The South is the fastest growing region in the country. The pull of our warm winters, friendly people, and low cost of living has drawn millions over the last few years. However, an old foe that we have attempted to fight for decades continues to afflict our people.
Rampant, inescapable poverty has been a staple of urban and rural areas in the South for generations. Government has long purported to be the solution to this problem, but after years of government programs and promises of a better tomorrow, our fellow man continues to be stuck in the cyclical nature of poverty. The status quo and government solutions have failed.
It’s time to change focus and realize that while our safety net programs are well intentioned, they often act as snare nets trapping people in poverty with no means to escape. Safety net programs should catch people when they fall and put them back on their feet. The Pelican Institute for Public Policy has joined together with the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) to forge a new path forward to bring poverty relief to our friends and neighbors, beginning now.
The Alliance for Opportunity has one core goal: lift one million people out of poverty over the next 10 years. This will be accomplished through the removal of barriers to opportunity and prosperity while the focus of poverty relief programs is shifted to be consumer focused and geared toward helping people find meaningful work opportunities.
The Alliance has targeted three key areas to unlock opportunity for those in poverty. We must keep vulnerable Americans on track, remove barriers to work, and address poverty perpetuated by the justice system. States need to make it simple to find work and start a business by lowering regulatory burdens associated with occupational licensing. It’s also necessary to break the school-to-prison pipeline by improving and expanding access to youth apprenticeship programs and auditing government sponsored employment programs for effective outcomes. Similarly, we need a criminal justice system that protects the public from violent criminals without locking the poor into poverty for petty infractions. Finally, we must have a social safety net that functions effectively when Americans need it but doesn’t discourage work.
Policy experts from GCO, Pelican, and TPPF have published a detailed policy agenda with recommendations for action. Although currently focused on our three states, the agenda has relevance across the southern states. These proposed changes will require cooperation from state houses to Congress to community stakeholders with the goal of helping our neighbors at the forefront.
The opportunity roadmap set forth by the Alliance for Opportunity will not be an easy path, but bold reforms never are. Poverty relief can’t wait. It’s time to take action and unlock opportunity for people across the South and finally address this issue that has afflicted countless individuals for generations. We welcome feedback from and collaboration with all interested parties regardless of political affiliation. We look forward to engaging stakeholders and community leaders across the ideological spectrum to advance good policy wherever, whenever possible.
By Raheem Williams | Kane Center for Opportunity Policy
Raheem Williams is the director of the Kane Center for Opportunity Policy.