Poverty in the United States
According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2014, 47 million people — or 15% of the U.S. population — were living in poverty. Additionally, poverty in the United States is 2.3 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the recession hit in 2008.

Furthermore, 2014 was the fourth consecutive year that the poverty rate has remained stagnant. While conditions are not worsening, they are not improving either.

What Defines Poverty in the United States?

The federal government’s official poverty threshold for 2015 was as follows:

  • Household of four (two children, two adults): $24,444
  • Household of three (one child, two adults): $18,540
  • Household of two (over 65): $14,326
  • Household of two (under 65): $15,871
  • One person (over 65): $11,376
  • One person (under 65): $12,331

Click here to see additional information regarding the poverty threshold.

Who Lives in Poverty in the United States?

Poverty does not affect all demographics equally. Numbers from 2014  show that 13% of men lived in poverty, as compared to 16% of women. Poverty numbers for married couples were at six percent, while single-parent families with no wife were at 16%. Single-parent families with no husband saw a poverty rate of 31%.

As of 2014, 21% of all children in the United States lived in poverty. About 15.5 million children, more than the entire population of Ecuador, lacked the required resources to ensure even a basic level of comfort and freedom from distress.

What Can We Do To End Poverty in the United States?

There are several things that can be done to help bridge the gap between the richest and poorest Americans. Here is a list of five tips to help get you started:

1. Volunteer

Be giving of yourself. Find a local Open Heart Kitchen to work in. You can also volunteer with an organization that provides tutoring or afterschool programs for children living in impoverished areas. Your compassion can help immensely.

2. Donate

Find an organization that helps fight poverty in the United States. Additionally, it is important to find one that expresses values and a mission that you care about. The Borgen Project may be focused on fighting poverty abroad, but the work that they do helps create jobs and stimulate the already-struggling American economy. As nonprofits, these organizations also rely heavily on donations to fund their philanthropic and humanitarian endeavors.

3. Contact Your Congressional Representatives

Congress is supposed to represent its constituents, so contacting them can make a difference. Writing a simple letter or email, or making a phone call to your representative’s office lets them know that you are a concerned citizen. If enough people contact a representative in support of a particular issue, it sends the message that it is something that he or she should fight for. Above all, representatives speak for the people who elected them, so your voice does matter.

4. Support Local Small Businesses

Shopping local helps stimulate the economy in your area. When independent businesses are successful, they create jobs. Donating and volunteering are great ways to help fight poverty, and they can be very fulfilling. But providing a person with the opportunity to work and learn business skills sets that person up for future success.

5. Support and Use Public Transportation

For many people, buses and trains are a primary means of transportation. Getting to and from work and school would be impossible without these things. It is also an industry that employs over 400,000 people and generates $58 billion in revenue annually. According to publictransportation.org, every dollar invested in public transportation yields around $4 in economic returns. In addition, public transportation also creates and sustains 1.1 million each year.

In order to eradicate poverty in the United States, we need to work together. We need to invest in people, providing them with the necessary skills and resources. As a result, they can better provide for themselves and their families. Contact your congressional representatives, serve your community or buy from a local small business. These are all simple things that you can do to assist in the fight against poverty at home.

-Aaron Parr

Photo: Ivarfjeld

Ghana

The Government of Ghana will be expanding the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty, or the LEAP program, which will provide cash grants to 216 districts in demand of basic needs.

The Government of Ghana has been focusing on poverty alleviation by accomplishing the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. One of these goals included introducing the National Social Protection Strategy, (NSPS).

The NSPS works to achieve government objectives by providing protections to people living in extreme poverty, susceptibility and marginalization. There are three main components to the strategy, which include: a grant scheme which provides secure incomes to vulnerable households, social protection programs and complimentary inputs for those that currently receive benefits from social protection programs.

Sprouting the NSPS, the LEAP program has flourished. Developed in 2008, the LEAP program is a cash transfer program that works to enable those disadvantaged and vulnerable populations living in extreme poverty throughout Ghana.

The Government of Ghana projects that the LEAP program will reach 216 districts by the end of the year. Currently, the program resides in 186 districts.

Mr. Eugene Nuamah, the Operations Office of the Ministry of Gender and Children, spoke in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Mr. Nuamah explained that farmers were particularly affected by a recent fire disaster. The farmers received money to replenish their destroyed crops under the Emergency LEAP Cash Transfer program.

The goal o the Emergency LEAP Cash Transfer program is to provide necessary grants, which address the needs of affected households. Mr. Nuamah also advised farmers to take fire precautions to avoid future crop destructions.

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture additionally works towards ensuring that farmers receive crop seeds to replenish their harvests as soon as possible. Some of the most demanded seeds are cocoa and plantain.

Since its introduction in 2008, the LEAP program has expanded its beneficiary households from 1,654 to 250,000. By the end of the 2016, the program projects that it will reach 350,000 household enrollments throughout Ghana.

The households that will be selected to enroll as beneficiaries to the LEAP program will be determined by a nationwide monitoring exercise. This strategy has been used in the past, as research showed that local economies of LEAP communities were thriving. Children were attending school at a higher rate and more people had access to health care.

In addition, the LEAP program has been modernizing its program through the introduction of electronic payments. The Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement System allows beneficiaries to use online payment platforms to ensure greater control over the management of grant funds.

LEAP beneficiaries will have the chance to enroll for online payments. They will be available in all LEAP districts to replace the manual system of transferring cash grants, increasing the efficiency and security of cash transfers.

The LEAP program is administered by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and managed by the Department of Social Welfare.

Kimber Kraus

Photo: Flickr

The Clinton Foundation
Bill Clinton will always be remembered first and foremost for his eight years in the White House, but he has another legacy that deserves just as much attention: The Clinton Foundation.

Founded in 1997 with a focus on Little Rock, Arkansas, the foundation has grown into an international powerhouse that has raised more than $2 billion to fund charity work around the world.

Like most ex-presidents, Clinton initially faded from the public eye. According to the Washington Post, he spent much of his time watching TiVo. Then, in 2002, he moved the Clinton Foundation to Harlem, New York, following Hillary Clinton’s successful election bid for U.S. Senate.

The foundation brought in consultants from Booz Allen Hamilton to give advice to small business owners in the local community, and the projects piled on from there. Using his celebrity power, Clinton was able to consistently recruit top-notch partners. Besides Booz Allen, he also brought in Princeton Review to bolster local students’ SAT scores.

It was not until 2002, however, that Clinton’s international work began. He met an old friend, former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, at an AIDS conference. Mandela reminded Clinton of a promise he made while still in office, a promise to help Africa after he left.

That promise materialized into the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI). According to the Clinton Foundation Website, CHAI has helped reduce the cost of lifesaving HIV/AIDS medication from $10,000 annually for one patient to only $100 to $200. This has helped over eight million people in developing countries, many of them in Africa, afford medication without which they’d die.

CHAI was so successful that it became its own organization, but the Clinton Foundation actively promotes nine other initiatives: the Clinton Climate Initiative, the Clinton Development Initiative, the Clinton Foundation in Haiti, the Clinton Glustra Enterprise Partnership, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, the Clinton Presidential Center and Too Small to Fail and No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project.

The Clinton Foundation is unique in that its initiatives are its own. It consists of over 2,000 employees that serve both as administrators and field workers. As such, it operates more as a nonprofit consulting firm than a grant-making agency. A New York Times story from 2015, for example, reports that the group’s work in Rwanda includes such diverse efforts as teaching farmers to double their yields, training nurses and specialists and supporting factories that turn soybeans into cooking oil.

Behind the power of the Clinton Foundation is Bill’s celebrity. As ex-President of the most powerful country in the world, he truly is a star among stars. With this power, he has been able to raise funds that few others on Earth could hope to achieve and partner with the best organizations to put the money to good use.

As the 2016 presidential election approaches, increasing scrutiny is being paid to the foundation. With Hillary as the first female President and Bill as the first “First Man,” some people would worry about influence-buying through the foundation. Still, the breadth and depth of the good work of the Clinton Foundation cannot be denied. Bill could’ve easily faded into the background after his presidency. Instead, he used his influence and recognition to benefit not just the United States, but the entire world.

Dennis Sawyers

Sources: New York Times, The Clinton Foundation, The Washington Post

supporting education for girls in developing countriesMichelle Obama recently spoke on the importance of education for girls in developing countries at the 2015 World Innovation Summit for Education in Qatar.

According to EFA Global Monitoring Report, there are 66 million girls out of school globally. There are 33 million fewer girls than boys in primary school.

Michelle Obama is traveling through the Middle East discussing the importance of education for girls in developing countries in order to promote “Let Girls Learn,” her girls’ education initiative. She encouraged men in developing countries to support the cause of educating girls in order to improve their societies.

 

Health Benefits of Supporting Education for Girls in Developing Countries

 

Education is one of the most significant ways that women can empower themselves, and educating women provides many benefits to developing countries.

Girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to be married as children. Women who are educated marry later and, therefore, have fewer children. Multiple studies show that an extra year of schooling for girls reduces fertility rate by five to 10 percent.

The children of an educated woman are more likely to survive. In addition, a child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of five.

Educated women are better at understanding and managing health issues, which reduces infant and maternal mortality.

 

Economic Benefits of Supporting Education for Girls in Developing Countries

 

Educating women also benefits the economy. According to chief Japan strategist and co-head of Asia Economics, “educated women contribute to the quality, size and productivity of the workforce. They can get better paying jobs, allowing them to provide daily necessities, health care and education to support their families.”

A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 percent more as an adult.

Bloomberg Business estimates a “growth premium” that would raise gross domestic product growth by 0.2 percent per year for countries such as Vietnam, Nigeria and Pakistan that put greater investments in female education. Narrowing the gender gap could raise income per capita 20 percent higher than what is projected by 2030.

According to The World Bank, if India enrolled one percent more girls in secondary school, its gross domestic product would rise by $5.5 billion.

Educating girls provides many significant benefits to developing countries and can help lift areas out of poverty. Education for girls will continue to improve conditions in developing countries across the globe.

Jordan Connell

Sources: Bloomberg Business, CNN, Girl Rising, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

fao_social_protection_program
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) updated its social protection plan by adding agricultural and rural development measures.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on reducing poverty have been met by many developing countries; however, there are still high levels of extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Evidence has shown that the three elements of the FAO social protection program: social assistance, social insurance and labor market protection, are very effective in reducing poverty and hunger.

In 2013, the program helped relieve up to 150 million people out of extreme poverty.

The most common form of social protection in developing countries is social assistance, which provides conditional or unconditional cash transfers to households and individuals.

These incentives account for large income losses and lack of savings when farmers are unable to produce enough to survive.

“Most of the world’s poor and hungry continue to live in rural area. According to the World Bank, about 78 percent of the planet’s poor are found in rural areas”, stated FAO Assistant Director-General Jomo Kwame Sundaram.

Rural households depend on subsistence agriculture to survive; the cash incentives provided by the FAO have proven to encourage households to invest in the education and health of their children.

These acts help end the generational cycle of poverty and bring FAO closer to achieving the first “Zero-Hunger Generation” goal.

The FAO social protection program has also allowed impoverished rural farmers in developing countries to weather the effects of external shocks such as floods, pests, droughts and price volatility.

José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, stated that “With climate change, the shocks happen year after year; it eats away at the capacity of rural poor to cope with it.

Social protection offers poor families a kind of buffer to protect them from external shocks.”

The most recent edition of The State of Food and Agriculture 2015 explains how the addition of agricultural and rural development measures to the social protection program will sustainably move people out of poverty and hunger.

The report illustrates that agricultural input subsidies, such as fertilizer, have been well received across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

There was an increase in food and fertilizer costs in 2007-2008, so the FAO agricultural incentive was instrumental in providing food security for rural households.

The report also addresses the issue of credit and how little of it is allocated to agricultural needs.

It goes on to emphasize that “leveraging public expenditure on agriculture and social programs” is imperative in strengthening agricultural and rural development.

Agricultural incentives and credit fosters independence amongst rural farmers. They become more financially capable and are able to manage household risks.

Providing credit also allows poor rural farmers to make investments in livestock and machinery, therefore increasing their productivity and income.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: BBC, FAO
Photo: Google Images

avenues of communicationRosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bill Gates all started their own movements to create social change. Without their influential work, the face of society would have a different set of rules. Truly, the world would be unrecognizable. During a time before the invention of the Internet, these influential thinkers had to convince society and the government that their way of thinking should be the norm.

This sounds easier than it appears, but when one person stands up for their beliefs, many people agree and follow. Because of rallies, speeches and protests, the government listened to the people and took action. Thanks to the Internet, there are now more avenues of communication than ever before in human history. Now, people can start a social movement with a simple stroke of the keyboard.

A website called Change.org has changed the lives and social construct of people around the world. Founded in 2007, Change.org connects people across geographical and cultural borders to support causes people to care about and want justice. What makes the organization so successful and popular is that anyone can start a petition, and with the link, people with access to the Internet can electronically sign the particular petition. As of today, Change.org created a platform that has launched 14,707 victories in 196 countries. And nearly every hour, a petition on Change.org achieves victory. Every hour, a petition’s victory could be one step closer to strengthening global education or solving global poverty.

As people around the world continue to connect through the Internet, social media has become a platform to start or raise awareness for social change, especially through hashtags. Using a hashtag can spark a connection and prompt people to learn more about a particular movement. Through celebrity influence, more awareness is also raised if celebrities who support the cause tweet or post the hashtag. This method brings fans together to help the cause.

With so many avenues of communication, social change is possible and can be accomplished because anyone can create change. Through sheer determination, a social movement can end with social change.

Alexandra Korman

Sources: Change, Chase, Forbes
Photo: Change

Transitioning from Aid to Domestic Resource Mobilization
They say that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. However, for developing countries, the latter might not be such a sure thing. In fact, effective tax policies, often referred to as domestic resource mobilization (DRM), are one of the biggest development issues facing poorer nations.

Without it, they may remain dependent on aid and unable to adequately meet the needs of their citizens, trapped in a cycle of poorly funded, haphazard social programs partially administrated by foreign donors. If the goal of aid is to create a world in which no one needs it, domestic resource mobilization may represent poor countries’ golden ticket to financial independence.

Domestic resource mobilization is essentially both a strategy and development outcome, in which a country becomes capable of funding its own social programs. Aid strategies variously focus on different indicators of development, such as improved health, education, or business opportunity. However, the purpose of domestic resource mobilization is to empower a developing country to improve these indicators using its own financial and administrative resources.

Obviously, this can be a huge challenge. Taxes in some countries can be unenforceable, insupportable, poorly allocated, or dissipated due to corruption. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, simply reaching a large rural population is a barrier in and of itself, not to mention negotiating a socially sustainable level of taxation for those living off the grid in poverty.

In countries such as Nigeria, which has one of the worst levels of inequality and corruption, a great deal of tax income is squandered by shady officials, rather than redistributed to those living in extreme poverty.

According to the 2011 report by African Economic Outlook, revenue sources in sub-Saharan Africa grew from $100 billion in 2000 to about $513 billion in 2011. To put those numbers in perspective, official development assistance (ODA) grew from only $20 billion to $60 billion in the same time period.

Simply put, the amount of potential tax revenue far outweighs foreign funding of development programs. And those figures represent only known sources; many businesses and potential revenue streams lie outside the formal economy.

A lack of domestic resource mobilization fosters dependency on aid, which is why this technique has been acquiring greater importance for international donors in recent years. In April of 2014, developing countries and international policy-makers met in Mexico City to address, among other things, effective domestic resource mobilization.

There was a general consensus on the importance of DRM, with developing countries’ ministers calling for an increase in support from aid donors towards that end. For those at the conference, DRM represented a win-win; aid donors benefit from a potential scale-down of funding, while developing countries increase their governance capabilities while independently enhancing their own development goals.

More recently, at the Financing for Development conference in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, DRM was clearly a priority. Around 120 of 151 speeches by the foreign ministers in attendance at least mentioned domestic resource mobilization.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as their foreign counterparts from Germany, the U.K. and elsewhere, even composed a policy initiative to advance the goal of achieving domestic resource mobilization in aid-recipient countries.

The initiative, dubbed Addis Tax Initiative, initially drew 30 members which agreed to a set of policy outcomes. Among those outcomes was a commitment that aid donors would double financial support to develop DRM, that members would compose a set of key DRM goals, and that countries would institute DRM policies which are harmonious with those of other developing countries.

The potential for DRM to transform a developing country’s condition can be neatly illustrated by the relationship between USAID and the country of Georgia. USAID began, in the early 2000s, to target border and customs tax compliance practices in the country.

The program was designed to increase a legitimate tax base, cut down on corruption, and improve collection efficiency. Over the nine-year duration of the program, the country managed to increase its tax base to 12 percent of its GDP, as well as reduce the rate of corruption (in the form of collected bribes) by about 30 percent.

While improving domestic resource mobilization is not the be-all, end-all of development and poverty reduction, it certainly should be the focus of a comprehensive development portfolio. Enhancing aid recipients’ ability to manage its own financial resources as well as improve the strength of its governance is essential to reducing the need for aid and lifting people out of poverty finally and sustainably.

Derek Marion

Sources: CSIS, Devex, African Economic Outlook
Photo: Flickr

peru
Poverty rates in Peru have dropped significantly over the past four years. Specifically, extreme poverty rates among those with non-social assistance-based income have dropped from 32.8 percent to 24.1 percent in the poorest, most rural parts of the country. While Peru has faced its fair share of challenges, progress is being made.

Ana Revenga, the Senior Director of the Poverty Reduction Unit of the World Bank, recently stated that Peru’s economic growth and poverty reduction is one of the best in the region. Revenga explained, “The significant and sustained growth of the Peruvian GDP benefited the poorest, which resulted in a decrease in inequality.”

These impressive economic improvements throughout the country have come as a result of a major collective effort. In particular, a variety of social initiatives have proven to be key in combating extreme poverty and inequality.

Programs like the National Strategy for Development and Social Inclusion — or “Incluir para Crecer” — are working to close gaps in available public services. Perhaps even more importantly, this type of social program works to expand exclusive economic growth that neglects to help those suffering most severely.

As the country strives to continue moving forward, additional programs like Juntos and Pension 65 will be offering support to Peru’s poorest population. These programs will be working to ensure the longevity of recent improvements in the economic and living conditions of the extremely poor.

The Juntos program has directly contributed to the reduction in child malnutrition under the country’s current government. Within the framework of the program, conditional transfers of state subsidy guarantee good health and growth for unborn and young children alike.

Amongst Peru’s rural population, child chronic malnutrition has declined from 37 percent to 28.8 percent. At the national level, it has dropped from 19.5 percent from just four years ago to 14 percent in 2015. This number is encouragingly close to the 10 percent target set for the end of the current administration period.

The country’s Minister of Development and Social Inclusion, Paola Bustamante recently stated that since 2012, there has been over $1 billion invested in these types of social programs.

She explained that all social programs are implemented under a performance-based budgeting framework, which prevents funds from being used for other purposes besides social programs.

However, despite the above mentioned critical steps in the right direction, Peru is still facing its fair share of structural challenges. In early July 2015,  the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development requested that Peru review and reorganize its denomination of rural and urban regions.

Such obstacles have not significantly curtailed the rates of improvement in poverty reduction and inequality, however. In fact, Bustamante Suarez, another government official, has assured the public that current social inclusion policy will most definitely be continued by subsequent administrations.

Strategically targeted social initiatives will continue to level the economic playing field. As explained by Suarez, these programs will continuously work to close basic services gaps, thus improving the living conditions of the poor population. Peru still has a long road ahead, but leaders are confident that it will come out on top.

– Sarah Bernard

Sources: Andina, Peru This Week
Photo: Peace and Hope International