Clarence Hightower

Recent Articles

Childhood poverty and the ‘word gap’


Soon after President Lyndon Johnson declared America’s unconditional “War on Poverty” in January 1964, a new wave of poverty-related literature emerged. Scholars, policymakers, journalists and activists offered competing ideas about the root causes of poverty and appropriate strategies to eliminate it from both urban and rural America. Continue Reading →

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Study says nearly half of Americans are living in or near poverty

Are things really that bad?  
In a recent Minnesota Spokesman Recorder column discussing how the federal poverty rate is measured, I cited a 2013 study by the Oregon Center for Public Policy regarding the application of its Family Budget Calculator to determine the “basic level of economic security” for families. This alternative instrument designed to more accurately measure poverty suggests that 44 percent of Americans, nearly 140 million people, currently experience economic insecurity. In essence, this means that close to one-half of all Americans are living in or on the edge of poverty. The research findings of the Oregon Center for Public Policy are further bolstered by a 2013 report from Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Living Wage Calculator. Continue Reading →

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Fifty years of war on poverty

Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties marks a half-century of active service
From August 6 through August 8, Minnesota Community Action Partnership held its annual conference in Duluth, celebrating 50 years of the Community Action movement in Minnesota and the nation. Each year the conference brings together the 26 Community Action agencies that collectively serve all 87 counties in the State of Minnesota. This year’s conference featured Governor Mark Dayton and Minnesota Commissioner of Human Rights Kevin Lindsey as keynote speakers. During the conference, I thought frequently about the history of the Community Action Movement and, in particular, the history of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties, the agency that I have had the tremendous honor and privilege to help steward since August of 2008. I would like to share some of that history in this column. Continue Reading →

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Too many Minnesotans are going to bed hungry

After witnessing the national media coverage of the Chicago Public Schools Teacher’s Strike of 2012, one distinct and disturbing image still haunts me. I clearly remember many parents asking, in fact begging City officials to keep the schools open as it was the only way to ensure their children received a hot, healthy meal. Of course, the issue of school lunches became a hot topic locally last March when we learned that in several instances Minnesota school children, including those eligible for reduced-priced lunches, were being denied a hot lunch if their account had insufficient funds. This story caused an uproar among parents, politicians and advocacy groups, forcing several school administrators to explain such policies. Shortly after the story broke, Minnesota Senator Al Franken proposed that the federal government step in to cover the full cost for students eligible for reduced-priced lunch. Continue Reading →

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The federal poverty line grossly underestimates actual U.S. poverty

By alternative measures, close to half the country could be defined as ‘economically insecure’ 

In 2001, the NBC award-winning drama series The West Wing aired an episode in which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposed a new “poverty income index” that would essentially reclassify several million Americans as poor. The rationale on the part of the OMB was that the formula used to measure poverty was outdated and a woefully inadequate reflection of who was poor in America. The new index, they argued, would give millions of citizens access to important government programs and services that they heretofore could not receive. However, the dilemma for the fictional Bartlett administration is that the new index would make it appear to the public that poverty had increased significantly under their watch. During the summer of 2008, art would imitate life in New York as Michael Bloomberg implemented a more meticulous and sophisticated method to measure poverty throughout the city’s five boroughs. Continue Reading →

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The tragic irony of racial disparities in Minnesota

On July 18, 2014, Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties will host Minnesota Commissioner of Health, Dr. Ed Ehlinger, at its inaugural Community Health Action Talks (C.h.a.t.) event. During this presentation, Dr. Ehlinger will address the significant health disparities that continue to plague the State of Minnesota. Recent data from the Wilder Foundation’s MN Compass project illustrate that people of color are 2½ times more likely to be without health insurance as compared to White Minnesotans. Particularly affected by this trend are Minnesota’s Native American and Hispanic populations. In fact, Native Americans are more than three times as likely, and Hispanics more than four times as likely, to be without health care. Continue Reading →

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The New Poor — how secure are you from this emerging American class?

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 triggered the most ominous economic emergency since the Great Depression nearly 80 years before. During this calamity, a number of new terms and phrases began to enter the general American lexicon. Such terms included credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, mortgage backed securities, over-leveraging, pricing of risk, deregulation, predatory lending, subprime and adjustable rate loans, increased debt burden, the housing bubble, hedge funds, and the shadow banking system. In addition, financial analysts identified the emergence of a new class in America, a group that they dubbed “The New Poor.”

The concept of a “shrinking middle-class” or a “middle-class squeeze” is not a particularly new idea and has been part of our economic dialogue for some time now. Large-scale trends such as outsourcing, massive layoffs, plant closings, downsizing, and corporate mergers have put many middle-class Americans at risk for several years. Continue Reading →

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Affordable housing shortage among disastrous assaults on the poor

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 spawned in many of us a righteous outrage that took aim at a worldwide financial establishment that in the eyes of many had completely run amok. At the time, a number of experts cited new and expanded banking practices, many related to the home mortgage industry, that had a decidedly detrimental effect on both the American and larger global economies. Since 2007, for example, Americans have become more familiar with terms such as deregulation, subprime and adjustable rate loans, credit default swaps, the housing bubble, collateralized debt obligations, mortgage-backed securities, hedge funds, predatory lending, over-leveraging, and the shadow banking system. As a result of such banking practices, the Twin Cities, along with many other urban centers, experienced an unprecedented number of home foreclosures. In Hennepin and Ramsey Counties alone, there was a nearly 400 percent increase in the number of foreclosures during a six-year period where tens of thousands of homes were auctioned off by the respective sheriff’s departments. Continue Reading →

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Conference recruited fighters for War on Poverty

By Isaac Peterson

Contributing Writer


Fifty years ago, in 1964, then-president Lyndon Johnson mobilized the resources of the U.S government to engage in his historic War on Poverty, saying, “The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

Fifty years later, although there were some victories in the effort to end poverty, obviously much work remains before victory may be declared. To that end, on May 1 a coalition of Minnesota organizations banded together for the Minnesota Poverty Call to Action. The group was hosted by the Minnesota Community Action Partnership. Community Action Agencies were themselves created by a War on Poverty program. Continue Reading →

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The economic security of our seniors is at risk

Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties operates the largest Energy Assistance Program in the state. Each year, this program helps more than 20,000 households to maintain safe and continuous heating during the brutal and unforgiving Minnesota winters. A significant percentage of the citizens served by this program are seniors, most of whom are living on a fixed income. Far too often, Minnesota seniors are forced to make the difficult choice between food, medicine and utilities. While the poverty rate has risen sharply during the last six years, Minnesota has made great strides in reducing poverty among its senior population. Continue Reading →

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