Working to end the cycle of poverty
In 2009, POWER-PAC leaders began work to address the particularly harsh impact of the financial crisis and Great Recession on low-income families and develop and participate in strategies aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty. Since then, they have partnered with advocacy organizations in the Illinois Asset Building Group (IABG) to win major legislative and administrative changes through their Stepping Out of Poverty Campaign.
POWER-PAC hosted community forums and financial literacy workshops, collected research and real-life stories and is building a constituency of families who are advocating for practical ways to remove obstacles and build incentives for long-term savings, increasing the minimum wage, improving financial literacy, and more.
POWER-PAC is advocating for Universal Children’s Savings Accounts, which would be opened for each child in Illinois upon their birth and to which families can contribute over the years. When the child turns 18, they can then use the account for educational purposes. Studies show that children who have savings accounts have increased hopes and aspirations for going to college. POWER-PAC parents think education is critical in breaking the cycle of poverty.
With partners, parents also helped pass legislation on payroll cards, eliminating the fees associated with the cards that nickel and dime families. They worked to increase the minimum wage in Chicago and helped eliminate asset limits for families receiving TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) so that families can actually save money for their futures. And they are working to raise consciousness and advocate for policies that end the racial and gender wealth gaps.
Stepping Out of Poverty Campaign in the News
- 43% of African-American female-headed households and 46% of Latina-headed households live in poverty.
- African-Americans and Latino families own less than a dime of wealth for every dollar white families own.
- 15% of families live below the poverty line and 27% do not have the assets to survive financially for three months if faced with an emergency.
- Children are six times more likely to attend college if they know someone is saving for their future and supporting their dreams.
- A college degree gives a young person more opportunities to build wealth over a lifetime, yet only 3% of Chicago City College students ever receive any college credits and overall 40% of City College students fail.
- Support policies such as a public-supported Children’s Savings Account program that helps low-income families save for college.
- Eliminate asset tests and asset limits in all public benefit programs to incentivize savings.
- Support expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and increasing the minimum wage to increase family income now.
- Improve access to free or affordable banking services for those who don’t use or have access to banks.
- Encourage lending institutions and other community-based solutions such as lending circles to offer affordable alternatives to payday loans and help families to work together to save.
- Expand financial literacy programs for both adults and children.
- Expand advising and other student services at Chicago City Colleges to maximize student participation and graduation rate in GED, college and job training programs.
In 2009, POWER-PAC, in partnership with the Illinois Asset Building Group, hosted a forum, “POWER-PAC’s Response to the Financial Crisis,” where they provided financial literacy how-to’s, resources around the Earned Income Tax Credit and other public benefit programs, and training on the historical context of the growth of the racial wealth gap in the U.S.
By 2010, parents succeeded, with legislative partners, in winning the creation of a Legislative Task Force to explore Children’s Savings Accounts in Illinois.
In 2011, parents collected and videotaped stories of families that have had to spend down savings in order to qualify for public benefits programs and parents testified about these experiences at national and state gatherings on asset building advocacy. Two years later, parents and their partners won the passage of new legislation to eliminate asset limitations in Illinois’ Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.
POWER-PAC and its partners also persuaded the Illinois Comptroller to allow ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Numbers—used by undocumented immigrants) to be used to open College 529 Savings accounts in Illinois. They got the City of Chicago and 10 local banks to provide a new program offering free or affordable banking services for low-income and immigrant families.
Over the past several years, POWER-PAC leaders have co-hosted financial literacy classes for over 75 parents in Chicago and Racial Wealth Gap Roundtables across Illinois to build the coalition around asset building policies. In 2014, POWER-PAC surveyed its own members about economic security issues and learned that:
- 69% of the families live on less than $20,000 per year.
- Most report that their monthly expenses exceed their monthly income
- 45% are not employed, and
- 40% live with exorbitant levels of debt largely from medical bills and student loans.
In 2014, parents redoubled their efforts to support a raise in the minimum wage in Chicago (passed) and Illinois (advisory referendum passed but state legislation did not yet).