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Understanding Poverty


What Is The Anti-Poverty Soldier?

Community Action Executive Director Dr. Clarence Hightower launched his Anti-Poverty Soldier column in 2014 to address inequity and elevate the public discussion surrounding poverty, to increase awareness of the root causes of poverty, and to foster new and innovative solutions to overcome it. One of Dr. Hightower’s main concerns is that the Twin Cities has recently gained the reputation as one of the most livable metropolitan areas in America despite its staggering disparities between white residents and its citizens of color, particularly African Americans. 

The fight against poverty has always been central to both Dr. Hightower’s professional career and personal principles. He has spent 35 years providing executive leadership to the Twin Cities nonprofit sector and has presided over a number of agencies designed to reduce poverty and deliver employment, education, housing, and other critical services to low-income residents.

The Anti-Poverty Soldier Column

The 40th president of the United States, the late Ronald Reagan, once famously said, “Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.” That’s a wonderful sentiment and one that I suppose many, regardless of their political leanings, would likely get behind...

Among the most common talking points during this current election season is the need to remedy the rampant economic inequality that continues to plague our country. Just last fall, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Community Survey revealed that America’s wealth gap was now wider than it has been at any point since 1969...

When it comes to the subject of health care, a common refrain from American families nowadays is, “Every year we pay more and more for insurance and yet somehow receive less in terms of coverage and benefits..."

This special installment of The Anti-Poverty Solider features an interview with it’s author with Dr. Clarence Hightower conducted by Minnesota Spokeman-Recorder contributing writer Dwight Hobbes.

n 2015 the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment published a ground-breaking study on the phenomenon of “urban heat islands” in the Minneapolis – St. Paul metropolitan area. The findings of this research revealed that temperatures in some local neighborhoods can rise significantly higher than others during the summer months. In fact, during the historic Upper Midwest heat wave in July of 2012, temperature differentials were nearly 10 degrees higher in certain areas of the Twin Cities as compared to others...

Just this last December, thousands of people in dozens of cities across the globe gathered together for the “World’s Big Sleep Out.” The participants of this event purposely slept outside in the cold in an attempt to increase the amount of attention that societies pay to the crisis of homelessness...

As I recently reflected on some of the topics this column covered in the past year, I was immediately reminded of the flagrant discrimination and disparities that persist around housing both here in the Twin Cities and throughout the rest of America...

Earlier this year the federal government bandied about a proposal that would, in effect, lower the federal poverty threshold. According to both the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP), these suggested changes to how we measure poverty in this nation would have “endangered millions” of people...

In the essay, “Fifth Avenue, Uptown”—which depicts everyday life in Civil Rights era Harlem, a full four years prior to the riot that engulfed New York City’s “Black mecca” in July of 1964—Baldwin famously wrote that “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor" . . .

Starting back in 2015, 24/7 Wall Street, an online financial news organization, began publishing an annual study that identified “the worst states for Black Americans” to live. For three consecutive years Minnesota finished second only to Wisconsin for this particularly unflattering distinction . . .

In the summer of 2017, I used this column to embark on a six-part series inspired by a single quote. That quote came from noted historian Rutger C. Bregman, who, during a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk declared, “Poverty isn’t a lack of character. It’s a lack of cash.”

Forty-six years ago this month, an oil embargo targeting the United States resulted in what is today remembered as the 1973 Oil Crisis.

In August of this year, The New York Times launched “The 1619 Project” marking the fourth centennial since the first documented slaves were captured and brought from modern-day Angola . . .

In response to the Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education—which partially overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and outlawed segregation in public schools . . .

As a native of the Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois (birthplace of Miles Davis), I remember the City of St. Louis as being essentially a stone’s throw away from my childhood home.

On the heels of the previous Anti-Poverty Soldier column (August 15-21) — which highlighted the work of two Stanford University professors who revealed that America’s income and wealth disparities are only getting worse . . .

There has been a lot of talk these past couple years of America’s booming economy.

In the spring of 2018, a Minnesota man made quite a splash when he testified before State representatives that — in spite of being a millionaire — he was able to secure benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for well over a year.

On more than one occasion I’ve used this space to criticize the nation’s Federal Poverty Guidelines, which for all intents and purposes have essentially remained unchanged since they were established 55 years ago . . .

On the heels of the most recent “Anti-Poverty Soldier” piece (June 20, 2019) — about a Duke University study that chronicled the systematic plundering of more than $3 billion in wealth from Chicago’s African American homeowners from 1950 to 1970 . . .

In a recent installment of this column (March 28, 2019), I highlighted the Twin Cities Public Television documentary, Jim Crow of the North.

Four years ago this week, the first of 79 lawsuits was filed against the State of Michigan, claiming the water from the Flint River posed a significant health risk to the approximately 100,000 residents of Flint, Michigan.

In the last two installments of The Anti-Poverty Solider (from MSR issues April 25 and May 9), I began to introduce the findings from Community Action’s latest Community Needs Assessment (CNA).

In the previous column [April 25 issue] I referenced Community Action’s most recent triennial Community Needs Assessment (CNA), which yielded six major findings plus one central theme.

Every three years the agency that I lead, Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties, conducts a thorough Community Needs Assessment (CNA), a process that takes the better part of an entire calendar year.

In 1990, Vincent Fanelli published his one and only book, The Human Face of Poverty: A Chronicle of Urban America.

There have been a number of themes covered over and over again during the life of this column, including the examination of the Twin Cities’ rampant racial disparities, which have consistently ranked among the worst in the nation.

The previous installment of this column explored, in part, what many scholars and activists have long termed “the criminalization of poverty.”

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to take a lunch meeting with Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo.

A little more than a century ago, German sociologist Max Weber famously put forth a theoretical model which, when translated to English, become known as the “iron cage.”

There have been a multitude of reports in recent years about how poverty can negatively affect
the health of its victims.

On behalf of the board of directors, staff, volunteers, partners, and participants of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties (CAPRWC), I wish to express our collective appreciation to the state’s lawmakers as they pledge unity on plans to mitigate the detrimental effects of the federal government shutdown on Minnesota’s most vulnerable populations.

In spite of what we hear about record-low levels
of unemployment, persistent job growth, and other positive economic indicators, food insecurity remains one of the pressing issues in the nation.

As we reflect on the passing of another year and anticipate the unfolding of the new one, I want to strike a somewhat different tone in this first column of 2019.

A constitutional democracy is in serious trouble if its citizenry does not have a certain degree of education and civic virtue.

Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of the minority . . .

Prison is the only form of public housing that the government has truly invested in over the past five decades.

Fewer than half of children younger than 5-years old are read-to daily in our country.

Today, the lines are blurring between the middle class, the working poor, and those unable to find work.

To empower people and strengthen their political voice, we need to help them gain access to the sources of power in any society.

To get away from poverty, you need several things at the same time.

Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed.

It is our moral failure that we still tolerate poverty.

The long-standing and partisan debate over the subject of climate change ramped-up even more recently at the news of America's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord.

We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.

The message is not if you are poor, then your brain will be smaller and there is nothing that can be done about it. That is absolutely not the message.

In the group that has been here longer, white Americans dominate both the FTE sector and the low-wage sector.

A federal study last year found that about one in four US households skirts banks and relies on such services as check-cashing and payday loans.

Contrary to popular belief, my experience has shown me that the people who are exceptionally good in business aren't so because of what they now but because of their insatiable need to know more.

Our Impact This Year

  • People Who Received Energy Assistance


  • Children Enrolled in Head Start


  • Low-Income People Registered to Vote


  • Volunteer Hours


© 2020 Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties

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