January 21, 2009

Policy Priorities to Reduce Poverty in the New Administration

As we celebrate an immensely historic election and inauguration this week, with President Barack Obama’s transition to the White House and Presidency complete, a sense of duty and great undertaking must motivate us all to work towards ending poverty and suffering in the U.S.

Until now, this goal has been long-absent from a serious national conversation surrounding our priorities and direction in the 21st Century, with the exception of Hurricane Katrina’s dramatic, albeit short-lived, media spotlight on the poverty that persists in our country.

With a jagged economic road looming ahead and predictions for a slow recovery reaching possibly into 2011, the great needs of impoverished communities, individuals, and families has never been more apparent. We must work on all fronts, including education, employment, and programs that will strengthen families, to generate solutions that will address the stagnant situations that many Americans continue to find themselves in, despite their efforts to better their lives. This will be a huge task, and one that will not realistically end within the next four, or even eight years.

Nevertheless, if we begin to address these issues of poverty that have for so long been neglected, we will improve the quality of life in America for all people, not just those who are now struggling, and we will have already won. The big picture is that we have big opportunities to change the way in which we are stratified in American society into the have’s, the have-a-little’s, and the have-not’s. The policy priorities below give just a snapshot of the big picture we currently see, and the chance we have at making things better.


For too long, the issue of education has been used as a political football in the most local of municipalities, all the way up through the federal level. Sadly, children, young people, and indeed our entire country, suffer as a result of systematic underfunding of education programs and plans that deliver big on promises and little on outcomes. We must re-think and re-tool our educational system so that it not only serves youth, but that it also creates opportunities for working adults who have educational needs, in order to fill the modern workforce and support themselves economically.

This includes vocational and job training programs, an emphasis on literacy throughout the age spectrum in all competencies, including reading, mathematics, technology, and other basic skills. Possibly most importantly, we must also rebuild a crumbling and outdated educational infrastructure so that it will equally and appropriately serve all children, despite where they live or how much money their parents make, as this is their guaranteed right under the law.


In order to strengthen America’s position in the world and the ability for its people to compete and live happier and fuller lives, jobs must not only be created, but must be well planned and conceived to meet the needs of a changing global economy and workforce. This entails raising and developing fair pay structures that allow for living wages, so that individuals and families can support themselves and afford essential services such as healthcare.

In addition, it will reduce the strain on our social safety nets in order to ensure that these programs will be there to catch the most vulnerable in our society. By paying working people what they are worth, and equitably across gender lines, we can ensure that more poor and working Americans will be better able to meet the costs of living and support their families, which will produce better outcomes for individual households as well as whole communities.

Family-Friendly Policies

Compared to the rest of the industrialized world, the United States surely has some catching up to do in terms of creating policies in the workplace, in our communities, and even within our homes, that support families and build healthier and stronger outcomes for children and adults. These policies include, but are not limited to:
  • support and respite for caregivers of family members who are seriously ill, disabled and/or elderly;
  • childcare and after-school programs for children of working parents; and
  • modern workplace policies that offer greater work-life balance to both women and men, such as flex-time, shared scheduling, and telecommuting, in order to enable them to share familial responsibilities and strengthen their families.

Policies of this kind would ease social hardships and ensure that lower income and working-class individuals and families have access to opportunities that will mobilize people upward and out of poverty, creating better outcomes for cities and communities across the U.S.

For now, let’s enjoy the revelry of what feels like a new dawn in America in which anything is possible, and for tomorrow, let’s make this feeling a reality.

For more information on these topics, please visit the links below…
Whitehouse.gov (All topics)

Center for Education Policy (Education/ Employment Policy)

Children’s Defense Fund (Education and Children’s Health Policy)

Economic Policy Institute (Economic/ Employment Policy)

Robert Reich’s Blog, Former Labor Secretary, Economist, and Professor (Economic and Employment Policy)

National Women’s Law Center (Education, Employment, and Workplace Policy)

Written by Emily J. Kronenberger, Policy Analyst at the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities and founder of New Wave Grrrl, a health information and resource sharing blog for women. Emily is a volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project, serves on the Board of Trustees at the Alice Paul Institute and volunteers as the Director of Policy Initiatives at the Younger Women’s Task Force of New Jersey.

1 comment:

esk said...

Spoken/written like a true policy analyst (w/remnants of a superb speech writer!), Emily! What I like most is that you not only stated the issues, but you offered sound recommendations to remedy the issues!

The section that really resonated with me was “Family-Friendly Policies.” I’m an advocate for helping those that are in dire need; however, it seems like unless you’re considerably poor, you don’t qualify for much of anything (e.g., after-school programs, scholarships, etc.). I would love to see more policy and programs that target working and middle class families.

And telecommuting…what a dream! I think if more employers, private sector and government, trusted their employees more, they would realize that telecommuting can be mutually-beneficial for both the employer and the employee…not to mention society as a whole (e.g., less traffic, less pollution from vehicles, lower costs associated with use of electricity, etc., etc.).

OK, I will step down off my soap box now...

Again, nicely done, Emily!

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