“All people are to be provided those things that protect human dignity and make for a healthy life: adequate food and shelter, meaningful work, safe communities, health care, and education.”
That was the common foundation that inspired the state in 2007 to create the Legislative Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020. It is now December 2019, and we are not going to reach that goal. We aren’t even going to come close. The overall poverty rate in 2017 was 9.5%, 517,476 people. Another 6.6%, 361,731 people, were at 100-149% of poverty. Why didn’t the commission succeed, and what are we going to do about it?
This fall an introduction to nonprofits class at Hamline University explored what a new blueprint to end of poverty might look like. The students listened to what leaders from the community would include in the blueprint. The presenters included people from Minnesota Voice, Community Action Partnership, Interfaith Outreach, the Housing Alliance, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, the Minnesota Literacy Council. CommonBond Communities, Merrick Community Services, Interfaith Action, the Sundance Family Foundation, and the Minnesota Children’s Defense Fund.
At a recent Hamline Center for Justice and Law Forum on Poverty, attendees voted on 17 recommendations assembled by the students over the course of the semester. These recommendations were compiled from the responses given to the class directly from community leaders. The top five should guide our future work. Those recommendations with the most votes are:
- Require populations of low income backgrounds be involved in the decision-making process;
- Develop policies/initiatives that ensure basic necessities, such as but not limited to health, shelter and food;
- Raise the minimum wage to be a livable wage;
- Eliminate government oppression of people in poverty by stopping the penalization of being homeless and fines for minor infractions/crimes;
- Increase equity through taxation to result in the ability to increase affordable housing, health care, public college and employment training programs.
The words of David Shipler, the author of “The Working Poor,” remain true. “Poverty is a constellation of difficulties that magnify one another … all the problems have to be attacked at once.” We must have both the skills to solve these problems and the will to fix them.
Therefore, let us renew our goal to end poverty, learn from our past experiences, spend the money required, stop the criminalization of poverty, and adopt essential policies necessary to ensure that poverty is eradicated in our state. As Byran Stevenson reminds us, “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. It is justice.”
Tsion Tulu and Robert Greenough are students at Hamline University. Jim Scheibel is a professor of practice at Hamline’s School of Business.
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