Effective programs that help families to make ends meet, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, SNAP, fuel assistance, school lunches, Head Start, and Social Security cut the number of people in Massachusetts living in poverty by almost half and reduce the number of children living in poverty by more than half, according to a new report on poverty called “Obstacles on the Road to Opportunity: Finding a Way Forward Together,” which was discussed at a Quincy forum Tuesday.
The report was commissioned by the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP) and written by Nancy Wagman, Kids Count director of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget).
“There are myths out there about whether or not public programs reduce the number of people living in poverty – this report shows that the programs that community action agencies administer help vulnerable residents of Massachusetts stay out of poverty,” said Joe Diamond, MASSCAP’s executive director. “But it also provides valuable data on the obstacles we see towards helping move others out of poverty.”
The study notes that while the incomes of the highest income households have grown considerably over the past several decades, the same cannot be said for low-wage workers. According to the study, “national economic policies stopped emphasizing wage growth, Congress allowed the real value of the minimum wage to decline, and labor law enforcement agencies weakened protections for workers.” The positive news is that well-resourced communities in Massachusetts can help to counteract these national trends by lowering the barriers to opportunity. Still, communities withfewer resources and higher concentrations of poverty are challenged to help residents living in poverty.
“In the past several decades, Quincy – and the surrounding region – has seen a marked increase in income inequality, with both increasing wealth and increasing poverty,” said Beth Ann Strollo, CEO of Quincy Community Action Programs. “We work every day on the front lines and we see the impact of such changes on children, families, seniors, people living with disabilities, and others who face the challenges of not having enough money to pay basic living expenses. A family earning a minimum wage cannot afford the high cost of housing and child care in our community. We are hopeful that this study will help us continue to promote economic stability and have a better understanding of the challenges low-income residents face.”
The report was discussed at a forum in Quincy co-sponsored by QCAP and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley along with MASSCAP, who commissioned the study as an update of findings that the agency released in 2014. MASSCAP is the statewide association of 23 Community actions agencies operating in Massachusetts.
“Policies that help make work pay—such as the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit—and those that help people balance the demands of work and family—such as paid family and medical leave, earned paid sick days, and affordable child care—help working families find a way forward,” Wagman said in the report. “Policies that help families make ends meet—such as those that help put food on the table or provide other income supports—can help families through hard times. Policies that help communities thrive—such as those that support safe, healthy, and affordable housing, and that support high quality local education from the earliest days and into young adulthood—help give every child the best chance at a bright future.”
Chazy Dowaliby, the former editor in chief of the Patriot Ledger, moderated a panel discussion at the event, which took place at the Quincy Chamber of Commerce. In addition to highlighting the findings in the report, participants focused on the advocacy strategies that those working to end poverty should pursue.
Panelists included Quincy Chamber of Commerce President Tim Cahill; Michelle Elias Bloomer, dean of professional studies and workforce development, Bunker Hill Community College; Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital Milton President and CEO Richard Fernandez; Gail Sokoloff, senior director for community impact, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley; and Strollo.
“United Way believes in creating positive, lasting change for people in need,” said Michael K. Durkin, president and CEO of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “The report and today’s event allow us to better understand the barriers that create income inequality so that we can focus awareness and resources on the most effective strategies and solutions. Together, we can fight to ensure individuals and families have access to safe, affordable housing, earn a wage that allows them to support themselves, help them manage their finances and build a future.”
This landmark report is underwritten by United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley along with The Boston Foundation, Cambridge Community Foundation, Greater Worcester Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Eastern Bank, Essex County Community Foundation, Lowell Community Foundation, United Way of Pioneer Valley, and Worcester Community Action Council.
The report was released in May at an event in Boston. Subsequent forums will take place in Worcester and Western Massachusetts this fall.