In 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders launched the Poor People’s Campaign to combat the “Triplets of Evil” — systemic racism, poverty, and militarism.

Fifty years after the original inception, Bishop William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis revived the movement with a modern-day Poor People’s Campaign, and in 2018 joined with the Institute for Policy Studies to produce a report that detailed the ways systemic injustices have only deepened since 1968. 

Last week, the groups released a follow-up set of ‘fact sheets’ that details the most recent U.S. data on a number of critical issues: extreme wealth inequality, voter suppression, access to healthcare, ecological devastation, discriminatory laws, and rampant military spending, including individualized statistics for all 50 states and D.C.

The report highlights that while billionaire wealth grew by $1.5 trillion during 2020-2022, one-third of Americans (some 112 million people) lived in poverty or low-income households, earning less than $15 an hour.

“We can’t and we won’t be silent about this crisis anymore.”

As pandemic-era aid programs began to expire, poverty levels began to rise once again, proving that “poverty in the richest country in the world is a policy choice.” Subsequent budget cuts to social welfare programs, inflation, and low wages have combined to make it increasingly difficult for Americans to meet basic needs and avoid debt. Seventeen million people are at risk of becoming unhoused.

“The facts show that poverty is devastating, deadly, and cannot be denied as a major domestic problem that’s creating an impoverished democracy,” said Barber. “We are determined to push it to the forefront of Americans’ public policy agenda of change. We can’t and we won’t be silent about this crisis anymore.”

Despite having the highest healthcare expenditures in the world, the U.S. remains the only affluent nation without a universal healthcare system. Nearly 30 million Americans lack access to health insurance; those who are insured face the burden of exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses. According to the report, the discontinuation of pandemic-era measures has put more than 18 million individuals, including 5 million children, at risk of losing their Medicare benefits. The new data shows that 75% of workers (equivalent to 105 million people) do not receive paid family or medical leave; the figure rises to 92% for the lowest-paid workers.

The Poor People’s Campaign notes that a surge of attacks aimed at voting rights, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals has unfolded since 2020. This onslaught includes the introduction of over a thousand voter suppression bills across all 50 states, as well as the enactment of partial or full bans on abortion in at least 19 states following the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. Additionally, at least 555 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in 47 states nationwide.

The rights groups also examine the ongoing climate crisis, detailing “significant racial and economic disparities” in the effects of extreme heat, storms, rising sea levels, drought, and soaring utilities costs for energy and water.

The report notes that the funds Alabama taxpayers spend on nuclear weapons alone could cover Medicaid expenses for 171,573 children in the state.

With regard to budgetary concerns and excessive military spending, the groups criticize the budget’s allocation of resources. They observe that government spending to the tune of $21 trillion since 2001 has prioritized war, mass incarceration, and excessive policing. The report also highlights the contribution of anti-immigrant forces to increased violence, fear, and the criminalization of impoverished individuals. 

The data underscores that $1.1 trillion, or over 62%, of the 2023 discretionary budget is designated for expenditures on warfare, weaponry, law enforcement, mass incarceration, deportations, and detention. For perspective, the report notes that the funds Alabama taxpayers spend on nuclear weapons alone could cover Medicaid expenses for 171,573 children in the state.

The rights groups propose a series of measures ranging from a wealth tax targeting the 700 billionaires in the U.S., increasing the corporate tax rate to 28%, reducing the military budget by 10%, enacting Medicare for All, and reallocating funds from the military and border control to address pressing needs in renewable energy, affordable housing, clean water, and public health.

“This is not how it has to be,” the report concludes. “There is an abundance of wealth and resources to meet our basic needs and ensure we all survive and thrive.”

Click here for the 2023 National Fact Sheet and here to access each individual State Fact Sheet.

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