Under the Obama administration, in 2015, poverty rates, income, and health coverage all moved in the right direction. This was the first time this had happened since 1999. At this early stage in the new Trump administration, many of the systems that comprise the safety net are facing if not existential threats, then at least dramatic change. These changes could unfold rapidly and simultaneously across multiple systems introducing historic “shock” to the overall economy and safety net.
As the country and the branches of government struggle over this historic turn, local public agencies and non-profits are wondering how to prepare for potential changes that may be coming and it is difficult to know how to do so at this early stage. One thing we can do is to make sure that we understand where key safety net elements that support low-income individuals and families stand. Some of the important areas to watch that will impact poverty include but are not limited to the following:
Workforce and wages: While President Trump has ambitious job goals, they are unlikely to be met given current full employment. In fact, achieving his goals would require ‘massive immigration or the return to the labor market of elderly Americans.’ Despite full employment, many Californians are low-wage workers living in poverty. While California and many cities have a rising minimum wage, this alone is insufficient to pull workers out of poverty.
Health Care: If the ACA is repealed the number of people without health insurance in California will jump 146% and 4,887,000 Californians will lose their health insurance. Added health care costs and decreased/ lost of subsidies could contribute to a rise in poverty and a decline in economic security in California.
Childcare: While California is supporting state sponsored preschool expansion of these programs has slowed and is not meeting current need. One of the key sources of childcare funding for low-income families, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, has declined as a resource and is insufficient to meet the need of California families that qualify. In California Proposition 10 tobacco tax funds that have been invested in early childhood programs for over a decade are declining, and at this time there is no funding stream to replace it. Just as the research showing the critical importance of early childhood becomes increasingly compelling, funding sources for this essential resource become more uncertain.
Housing and Transportation Infrastructure: The absence of affordable housing is a crisis in many areas of California. Affordable housing can be particularly challenging near major job centers leading to a reliance on public transportation and transportation infrastructure that is weak and underfunded in California. The Trump administration has proposed investing billions in infrastructure that may ease the burden of transportation costs and commute times for low-income households. It is unlikely however that the housing crisis will have a simple solution particularly in dense urban areas.
Trump policies on trade and immigration are likely to introduce great uncertainty and volatility into the economy and labor markets. Changing globalized trade patterns will disrupt markets and supplier relationships. Immigrant workers already face increased intimidation, and the resulting fear may lead to declining access to essential services for immigrant children and families.
Non-profits and public agencies can take steps now to strengthen their message to clients and to build trust with their communities and clients. Stronger partnerships will position your charitable and community development organization to be flexible and effective in the face of coming change, so that when that change begins to take shape, we will be ready to galvanize communities to support each other and push back against discriminatory or destructive policies.