I am a mother. I am an advocate for women. I am a woman of faith concerned about poverty in this country.
As a member of the Poor People’s Campaign, I am rallying with poor people in claiming their economic human rights. Those rights are further endangered due to proposed changes to the consumer inflation measures proposed by federal statistical agencies.
The Office of Management and Budget is considering changing the way inflation is measured in calculating the poverty rate. Moving to either the Chained Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers (Chained CPI-U) or the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCEPI) will have a far-reaching adverse effect on women, children and youth because inflation would be measured more slowly over time. The effect will be that the costs of goods and services will rise while support for families to meet those costs will stay at the same rate over a longer period of time.
Since many women are heads of households, this proposed change would be disastrous for families working jobs that pay below a living wage.
As an executive at the United Methodist Women — an organization with a 150-year history of serving women, children and youth — I am concerned about women’s ability to thrive and care for their families given this change.
The Campaign for Human Needs notes that both alternative inflation indexes “assume that consumers substitute cheaper items for comparable items whose prices have risen.” However, “the substitutions assumed in the Chained CPI or PCEPI do not reflect the experience of low-income consumers. Low-income people do not have the option to reduce their costs in the same way other consumers do, because they are already forced to select only the cheapest items.”
The Office of Management and Budget has proposed these changes without pausing to conduct in-depth research and analysis on the effects of the changes on low-income women and their families. Translation: people of means and resources are proposing major policy changes without first seeking input and comment from affected people and the groups who work on their behalf. With an accounting trick, millions of poor people will “disappear” from the roles. They are either unaware or unbothered by the disproportionate effect these changes will have on women and their families.
Since many beneficiaries of nutrition assistance programs and health insurance programs are women, and many of them, women with children, women will bear the brunt of hardship for policy proposals that they had no say in creating. Yet, over time, millions of women could become ineligible for critical programs — CHIP, SNAP, Medicaid, Head Start, subsidies for Marketplace health plans, prescription drug subsidies, school nutrition programs, legal services and more — for themselves, their children and their families.
There is another problem with this change: the poverty line is presently well below a living wage, or the wage that allows families to meet their basic needs for economic stability. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator, an adult with two children living in Ohio, for example, would need to earn $10 per hour to reach the poverty wage, but would need $27 per hour to reach a living wage for the household. Ohio’s minimum wage of $8.30 does not even reach the poverty line for that household.
Americans on average report that it would take at least $55,000 in annual income to be considered out of poverty. That is more than TWICE the current poverty threshold. To lower the threshold further would devastate many different populations — women, children, youth, people in poverty, etc.
One of the reasons, United Methodist Women launched a “Living Wage for All Campaign,” is because we understand that some families cannot meet their basic needs with dignity. Our campaign is advocating for a solution that builds the base for a living wage through legislation at both state and federal levels, so all families can earn a living wage without having to work two or three jobs. Those already struggling to make ends meet must not be shoved further into the deep end of the pool.
The water analogy is particularly appropriate. Women and families living in poverty are like beleaguered swimmers stranded in an expansive body of water and seeking a lifeline, only to have the people with the means to help, tell them to swim farther to get to the shore.
As an organization with more than 100 National Mission Institutions serving local communities across the country, we know firsthand how the changes in inflation measures would be. Our centers already serving communities living in poverty are stretched thin. They see need up close and personal.
Carol Burnett, the executive director of one the Moore Community House in Biloxi, Mississippi, said cutting programs or eligibility for even one family would affect not just their family’s current, basic well-being but also their future ability to survive and succeed.
OMB must move slowly, conduct research that builds on current research, and solicit input on potential effects, with an adequate period for comment on that information. You can let your senators and representative know about this pending accounting change and urge them to file a comment with OMB.