Last week, President Trump dismissed the idea of having a poor person in a cabinet position relating to the economy. He claimed that billionaires have “the kind of thinking we want.” His comment was made against the backdrop the serial attempt by the GOP to repeal Obamacare. In both the House and the Senate versions over 20 million people will lose their health care. It seems that “billionaire thinking” does not include the poor. Only 17% of Americans approve of the latest proposed legislation from the GOP Senate. Living in poverty is daunting and to grasp and understand the issues it is important to talk with those that know the reality of it.
What would we hear from someone living in poverty now if they led a federal agency?
As Secretary of Commerce, she might remind the President that 13.5 percent of Americans live in poverty, totaling 43 million people. She could share that most households (55 percent) can’t cover even one month of lost income with their savings. These facts, along with the fact that our consumer spending has dropped to 1990 levels, represent a major threat to our GDP, 70 percent of which is driven by consumption. Another proposal that she might make is to suggest that a way to boost the economy is to increase household income by promoting greater use of the Earned Income Tax Credit and by raising the minimum wage.
As Secretary of the Treasury, he could share that 72 percent of mortgage interest deductions ($200 billion every year) goes to the highest 10 percent of earners in the US, an overwhelmingly white segment.
Meanwhile, the wealth gap between whites and people of color continues to widen.
He could suggest that more of those funds could be targeted to the Family Self-Sufficiency program. That program helps tenants in public housing save to purchase the most common financial asset in our country – a home.
As Secretary of Agriculture, she could teach the President and Congress about the skyrocketing cost of food, especially for people living in high-poverty neighborhoods, which are often food deserts. She could relate how common it is for many to spend three hours or more traveling to and from a grocery store, only leaving with whatever can be carried by hand on a bus.
She would know how hard it is to pay attention in school when one’s stomach is churning from hunger.
In 2015, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps) lifted 4.6 million Americans out of poverty, including two million children. She would make sure the President knew that it is a program that must not be cut.
As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he could teach the President about how a child’s neighborhood dramatically impacts their chances of moving up the economic ladder. For example, if you’re unlucky enough to be born into a low-income family living in Baltimore, you’ll earn 17 percent less as an adult than if you grew up in an average place.
He could explain how housing vouchers, intended to help low-income people move to better neighborhoods, can be hard to redeem because few landlords will accept them.
As Secretary of Health and Human Services, she could tell the President and Congress about the trauma and stress of poverty, which create toxic levels of cortisol in the brain that can impair the immune system and dramatically increase the risk of chronic diseases, even cancer. She could argue that to address this challenge, Medicaid shouldn’t be cut by $800 billion dollars as proposed by the American Health Care Act. This would cause millions of lower-income Americans to lose health insurance when they have the greatest need for it.
President Trump claims to “love all people — rich and poor,” but he should know that the fact alone of being a billionaire does not automatically make one a more thoughtful, impactful leader. Poverty’s infects every aspect of one’s life. Health, education, nutrition, shelter, and, yes, the economy – policies in all these areas must do more to protect those with fewer resources. President Trump has a moral imperative to ensure that the top leaders in the executive branch represent more than just the very privileged in our country.
Annie Lord is Chief Program Officer at CitySquare in Dallas. She earned her B.A. and Master of Public Policy at Harvard University, and she is currently a Dallas Public Voices Fellow.