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Policy
Congresswoman, and Democratic presidential hopeful, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has proposed a wide-ranging antipoverty program to reduce the hardships facing the poor and near poor in the US.  At a time when inequality is the highest its been in five decades, and the nation at its richest, over 40 million people qualify as poor.  The 2019 Federal poverty level for an individual was $12,400 while a family of four is poor if they make less than $25,750.  This official government measure underestimates the poor as it utilizes a set level which is applied across the continent (excluding Alaska and Hawaii)awHH regardless of cost of living differentials or specific family situations.  If the “near poor” are added (those making up to 150% of the poverty level) the figure would be as great as one third of the country.

Ocasio-Cortez’s “The Just Society,” platform, echoing the Great Society vision of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration which established new welfare laws as well as Medicare and Medicaid, actually is made up of six separate bills.  One bill would change the way the government establishes the official poverty level to include differences in geographic location as well as the real cost of necessities such as healthcare, childcare, housing, and “new necessities” such as internet access.  Other bills would cap the amount rents could increase; provide a federally run single payer health insurance; allow persons with criminal convictions, and those lacking documentation, to fully access social welfare programs; pressure federal contractors to increase wages and benefits; mandate employers to pay for family leave, adhere to predictable scheduling, and establish a living minimum wage.

Analysis:  Ocasio-Cortez suggests that the proposed comprehensive set of bills is the only viable option for attaining economic justice.  Although Democrats have a history of supporting such legislation as Ocasio-Cortez proposes, some feel that in so doing she is jeopardizing the moderate Democrats elected in the most recent election.  This debate within the Democratic party threatens to splinter the power of the party and is one articulated concern for exercising constraint in progressive programing.  A program that appears to move “too far to the left” is feared as providing fuel to the Republicans and conservatives, especially those who incorrectly label these measures as socialism.  Actually, these values have been a part of US social history since the New Deal of FDR’s era.  Additionally, other nations believe that these issues are human rights and guarantee them and so Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal also includes supporting the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a United Nations treaty (1966) which states that all persons have the right to work, and the right to just conditions of work, Social Security, an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing, housing and health care.

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Photo by unsplash-logoJonathan Kho

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