NC JUSTICE NEWS: Raising the Minimum Wage + Medicaid Expansion + Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty Summit

August 14, 2012

TRUTH AND HOPE TOUR: Stories of struggle, plan for change at poverty summit

On August 11, leaders and participants of the Truth and Hope Poverty Tour gathered in Rocky Mount – alongside scholars, community leaders, advocates, and individuals directly affected by poverty – to hear and bear witness, and create a plan for change.

The summit featured a screening of a new documentary covering the 2,000 miles and 27 communities traveled throughout the tour. In the video, individuals in Wilmington, Hickory, Goldsboro, Hendersonville, Scotland Neck, Fayetteville, and Navassa – among many other towns and cities – described struggling to pay astronomical utility bills, being unable to afford proper health care, and having to resort to sleeping in the woods and under bridges, even when they are working at full-time jobs.

1.6 million North Carolinians live below the federal poverty line – if you lined them up shoulder to shoulder, they’d stretch from Raleigh to Washington DC and back again. The highest concentration of poverty resides in eastern North Carolina, with families of color hit hardest. Over 40 percent of African-American children in North Carolina live in poverty.

“The richest nation on earth has the highest poverty rate in the industrial world,” said Gene Nichol, director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. “The U.S. talks the most about inequality and does the least to fix it."

Rev. William J. Barber, President of the NC NAACP, described how the U.S. suffered from “attention-violence” toward the poor. “Political debates only talk about middle and upper income class, as if poor didn’t exist,” Rev. Barber said. “This isn’t a conservative or liberal problem, a Democratic or Republican problem. This is an American problem.”

The event was hosted by the NC State Conference of the NAACP, the Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the NC Justice Center, AARP North Carolina, and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University.

MINIMUM WAGE: Raising federal minimum would help workers, economy

In July, Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would include an increase in the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $9.80 by 2014 through three incremental increases of $0.85.

The result? 28 million workers would receive higher earnings that they could spend immediately, therefore providing a much-needed boost for the economy and potentially creating thousands of jobs across both the U.S. and North Carolina. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that workers would receive nearly $40 billion in additional wages during the phase-in period, during which the GDP would increase by roughly $25 million and approximately 100,000 new jobs would be created.

What would the federal minimum wage increase mean for North Carolina? For starters, approximately 646,000 workers would receive a wage increase, and an additional 269,000 workers would be indirectly affected as employer pay scales are adjusted upward to reflect the new minimum wage. The state minimum wage is currently matched with the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, with North Carolina’s full-time minimum-wage workers earning a total of only $290.00 per week – approximately $15,080.00 per year before taxes. According to the Budget and Tax Center’s Living Income Standard, the typical North Carolina family of three actually needs $41,920 to afford basic expenses.

Increasing the federal minimum wage would boost North Carolina’s economy, and make all the difference for North Carolinians struggling to stay out of poverty in the wake of the Great Recession.

MEDICAID: Why expansion is so important

Adam Searing, director of the North Carolina Justice Center's Health Access Coalition, recently made a strong case in the Raleigh News & Observer for expanding Medicaid for North Carolinians in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.

"Thanks to the hard, behind-the-scenes work of many health leaders, from hospital directors to consumer advocates, the N.C. Institute of Medicine has developed a plan to make reform work for North Carolinians (see, easing the way for tax credits so families and businesses can purchase coverage, strengthening our community health system and making it easy for people to sign up for a health plan if they are self-employed or work in a small business that doesn’t already provide coverage.

North Carolina and other states have one more decision to make, however, as a result of the Supreme Court ruling – whether or not to extend Medicaid benefits to the lowest-income adults as part of the Affordable Care Act.

For North Carolina and moderate states with a long history of advancing innovative health programs, this decision will be easy. Morally, leaving 500,000 of our poorest fellow citizens uninsured while we move forward with tax credits to help make coverage more affordable for middle-class families is an unthinkable step for most of us. A family of three would have to be making less than $2,116 a month in total income before they would qualify for Medicaid under the expansion; that family deserves affordable health coverage just as much as anyone else."

Continue reading at the News & Observer website.


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