What does it mean to be in poverty? The federal poverty line for a single person is an annual income of $14,580 or less. For a family of four, it is $30,000 or less. With six in 10 Americans unable to afford an unexpected $500 emergency, though, is it time to reexamine whether these definitions have kept pace with today’s reality? The answer is yes.
In Tacoma, 40% of the community struggles to afford necessities like food and groceries, housing and utilities, home goods, and transportation, and local rent prices annually average out to be far above the federal poverty line.
Geno, a single parent of three young boys in Tacoma, rises early each morning to shuffle his children to school, and work as a technology consultant and developer. He sits slightly above the federal poverty line and does not qualify for public assistance, so he began looking for a second job.
United Way’s Asset Limited Income Constrained and Employed standard, or the ALICE standard, shows us he’s not alone.
The 40% of Tacoma mentioned above meets the ALICE standard. These are our neighbors going to work each day but, through no shortcoming of their own, they can’t keep up with the rising cost of living and subsist paycheck to paycheck.
These circumstances are prevalent across the United States. It may surprise you that a solution began to emerge in the 1700s.
Thomas Paine, a political theorist and Founding Father, suggested something similar in concept to a guaranteed income to help young people in their 20s. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also advocated the need for a guaranteed income. Today, we continue that advocacy.
I’m a founding member of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a national coalition of more than 100 mayors advocating for a supplement to existing safety nets for people like Geno.
Recently, I helped found Counties for a Guaranteed Income, an organization of leaders serving at the county level. To date, 20 leaders from 15 counties across the United States have joined.
Throughout history, local governments have been the catalyst to developing solutions for society’s most pressing challenges.
In Tacoma, the Growing Resilience In Tacoma (GRIT) program — funded primarily with private sector dollars and piloted by United Way of Pierce County with support from Mayors for a Guaranteed Income — sent 110 recipients a no-strings-attached monthly payment of $500 for 13 months. All were employed, the sole earners in their respective households with children, and had annual incomes that placed them at, or two times higher than, the federal poverty line.
What we found is GRIT dollars were spent on basic necessities. Nothing more.
Remember Geno? Thanks to GRIT, he did not have to take on a second job, allowing him to be more present for his children. He was also able to provide food, medication and tutoring for them and has since increased his annual income with additional training.
It is a travesty that basic necessities are so hard to come by in the wealthiest nation on Earth. Clearly, our systems are inadequate, and we must act now. Cities and counties alone cannot afford to address the staggering level of need that exists, however. We need your help.
Contact your state representatives and ask them to fund guaranteed income programming for cities and counties.
As we saw in Tacoma, guaranteed income works because it is premised on human dignity and confidently bets on the power of human resilience. With a little help, there are no limits to what someone can achieve to uplift themselves and their families.
A rising tide raises all boats.
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