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Groundbreaking Poll of People In/Near Poverty Finds Bipartisan Consensus: Government Could End Poverty, Hunger If It Chose to Do So, by Making Work Pay and Making Basic Expenses Affordable
Low Wages, High Cost of Living, Meager Benefits Programs Put Upward Mobility, Security Out of Reach
Living Wages, Health Care, Housing Top the List of Priorities
Government Benefits Seen as Insufficient; Benefits Cliffs and Burdensome Application Systems Hamper Peoples’ Ability to Move from Poverty to Security
Advocates Call on Political, Business Leaders to Respond to the Vast Majority of Voters:
“Make the American Dream a Reality Again”
Leading Elected Officials Cite Importance of Findings
One of the most detailed polls of low-income Americans in modern times found that most people living in or near poverty have multiple barriers preventing them from getting ahead, but agree upon a wide range of policy solutions to poverty and hunger that reward work and boost economic opportunity and mobility.
The poll found that many Americans struggling economically have low-paying jobs and can’t find better ones, lost income due to the pandemic, and have lost family income due to illness or disabilities. Out of ten barriers to mobility, more than half of respondents faced three or more of them.
The poll also found broad consensus among low-income Americans from rural, suburban, and urban areas, as well as from Americans of all races, for policies that would: hike the federal minimum wage, guarantee living wage jobs to all adults, ease access to government benefits and banking services, increase spending on SNAP (formerly called food stamps), and eliminate rules under which people lose all their benefits as soon as they work more hours or get a raise. Previous polling has found that Republicans, Independents, and Democrats alike support such policies, particularly expanding the SNAP program.
Asked about the statement, “The U.S. government should enact the policies and programs necessary to end U.S. hunger by ensuring that all Americans can afford and access sufficient, nutritious, culturally compatible food,” 45 percent strongly agreed, 28 percent somewhat agreed, 14 percent neither agreed nor disagreed, five percent somewhat disagreed, and two percent strongly disagreed. In other words, 73 percent wanted the U.S. government to take the steps necessary to end U.S. hunger, 10 times the number who did not.
In today’s survey of low-income Americans, 67 percent agree that “If the U.S. government decided to spend as much as necessary, we could eliminate U.S. poverty, homelessness, and hunger.,” including 41 percent who strongly agreed and 26 percent who somewhat agreed (15 percent neither agreed nor disagreed, 7 percent somewhat disagreed, and 5 percent strongly disagreed). In other words, low-income Americans believe that the government could choose to solve these problems, if leaders made it a priority to do so.
The poll also found strong support for reviving the spirt of the original G.I. Bill by enabling any Americans willing to perform a year of domestic national serve to receive a large post-service voucher to pay for higher education, to buy a first home, or to start a business.
The poll was conducted on behalf of Hunger Free America by Kupersmit Research, a Colorado-based strategic research firm, in November using a random online survey with the Dynata Online Panel. A random sample of 807 Americans (587 of whom were ages 18-64 and 220 of whom were ages 65+) with household incomes of $50,000 or below completed the full poll. Kupersmit Research also conducted four follow-up focus groups with low-income Americans from around the country, which reinforced the central findings of the poll. The complete poll questions and findings can be found at: https://www.hungerfreeamerica.org/policyviewspoll.
Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a national anti-hunger direct service and advocacy organization, said: “Even before the pandemic, nearly one in five Americans lived near or below the poverty line, pushing the great American middle class closer and closer to extinction. In the last election, virtually the only thing that united the most pro-Trump rural counties and the most pro-Biden cities was high levels of poverty and low levels of income. Instead of assuming we knew what people in and near poverty were going through and what policies they wanted, we asked them. We found from this new ground-breaking research that most low-income Americans face multiple barriers to getting ahead. The good news is that we also found that low-income Americans of all parties, regions, and races broadly agree upon a bold policy agenda for government to make work pay and ensure that everyone has high-quality, affordable health care, housing, and food. We hope the incoming Biden-Harris Administration can find common ground with the incoming Congress to make such goals a reality. The business community should also step up to the plate and pledge to pay all workers a living wage. It’s time to make the American dream a reality again.”
Benjamin Kupersmit, president of Kupersmit Research, said, “Low-income Americans are sending a clear message to elected officials in both parties. First, they demand government intervention to raise wages, to lower costs and remove barriers to basic necessities, starting with health care. Second, they want to reform the safety net so these programs are expanded to be sufficient and re-designed with compassion and dignity for people working as hard as they can, or facing significant disability or illness.”
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said, “Even before the pandemic, it was expensive to be poor in America. Now, the economic crisis has exacerbated inequalities and made the barriers to financial security even harder to overcome for many low-income families. This poll provides important evidence that federal action must be taken to ensure hardworking Americans earn a living wage, have access to quality, affordable health care, and can afford to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Helping families overcome poverty should not be a partisan issue and I will continue working across the aisle to support those struggling to make ends meet.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has severely exacerbated our nation’s hunger crisis and shined a stark light on just how fragile food accessibility is, particularly for low-income families,” said Congressman Joe Morelle. “Especially now, it’s critical that we take action to address the growing food insecurity in our communities and eliminate the barriers that hold people back from receiving the resources and benefits they need and deserve. I’m proud to be working alongside Senator Gillibrand, Hunger Free America, and our many partners to identify solutions and enact policies like the HOPE Act to ensure no one is left behind.”
“This data should be a wake-up call for policymakers across the country: tackling hunger and poverty is not and should not be a partisan issue. There are common-sense solutions that enjoy broad support from voters that we can find common ground on,” said Congressman Jim McGovern. “Covid-19 has magnified so many of the existing inequities we face. It’s held a mirror up to America and forced us to confront the hard truth that we are more unequal right now than ever before. As more families are pushed to the breaking point, this research points towards a concrete policy agenda that Republicans and Democrats alike should coalesce around as we work to expand economic mobility and opportunity for all.”
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge said, “Today, hunger, poverty and inequality are all on the rise across America. This new poll not only identifies the barriers low-income Americans face to getting ahead, it also shows there is broad agreement on the policy solutions that would give them a hand up during this difficult time. From raising the minimum wage and ensuring access to health care to boosting SNAP benefits, these are commonsense solutions that Congress can act on now to help struggling families put food on the table. Rising hunger in America is a moral and policy failure – addressing it should never be a partisan issue.”
Chef, TV Host, and A Place at the Table Co-Founder Tom Colicchio said, “Hunger Free America’s new data reinforces what I already know from my decades working in an and managing restaurants: Americans work their tails off to get ahead and need – and deserve – to be paid a living wage in order to achieve upward mobility. We need public policies that ensure both small businesses, including restaurants, and their workers can survive and thrive.”
Joel Berg added: “Struggling Americans desperately want society to ensure that, when they work hard, they not only are able to meet basic living expenses, but that they are also able to buy their own homes, start their own small businesses, send their kids to college, and set aside sufficient funds for a comfortable retirement. They understand the importance of moving from owing to owning. That’s why policy makers should thus advance a broad ‘Aspiration Empowerment/Middle-Class Wealth Generation Agenda,’ which would give all families the opportunity to advance their dreams through learning, earning, and saving their way out of poverty. I am hardly naïve enough to think that these economic and social policies will, in and of themselves, bridge the nation’s vast racial and cultural divides built up over decades. But equally helping people in both urban and rural communities to advance is a darn good start.”
Read the full press release: