Massachusetts Commission on Poverty tackles historic wealth gap

Kathryn Carley, Public News Service

A Legislature-backed Commission on Poverty in Massachusetts aims to address the state’s historic wealth gap.

The commission will study demographic disparities and existing programs to reduce poverty over the next decade, and has been holding public hearings to gather feedback.

State Sen. Sal DiDomenico – D-Everett – said Massachusetts has the highest median wage for workers in the nation, but one of the greatest gaps between wealthy and low-income individuals.

“So we know we have much work to be done in this commission,” said DiDomenico, “to bring more equity to the table when it comes to residents across the Commonwealth.”

According to a 2022 report, about 24.2% of Latinos in Massachusetts live in poverty, which is almost 5 percentage points higher than the national Latino rate. This is also more than 6 percentage points higher than the state’s Black poverty rate and more than three times higher than the state’s white poverty rate.

DiDomenico said it’s unacceptable that roughly 70,000 Massachusetts children live in what’s considered “deep poverty” – or 50% below the federal poverty level.

He said efforts to undo those numbers should be a top legislative priority.

Sixty years after the launch of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” community action agencies in Massachusetts say data reveal which policies are most effective.

Expanded tax credits and stimulus payments were shown to help cut childhood poverty in half during the pandemic, and efforts continue to grow guaranteed basic income programs.

Laura Meisenhelter is board president of the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP), a coalition of more than twenty community action agencies.

She said they’re responding to local needs while working for systemic change.

“We confirmed,” said Meisenhelter, “both large and small changes to public policy and programs and practices can have an enormous impact.”

Meisenhelter said agency staff visit clients at nursing homes, aid parents in buying Christmas gifts, and help ensure that people’s basic needs such as food, clothing and diapers are met.

She said that need is increasing as the poverty line set decades ago has not kept pace with the increasing standard of living.

The Commission on Poverty’s next public hearing will take place later this year in the Fall River and New Bedford area.

Publisher’s Notes: MA Commission on Poverty tackles historic wealth gap was first published by Public News Service and was republished with permission.

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