Why anti-poverty advocacy is important

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CAHS is build on two pillars: our program side, working with community based organizations across the state to help low income families become self sufficient, and our policy work, advocating for those families both at the Capitol in Hartford and in Washington DC.  Our program work informs our policy efforts; a lot of the issues we see on the ground when working with clients and talking with people in the community end up being front and center in our policy agenda.

 

We advocate for the state EITC because we know that the Earned Income Tax Credit is important thanks in no small part to our own VITA work. We support the Affordable Care Act because we have seen how important health insurance is to keep a family out of poverty. What we hear on the ground informs what we say at the Capitol. It is one of our main strengths, are we are proud of it.

We do advocacy, however, for another crucial reason: politicians will not listen to low income families otherwise. In a classic study Larry Bartels, a political scientist from Princeton, analyzed how US Senator votes relate to the average policy positions of their voters by level of income. What he found is the following:

My analysis includes broad summary measures of senators’ voting behavior as well as specific votes on the minimum wage, civil rights, government spending, and abortion. In almost every instance, senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes.

In other words: US Senators´voting patterns closely mirror what polls show to be the opinions of the wealthiest voters in their states. What people on the bottom third of the income distribution think turns out to be almost entirely incidental, bearing no relation to how the legislator will vote. This pattern holds for politicians from both parties, but it is even more pronounced in the case of Republicans (surprise), that tend to be almost twice as responsive to the wealthy.

What does this mean? We need voices. We need advocates. The idea that politicians only listen to the wealthy might be a cliche, but happens to be true. Corporations have lobbyists, fast food cooks do not.  CAHS, and other organizations like us, work very hard to try to readdress this imbalance, trying to get the voices of those usually unheard to the Capitol. And you can help us do it with your support.

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