Bloomberg's Undelivered Poverty Speech

bloombergh 2 Bloomberg's Undelivered Poverty SpeechMichael Bloomberg got stuck on a tarmac in New York City yesterday, and didn’t deliver a speech on poverty at the N.A.A.C.P. convention in Cincinnati, Ohio as he was scheduled to do. But the prepared remarks of the speech he didn’t give show how Bloomberg was to spell out the shortcomings of the current formula the federal government uses to calculate poverty rates: “Right now, the federal government’s poverty formula tells us that the poverty threshold for a family of four is $20,000 – whether they live in Manhattan, New York or Manhattan, Kansas. This one-size-fits-all formula tells us about 19 percent of New York City residents are poor.

“But the cost of living is much higher than average in New York and many other cities, and our new formula takes that into account. As a result, we’ve found that the poverty threshold is $26,000 for a family of four in New York City – which puts 23 percent of New Yorkers below the poverty line.

In the speech, Bloomberg was to go on to say, “The only way to make more progress faster is to measure and monitor not only income levels, but all the factors that drive it. And that’ll let the public hold us accountable for results –as they should!

The speech — or, rather, the idea of it — serves a useful political purpose, placing Bloomberg in the role of innovator on yet another national issue, and setting the stage for a debate about the allocation of federal anti-poverty resources to cities like New York. The remarkable thing about it is that Bloomberg is basically asking for a statistical adjustment that would, by sharply increasing the number of residents considered to be living in poverty, make his mayoral record look considerably worse in this area — even as it allows him to take credit for making himself accountable.

Here’s the text of Bloomberg’s speech as it was prepared for delivery, courtesy of his office.

 

“Thank you, Roslyn, and good evening.

“During the first week of January 1909, something happened without which none of us would be gathered here today. Several founding members of the NAACP first met in my hometown, New York City. That very same week, something else happened without which certainly I wouldn’t be here today: My mother was born!

“And so next year, the NAACP and my mother will both turn 100 – and both are still going strong! We’re very excited that the great Julian Bond and the NAACP are bringing their birthday celebration to New York City next year. My mother, on the other hand, says that I’ll have to bring her celebration to her.

“For me, it’s fitting that the NAACP and one of my parents share a birthday, because when I was growing up, everything I learned about social justice and human rights began at the family dinner table.

“My father was a bookkeeper at a small dairy in Medford, Massachusetts. And one of the things I’ve always remembered is that every year, he’d sit down and write out a check to the NAACP. When I asked my father why, he explained that discrimination against any one group is really discrimination against us all.

“I can’t think of a simpler, more elegant explanation for why we all have a responsibility to stand up for each other – and do what we can to put the American Dream within reach of everyone.

“All of us have that responsibility – but so does government. And more and more, it’s city governments that are leading the charge. Mayor Mallory has shown that here in Cincinnati.

(more)

“In New York, we’ve cut crime by 20 percent and teen smoking by 52 percent. Taken together, these achievements are saving thousands of lives. With the help of Hazel Dukes and the NAACP’s New York branches, we’ve also reformed a broken school system. Graduation rates are up 20 percent and we’ve reduced the shameful achievement gap between students of different races – cutting it in half in fourth grade math.

“All of these challenges – crime, poor health, a lack of education – have a common denominator: poverty.

“Since its founding, the NAACP has led the way in fighting poverty and promoting economic opportunity. As Julian Bond has eloquently said in the past, poverty and the growing income gap in America threaten our core principle as a country of equal opportunity.

“In New York, we’re taking this very seriously. We just established a Center for Economic Opportunity and funded it with $150 million to pioneer new, effective strategies for breaking the cycle of poverty.

“But at the same time, if we’re serious about fighting poverty, we also have to start getting serious about measuring it. The current poverty measure hasn’t been updated since it was adopted in 1969 – when food made up about one-third of a poor family’s budget.

“Since then, as you all know, the economy has vastly changed. So has society, and so have government benefits. And food now makes up only one-eighth of a poor family’s budget.

“But the poverty formula hasn’t adjusted to any of these changes. So in Washington, while there’s a never-ending debate about how to confront poverty, there is hardly any clarity on who is actually poor. I spent most of my career in the private sector, and I’m a big believer in the saying, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’

“So over the past year, we’ve put together a team in New York City to develop a new-and-improved formula that gives us a more accurate picture of who is poor and what that word means – today – in 2008.

“The formula, which we just announced earlier this morning, takes into account costs that the federal formula ignores, as well as benefits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and subsidies for food and housing.

“Right now, the federal government’s poverty formula tells us that the poverty threshold for a family of four is $20,000 – whether they live in Manhattan, New York or Manhattan, Kansas. This one-size-fits-all formula tells us about 19 percent of New York City residents are poor.

“But the cost of living is much higher than average in New York and many other cities, and our new formula takes that into account. As a result, we’ve found that the poverty threshold is $26,000 for a family of four in New York City – which puts 23 percent of New Yorkers below the poverty line.

(more)

“Many of those falling below the line are working families. As we all know, real wages for those at the bottom of the economic ladder have been stagnant for decades. This is a major challenge – one that is largely driven by global economic forces.

“There are no short-term solutions. But over the long-term, governments can have a big impact on both income growth and standards of living – if we confront the problems traditionally associated with poverty. Street homelessness, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, short life expectancy, poor housing conditions, low high school graduation rates, and poor access to regular health care.

“Across America, cities and states have made important progress in each of these areas over the past few decades. As a result, standards of living for the poor have improved – but not enough.

“The only way to make more progress faster is to measure and monitor not only income levels, but all the factors that drive it. And that’ll let the public hold us accountable for results –as they should!

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“The whole nation is struggling with these same issues so over the coming months, we’ll share our information with other mayors who have been leaders on this issue, including Doug Palmer of Trenton.

“We’re also working with leaders in Congress – like Charlie Rangel, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. And we’re encouraging this year’s presidential candidates to put the discussion of poverty at the forefront of their campaigns.

“Of course, the NAACP has long been a leader in this discussion. For nearly a century, you’ve been on the frontlines of the fight for justice and equality for opportunity and empowerment.

“Together we can continue this vital work and do what the cynics say is impossible: Break the cycle of poverty – in this generation – and help all people redeem the promise of the American dream – the NAACP’s dream!

“My father would have loved nothing more.

“Thank you – and see you in New York City next year!”