Still fighting the War on Poverty, on all fronts

Rents go up, long-term unemployment persists, and hard work is “just not enough” to get out of poverty.

The Star Tribune reported May 3 on how rising rents in south Minneapolis make some families feel squeezed out. A new landlord is raising rents, and promises to fix problems in the building, but it’s not working for tenants:

“Sonya Yancey leaned against her kitchen counter and looked around her south Minneapolis apartment, exhaustion showing in her eyes.

“She pointed out a laundry list of problems: outlet covers removed to spray for bugs and never replaced; a leaky bathtub and a cracked bathroom sink; a living room carpet riddled with holes.”

The Corcoran Neighborhood Organization is part of a Southside United Neighborhoods, a coalition of seven neighborhood organizations working on tenant organizing. According to their newsletter:

“Apartment buildings in Corcoran, especially in the Lake Street corridor, are in rough shape. Tenants who request repairs and basic maintenance in their building are being ignored by bad landlords, many of whom prey on vulnerable tenants as a way of doing business. The City of Minneapolis has the authority to inspect and order repairs in response to tenants’ complaints, but too often City inspection policies and practices only serve to empower a bad landlord while leaving tenants frustrated and living in substandard housing.”

Housing is just one piece of the problem. Employment — or unemployment — is another. More than 40,000 Minnesota workers have been looking for work for more than six months, landing them in the category of long-term unemployed, reports MPR:

“‘Long-term unemployment: until the Great Recession, it was a European phenomenon we didn’t think we had to deal with,’ said Judd Cramer, co-author of a recent Brookings Institution study on long-term unemployment.

“Cramer said about one third of the nation’s jobless workers have been looking for work six months or more. That portion is historically high.”

NPR has been playing a series of reports on the theme of  the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. Launched by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, the War on Poverty succeeded in lifting many Americans out of poverty. A New Yorker article has four charts showing the success of the War on Poverty, and a study showing tha tpoverty has dropped by 40 percent in the past 50 years. According to the article:

“The main driver of this fall, in fact, has been the very type of anti-poverty programs that L.B.J. championed: food stamps and housing subsidies, Social Security and Medicare, and generous income subsidies, in the form of tax credits, for the low-paid.”

Despite that success, far too many families still struggle. The NPR series highlights some of their stories. Victoria Houser’s story is typical:

“She says she feels stuck in a never-ending cycle, constantly worried that one financial emergency — like a broken-down car — will send everything tumbling down.

“‘Poor to me is the fact that I’m working my butt off. I’m trying to go to school. I’m trying to take care of my son, and that’s just not enough,’ she says.”

The country may be winning the War on Poverty, but the poor are still fighting too many hopeless battles.

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Want to enlist in the ongoing war? From your local foodshelf to the  Free Tenant Hotline (612-728-5767) run by nonprofit HOME Line, there are plenty of places that need help. May 10 is also the Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger food drive in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. All good efforts — but ultimately, the answers lie in changing policies (including tax policies) and providing jobs, so keep in touch with your representatives and push for change.

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