Newsmakers, December 15, 2016

Air Date:
Heard On Newsmakers
Grace Jones and David Bradley
Grace Jones and David Bradley
  John Davis/WPR

Couleecap turns 50-

Despite a lack of discussion about poverty during the 2016 Presidential election, the head of a Washington, D.C. organization that lobbies Congress on poverty issues said its only a matter of time before poverty becomes an agenda item for politicians across the country.

The 2016 Wisconsin Poverty Report produced by the Institute for Research on Poverty at UW-Madison found that despite the creation of thousands of new jobs in the state, the poverty rate remains essentially the same as the last report at 10.8 percent.

David Bradley, CEO of the National Community Action Foundation, (NCAF) said businesses large and small are stepping forward across the nation looking for ways to reduce poverty. He’s also encouraged that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate are interested in reducing poverty.

“I truly believe history runs in cycles,” said Bradley. “I think that we are entering a cycle now that those left out and left behind, their concerns are going to have to be looked at and addressed.”

The NCAF represents about 900 regional community action agencies across the country and lobbies members of Congress to preserve federal funding for poverty programs which amount to about 1 percent of the federal budget

Bradley said U.S. economic policy in recent years has been about denying opportunity and creating through policies and inaction more people who are either in poverty or one or two steps away from being in poverty.

“I think the middle class is shrinking and I think that explains a lot of the Trump supporters for instance, people that the economic recovery has left them out and behind for years,” Bradley said. “Upward mobility is not a cornerstone of our economy the way it has been, and so people falling to the lower rungs of the economic ladder continues to increase.”

Couleecap is the community action agency that offers help to people living at or near poverty in La Crosse, Vernon, Crawford and Monroe Counties in southwestern Wisconsin. Executive Director Grace Jones said the poverty rate is 10-13 percent in the counties they serve, but the rate of poverty among children is as high as 25 percent in Vernon County.

She said a recent statewide report shows 42 percent of Wisconsin residents are on the brink of poverty.

“Because of the rising cost of housing, because of stagnating wages, a lower income worker can make it but what can throw them off course is something like a huge car repair bill or medical bill,” Jones said. “If they pay the car bill so they can keep getting to work, they may not have the money for rent, and soon they’re getting evicted and then they’re homeless.”

Bradley visited La Crosse in late October to help Couleecap celebrate it’s 50th anniversary. Many community action agencies across the country have been crossing that milestone. They were created after President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty in January of 1964.

Editor’s note: David Bradley made his comments before the presidential election.

John Davis

Episode Credits

  • Hope Kirwan Host
  • John Davis Producer
  • Grace Jones Guest
  • David Bradley Guest
  • James Loewen Guest