Archive for the ‘Governance’ Category

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Today marks the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s declaration of “an unconditional War on Poverty.”

“Many Americans live on the outskirts of hope–some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity,” said President Johnson in his January 8, 1964, State of the Union address.

While 1 in 5 Alabamians and more than 1 in 4 children currently live below the federal poverty line, it is an issue we can make progress on. Americans have done it before. Between 1959 and 1973, we cut our national poverty rate nearly in half through an economy that worked for everyone and a strong set of programs that supported families when they struggled, including Head Start, Medicare, and TRIO college access programs.

However, we must be vigilant in our quest to ensure that every Alabamian can reach their full potential. Poverty won’t just go away; it’s something we must constantly and consistently work to reduce.

According to new research from the Half in Ten campaign, 70 percent of Americans would support a new effort to cut poverty in half within the next decade through investments in jobs, wages, health care, and education.

As President Johnson said, “the richest Nation on earth can afford to win [the war on poverty]. We cannot afford to lose it.”

Watch the 1964 State of the Union address below.  For its full text, click here.

Other Resources

Alabama Possible 2013 Data Sheet 

The War on Poverty Then and Now: Applying Lessons Learned to the Challenges and Opportunities Facing a 21st-Century America

50 Years After LBJ’s War on Poverty: A Study of American Attitudes About Work, Economic Opportunity, and the Social Safety Net

 The Unfinished War Part I & The Unfinished War Part II by Nicholas Lemann

Legacies of the War on Poverty by Martha J. Bailey & Sheldon Danziger

MY VIEW, Kristina R. Scott: We cannot fix what we do not measure

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Published: Sunday, June 10, 2012, 5:32 AM

Kristina Scott, Executive Director of APP.

Most people I talk to in my work as the executive director of the Alabama Poverty Project know Alabama is a poor state, but they are not sure how poor.

Thanks to the U.S. Census Bureau, I can tell them 18.9 percent of Alabamians live below the federal poverty threshold, which is just more than $22,000

a year for a family of four. That makes Alabama the third-poorest state in the country.

Dig a bit deeper, and you will find that 27.4 percent of Alabama children and 45.9 percent of single moms and their children live in poverty, according to the American Community Survey.

These are some of the statistics included on the Alabama Poverty Project’s 2012 Alabama Poverty Data Sheet, which we distribute throughout the state to encourage policymakers to make policy decisions based on facts rather than conjecture.

While that may seem logical — making policy decisions based on solid knowledge of community needs — it may soon be all but impossible. A few weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to abolish the American Community Survey, which is the successor to the long-form census that had been around for 200 years.

Each year, the Census Bureau asks approximately 3.5 million American households to answer questions on age, race, housing and health. The bureau uses the responses to produce dense demographic information, including characteristics of poor families, commute times and even what kind of fuel households use for heating.

The federal government then uses the data to divvy up more than $400 billion in grants and benefits to states and communities. Alabama receives federal funding to do things like provide medical care for poor children through the ALL Kids health insurance program and build new highways, including Corridor X linking Birmingham to Memphis.

Alabama, in turn, uses the American Community Survey to allocate state funds to county and local governments. In addition, policymakers and community organizations use survey data to understand who are poor and where they live so leaders can strategically deploy resources for education, law enforcement and disability services.

The private sector also utilizes American Community Survey data. Businesses such as Target rely on the survey to decide where to locate new stores and gain insights on consumer spending habits, and economic developers use the numbers to figure out where potential workers live.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., who sponsored the House legislation, claims the compulsory survey is not cost effective. In addition, he argues the survey is unconstitutional and intrusive, with those willfully neglecting to answer questions technically subject to fines up to $5,000. However, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said he was unaware of a single prosecution for noncompliance and that interviewers’ ability to educate respondents on the survey’s importance is far more effective than threatening to levy fines. Responses rates are about 97.5 percent, far exceeding typical rates for surveys.

As Founding Father James Madison recognized, the government is uniquely suited to gather socioeconomic information about the population in order to make “proper provision for the agricultural, commercial and manufacturing interests.” With that in mind, the American Community Survey enjoyed bipartisan support from its creation in the mid-1990s through its full implementation in 2005.

Conservative groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, have expressed support for the survey.

The Senate has not yet considered the House action on the survey. Observers think the Senate may accept a compromise that would make the survey voluntary, not mandatory, and thus drastically reduce its effectiveness.

Libertarian Andrew Biggs, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, said in his March testimony to Congress that “(w)e already suffer too much from what might be referred to as ‘policymaking by anecdote,’ where lawmakers seek to pass legislation before sufficiently examining the severity — or sometimes even the existence — of a perceived problem. Reducing the quantity and quality of data available to policymakers, analysts and researchers threatens to exacerbate this problem.”

Biggs and other leaders on both sides of the aisle recognize that the American Community Survey’s value centers on our ability to advocate for and make policy decisions based on a reliable, factual analysis. As the performance management maxim goes, we cannot fix what we do not measure.

Kristina R. Scott is executive director of the Alabama Poverty Project.

What we’re reading: Broke USA

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Can you believe that any lender would charge 400 percent interest for a loan? Who would pay that – and why? These questions came to mind after I attended a Payday Lending Reform Coalition Meeting last month.

To learn more about what author Gary Rivlin calls “the $33 billion a year poverty industry,” I picked up his book Broke USA – From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc: How the Working Poor Became Big Business.

The author describes a perfect storm in which stagnant wages and rising living expenses make payday loans deceptively convenient. Rivlin spoke about his book on the NPR program Fresh Air last month. Listen to the full interview here. One excerpt:

On why payday loan operations exist in poorer neighborhoods:

“[Payday loan operations] are there because banks have fled certain neighborhoods — it’s working-class neighborhoods, inner-city neighborhoods, some rural neighborhoods. Where can you get your loan? You go to a payday lender, you go to a consumer finance shop [or] you go to a pawnbroker. To me, the real reason payday has grown like it has is more of an economic reason than a geographic reason. There’s been stagnating wages among the lowest 40 percent [of wage earners] in this country, and so they’re not earning anymore real dollars. At the same time, rent is going up, health care is going up [and] other expenses are going up, and it just becomes harder and harder and harder for these people who are making $20,000 [or] $25,000 [or] $30,000 a year to make ends meet. And the pay lenders are really convenient. Between going home from work and going shopping, you can stop at one of these stores and get instant cash in five minutes.”

Posted by Robyn Hyden

Share your story with the State Commission to Reduce Poverty

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Last Thursday, June 24th, the Alabama Commission to Reduce Poverty met at the YWCA Interfaith Hospitality House in Birmingham.

Jennifer Clarke, Chief Housing Officer at the YWCA, talked about the YWCA’s work revitalizing Birmingham’s historic Woodlawn neighborhood.

Larry Lee, Director of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries’ Center for Rural Alabama, talked with commission members about the work he has done identifying successful rural schools. His report, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools, highlights ten schools in low-income communities that have been successful by creating a positive culture and finding creative ways to work together.

Above: Larry Lee, Director of the Center for Rural Alabama. Photo via The Daily Yonder.

Commission members discussed strategies to involve community members across the state in conversations about how Alabama can be a healthier, more prosperous state.  These conversations will help the commission set goals for its work.

There’s no time like the present to get the conversation started. So tell us – what’s a way you and your neighbors can get involved in making Alabama a healthier, more prosperous state? Let us know by emailing the vice chair of the commission, Kristina Scott, with “Poverty Commission” as the subject.

Posted by Will Thomas

State Commission to Meet, and You’re Invited

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

The State Commission to Reduce Poverty is set to meet Thursday June 24, 2010, at 11 AM, at the YWCA Interfaith Hospitality House, 5916 First Avenue South, Birmingham.

The commission’s agenda includes a discussion of how to engage those living in poverty in identifying the barriers to opportunity that they face and what can be done to remove those barriers.  Larry Lee, Director of the Center for Rural Alabama, will also talk with commission members and attendees about his work identifying common traits of successful rural public schools.  The meeting is open to the public.

The state legislature created the State Commission to Reduce Poverty in 2009 to study and evaluate state-supported programs, policies and services and make recommendations on proposed legislation that serves or affects those who live in poverty. It is comprised of state senators, representatives and members of the nonprofit community. Individuals from faith communities and those living in poverty are encouraged to apply for a Gubernatorial appointment to the commission by completing the application at

Alabama is the tenth poorest state in the nation, with nearly 1 in 6 Alabamians and 1 in 4 children living below the federal poverty line.

“Especially in these hard economic times, it is imperative that we bring the issues and realities of poverty to the forefront so we can develop public policies that are effective, innovative and equitable,” says Commission Chair Representative Patricia Todd.

Kristina Scott, executive director of the Alabama Poverty Project and the commission’s vice chair, said, “We are all impacted by our state’s perennial high poverty rate, and we value public input in the commission’s work. The people of Alabama understand both their communities’ assets and barriers to opportunity.  They also have great ideas regarding possible solutions to remove those barriers through legislation, state and local policy changes and community development efforts.  We hope they will share those ideas with us.”

The Alabama Poverty Project recently received a $14,000 challenge grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham to coordinate the Commission’s work and mobilize public support to eradicate poverty.

“Our board of directors designated this grant to raise awareness and attract more donors to the Alabama Poverty Project and the Alabama State Commission to Reduce Poverty. By focusing on our priority of advocacy for the poor and underserved through this grant, we hope to inspire a broader base of support for this important work,” said Community Foundation Senior Program Office James McCrary.