Our economy has recovered remarkably since the housing market collapse in 2007 and 2008 led to layoffs across the country and substantial losses in the financial sector. Sadly, the economic recovery has largely gone to the highest earners – the housing market is climbing back and Wall Street salaries are higher than ever. The low and middle income families that make up the backbone of the American economy are left out in the cold. Simply put, trickle-down economics does not help the most vulnerable among us. For them, income inequality is at an all-time high.
The poverty rate, calculated since the 1960’s as the absolute minimum level of income adequate for survival, has risen or held steady every year since 2000. With 46 million Americans in poverty, the rate currently sits at 15%. Long term unemployment rates remain at levels not seen since the Great Depression – over 4 million people have been looking for work for over 27 weeks.
Despite these statistics, Republicans continue to insist on gutting our social safety net.
Census data shows that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) lifts millions out of poverty each year by providing benefits where they’re needed most – the kitchen table. Even so, Republicans twice moved last year to kick millions of struggling American families out of the program. For House Republicans to support additional cuts in food assistance at a time when financial security eludes so many is both mean-spirited and economically counterproductive.
Unemployment insurance has long been a vital lifeline for struggling American families during challenging times that keeps money flowing back into local economies, stimulating economic activity and job creation. While Democratic leaders in the Senate are working to pass an extension this week, their Republican counterparts are doing their best to yank the rug out from underneath jobless Americans. Meanwhile, House GOP leaders have no plans to bring the issue to a vote.
Last year, House Republicans voted nearly 50 times to block health care for 30 million uninsured Americans. Not content wasting valuable time on these votes, Tea Party extremists engineered a government shutdown that put over a million federal employees and government contractors out of work, delayed disaster relief payments to flood ravaged states like Colorado, and shelved pending legislative items that will help grow our economy, like the bipartisan transportation bill. Early estimates suggest the loss of government services alone will drain nearly $3.1 billion from our gross domestic product this year.
The income gap is a serious problem that is undermining the economic recovery. These programs, coupled with the Earned Income Tax Credit and housing supports, effectively lower the poverty rate to almost 8%. Rather than strengthen the social safety net while asking what we can do to make the situation better, Republicans continue to insist on gutting these programs, forcing Americans to choose between eating or paying the rent, going to the hospital or heating their homes. This is no time to be making those decisions harder.