A Resolution to End Poverty in the World's Wealthiest Country
 | Opinion

This week, we introduced a congressional resolution asserting that we can end poverty in the richest country on Earth.

We've had the opportunity to study poverty deeply. Rep. Lee has chaired the Congressional Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity since 2013. Rep. Jayapal chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Both of us worked closely with the Poor People's Campaign to produce a "People's Agenda" for pandemic recovery.

Even before the pandemic, more than two in five people in this country were poor or low-income, just $400 or less away from financial ruin. That's 140 million of us. During the pandemic, it got even worse. By the fall of 2020, 8 million more Americans had been pushed into poverty.

The American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration's COVID-19 relief package, brought crucial relief. But millions of jobs that were lost have not returned. An astounding 30 million people were put at risk of homelessness, and experts warn that the American Rescue Plan will fall short of helping them all.

But being poor in this country means more than going without money, a job or a home. It also means experiencing the brunt of climate disasters. It means mass incarceration—and frequent contact with militarized police forces. And it means ever-increasing restrictions on your right to vote, join a union or see a doctor.

Poverty, in short, intersects with every other injustice in our country.

For instance, poor communities—especially Black, Latina/o, Asian and Pacific Islander communities—are more exposed to air pollution that makes COVID-19 more dangerous. And they're more likely to work the front-line jobs that expose them to the virus.

While vaccines may eventually contain the pandemic, our costly and ineffective health care system will still leave us with the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant and maternal mortality rates among our peer countries. These crises most acutely affect poor and low-income Americans.

Meanwhile, poor people and communities of color are much more likely to be incarcerated or abused by police. Yet ballooning military spending and endless wars have siphoned resources from these same communities—while sending billions of dollars' worth of military equipment to civilian law enforcement, bringing the violence of those wars to our own streets.

And finally, with each passing day, new laws make it harder and harder for these impacted communities to vote. Hundreds have been introduced this year alone.

Lee and Jayapal unveil poverty relief plan
U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) participates in a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol May 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House Democrats joined Poor People’s Campaign at the news conference to call for a congressional resolution "to address poverty and low wages." Alex Wong/Getty Images

None of these problems stand alone. We can't end poverty without attacking the interconnected injustices of systemic racism, inequality, militarism and the climate emergency. That's why our resolution calls for a comprehensive response that prioritizes the needs of these 140 million people.

Alongside expanded social welfare programs and unemployment insurance, we're calling for a national, universal single-payer health care program that puts people before profits.

We're calling for a living minimum wage, the right to form unions and a federal jobs guarantee.

We're calling for a housing guarantee that ends evictions and expands affordable housing options and accessible quality education at all levels.

We're calling to transform our climate chaos to a green and renewable future—with equitable public transit, dramatic reductions in pollution and green jobs and infrastructure.

To root out systemic racism, we're calling on Congress to protect the right to vote, establish commissions on reparations for slavery and genocide and ensure the rights of Native people to their sacred lands. We must also enact comprehensive immigration reform that ends detentions, deportations and family separations. And we must end mass incarceration and the militarization of law enforcement.

Our nation has vast wealth and vaster inequality, which is why we're calling for fair taxation on the wealthy—and cuts to our enormous military expenditures. We're calling to end our wars and reconsider the harm done by sanctions and forward military deployments—and to transfer at least 10 percent of the Pentagon budget to fund community needs.

We call our resolution the "Third Reconstruction." During the First Reconstruction after the Civil War, Black Americans joined hands with white allies to build the power to rewrite state constitutions in most of the former Confederate states, winning the right to public education for all and other measures of progress. Multi-racial fusion coalitions were also key to the victories of the Second Reconstruction of the civil rights era in the 1960s.

Our current moment demands action of similarly historic proportions to heal and transform the nation. We need a Third Reconstruction.

A resolution is just the first step. Actually fulfilling it will require pressure from faith communities, unions, workers, immigrants and the racial justice, climate and peace movements. The Third Reconstruction is backed by the Poor People's Campaign, which will not rest until we achieve this goal.

Let's be clear: poverty exists because we allow it to exist. But in November, the people of this country gave their elected officials a new mandate to change that. With this resolution as a roadmap, we can do what needs to be done and deliver for people across America.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is chair of the Congressional Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) is chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.