor people in the United States today are poor because the wealth and resources of our country have been flowing to a small number of people and federal programs are not meeting the growing needs of the poor.

Everybody has the right to live. The U.S. Constitution was established to “promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Given the abundance that exists in this country and the fundamental dignity inherent to all humanity, every person in the United States has the right to dignified jobs and living wages, housing, education, health care, welfare, and the right to organize for the realization of these rights.

  • We demand the immediate implementation of federal and state living wage laws that are commensurate for the 21st centuryeconomy, guaranteed annual incomes, full employment and the right for all workers to form and join unions.

  • We demand an end to anti-union and anti-workers’ rights laws in the states.

  • We demand equal pay for equal work.

  • We demand fully-funded welfare programs for the poor and an end to the attacks on SNAP, HEAP, and other vital programs for the poor.

  • We demand equity in education, ensuring every child receives a high-quality, well-funded, diverse public education. We demand an end to the re-segregation of schools. We demand free tuition at public colleges and universities and an end to profiteering on student debt. We demand equitable funding for historically black colleges and universities.

  • We demand the expansion of Medicaid in every state and the protection of Medicare and single-payer universal health care for all.

  • We demand fully funded public resources and access to mental health professionals and addiction and recovery programs.

  • We demand reinvestment in and the expansion of public housing, ensuring that all have a decent house to live in.

  • We demand equal treatment and accessible housing, health care, public transportation, adequate income and services for people with disabilities.

  • We demand public infrastructure projects and sustainable, community-based and controlled economic initiatives that target poor urban and rural communities.

  • We demand fair and decent housing for all and the end to the rolling back of fair housing protections at HUD.

  • We demand relief from crushing household, student, and consumer debt. We declare Jubilee.

  • We demand that the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share of our country’s urgent needs around decent and affordable housing, free public education, a robust social safety net and social security.

  • We demand the repeal of the 2017 federal tax law and the reinvestment of those funds into public programs for housing, health care, education, jobs, infrastructure and welfare for the poor.

  • We demand that the nation and our lawmakers turn their immediate attention to passing policies and budget allocations that would end child poverty. This includes a public hearing on the federal and state institutions charged with child safety and protection, including on how their resources are used to take children away rather than strengthening families.

Did you know there are 140 million people who are poor or low-income in the United States today?


We challenge the Official Poverty Measure (OPM) as too narrow a definition of poverty today. The OPM is an income-based measure developed in the 1960s that uses the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) to define poverty. In 2016, the FPL was $11,880 for a single person under the age of 65 and was $24,300 for a household of four.

According to the OPM, in 2016, 12.7 percent of the U.S. population – or 40.6 million people – were poor and nearly 30 percent – or 95 million – were low income, which is defined as living at less than twice the poverty line.

An alternative measure developed in 2009, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), takes into account income as well as the costs of food, clothing, housing and utilities, and government programs that have assisted low-income families and individuals who are not otherwise designated as poor.

Using the more thorough SPM, 43.5 percent of the U.S. population — or 140 million people — were poor or low-income in 2016. Our government does not provide information under the SPM on poverty and low-income status for all races, gender identities, or sexual identities. However, according to existing data from the SPM for 2016, the 140 million people who were poor or low-income include:

  • 51.9 percent of children under the age of 18 (38.2 million children)

  • 40.7 percent of adults between the ages of 18-64 (81.5 million adults)

  • 42.5 percent of our elders over the age of 65 (20.8 million elders)

  • 45 percent of women and girls (73.5 million people)

  • 33.9 percent of White people (67.1 million people)

  • 60.3 percent of Black people (25.9 million people)

  • 65.1 percent of Latinx people (37.4 million people)

  • 41.1 percent of Asian people (7.6 million people)


There is grossly inadequate information on the poverty and low-income status of First Nations, Native Americans, Alaskan Native, LGBTQIA and disabled people in this country, especially under the SPM. According to existing information under the OPM:

  • 26.2 percent of Native Americans were living below the FPL in 2016 (1.7 million people)

  • 26.6 percent of people with disabilities were living below the FPL in 2016 (5.3 million people)

  • Transgender people are likely to experience poverty at a rate double that of the general population, with transgender people of color experiencing even higher poverty rates

We know that, because the OPM is a very limited measure of poverty, these numbers do not reflect the full scale of poverty among these communities.


The truth is that economic insecurity, poverty and misery are affecting more of us in 2018 than we are made aware.

We remain in the dark about who is poor and this ignorance prevents us from being able to address the broad and deep poverty in our midst. We have the right to know the true state of our Union.

  • We demand a change in the current poverty standards. We demand an accurate assessment of who is poor — based on access to decent and adequate housing, education, health care, water, sanitation and public utilities, childcare, as well as income, savings and debt, and welfare — and that is made widely available to all.

  • We demand particular attention be paid to data concerning First Nations, Native Americans, Alaskan Native, LGBTQIA and disabled people regarding poverty. This means working with these communities to ensure the safekeeping of sensitive information and that all data is collected with respect, dignity and security.

Did you know that we imprison and detain more people, especially poor people, than any country in the world?


The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, almost five times the average for other wealthy countries. Since 1976, federal spending on prisons increased tenfold to $7.5 billion a year. The number of sentenced state and federal inmates grew from 188,000 in 1968 to nearly 1.5 million in 2016. Two thirds of these inmates are people of color, while Native Americans are incarcerated at a 38 percent higher rate than the national average.

Since 1970, counties with fewer than 250,000 people have driven jail growth, reflecting a shift in rural and urban incarceration trends. Women held in local jails are the fastest-growing segment of incarcerated people in the United States; most are Black or Latinx. From 1970 to 2014, the total female jail population increased 14-fold from under 8,000 to nearly 110,000. More than 80 percent of these women were imprisoned for non-violent offenses.

This coincides with the broader criminalization of poverty and the poor. By the Department of Justice’s own admission, 95 percent of the growth in the incarcerated population since 2000 is the result of an increase in the number of un-convicted defendants, many of whom are unable to make bail.

The truth is that poor communities, especially poor communities of color, are being locked up, sent away and killed by law enforcement. Equal protection under the law is non-negotiable and we have the right to move freely without the fear of intimidation, detention, deportation or death by public institutions charged with our safety.

  • We demand an end to mass incarceration and the continuing inequalities for black, brown and poor white people within the criminal justice system.

  • We demand equality and the safety of all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

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