THE RISE in poverty and its attendant problems is all the worse because of the shredding of the social safety net, but Philadelphia has a powerful safety net. Ours is a net woven by stalwarts: People who have been in the city for decades working to help people get food, shelter, legal representation and more. Some of the familiar names: Jonathan Stein, Sharon Easterling, Irv Ackelsberg, Alba Martinez, Steve Honeyman, Sandra Dungee Glenn, Carol Tracy, Richard Weishaupt, Steve Gold, Janet Stotland, Lance Haver, Michael DiBerardinis.
We asked a few well-known advocates on the front lines to help close out our poverty series by asking: If there is one thing that could make a real difference in alleviating poverty, what would it be?
Founder, Project HOME
I would say to provide a meaningful opportunity for everyone to participate in a significant way in our community through work, education, health care and housing. I don't think you can legislate it, but legislation of key policy areas can make a huge difference. For example, (President) Reagan turned back the housing policies that ensured every American could afford a place to live. After World War II, there was legislation that ensured everyone could afford housing, even it was a room at the Y.
Director, Mayor's Office of Community Empowerment & Opportunity
There are so many things that could help: Expanding EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) to people without children, not reducing food stamps, making it easier to get SSI. At the local level, cities are being innovative, but if you want to make a difference in poverty or income inequality, it's really a matter of state and federal resources - that's where the funding has to come. When you're in a city, you're not independent of the rest of the economy. If you're trying to turn a neighborhood around, it's within the larger economy.
The retail and direct-care sectors (children, elderly and disabled) are huge, but they have low pay. If the direct-care sector was a government-funded sector, it could promote higher wages, higher training standards and increase certification.
You'd have a pipeline of training, moving up. Make it a pathway into the middle class. The state is already paying nursing-home care through Medicaid, for example, so it's a natural fit. Another improvement would be federal policy to help remove barriers to minority participation in unions.
Director of Outreach and Program Evaluation, Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians
If you're in a position to do so, hire one person, for at least $12 an hour. It's the thing we most need happening. Local hiring is still possible. If people could just hire one person, that would make a difference. If you're not in the position to hire, the second thing is: Tip people well. Tipped workers haven't had a wage rise in two decades. It's $2.83 an hour. That's something everybody can do.
Director, Philadelphia Unemployment Project
The national economy has to be strong. If not, cities like Philadelphia are going to suffer. To make the city work without a strong national economy is not going to happen. Places like here will be worse. That's why the slash-and-cut approach without thought that the economy has to get rolling is so frustrating to me.
Litigation Director, Community Legal Services
We need income support for people who are not working. Especially since general assistance ended two years ago, so many have no income, even those with unemployment benefits. We need some way people can staunch the bleeding while they figure out, "How I am going to make it in this world?" And we need to have jobs that are publicly funded, not just rely on the private market for jobs. People come out of jail and it's not realistic to assume they'll be absorbed by the labor market. If we want people to work, and most of my clients want to work, we have to give them something to do, we need to spend a little money to have people be constructive.
President and CEO, Congreso
One thing that could make a difference is a more equitable distribution of resources within public policy related to education. We need a more equal and systematic way of funding schools, so we won't be in the situation where underserved and poorer communities are bearing the brunt.
Education is a great equalizer, and when you're taking away that opportunity, it's going to impact multiple generations.