Last Tuesday (July 15) I stood with Niger Innis of CORE and just under 100 people from around the country at a press conference in Washington, DC. The group was comprised of congressmen, senators, grassroots organizers, and clergy. We descended on Washington to announce a bold cry for affordable energy for the poor. Our campaign is simply called “Stop the War On The Poor.” Although some leftist groups have already called our efforts partisan, nothing could be further from the truth.
Many of us have realized that most legislators on the Hill are advocating ideologically-based approaches to our energy problems. While Washington plays politics with American energy supplies, people are hurting – and the poor are hurting the most. The only hope the average poor person has is that gas prices won’t rise to $6.00/gallon. The poor cannot afford to hire advocates or lobbyists. Energy reform will be a major civil rights frontier of the next decade because the poor do not have a voice.
We call this a war on the poor because high-energy prices disproportionately impact America’s poor and low-income families. These prices are actually a highly regressive tax on America’s most vulnerable citizens. Although both McCain and Obama are making bold declarations about their plans for our future, many more specific recommendations and plans of action will be needed to address the needs of the poor. The poor in America do not comprise one homogenous group. Included in this “poverty” label are urban minorities, some rural farming communities, and many elderly of all races.
The following data convinced me that I had to speak out. First of all, our poorest citizens spend up to 50 percent of their limited income on energy, while the average American spends only 5-10 percent of their income. In comparison to their rich suburban counterparts, poor families are sometimes forced to make serious choices between food, medicine, or fuel. As a result of this dilemma, eight percent of households with incomes between $33,500 and $55,000 have had their electricity shut off this year due to non-payment.
Secondly, those in rural areas of the country are being squeezed even harder. They tend to have older vehicles that are less fuel-efficient. Pickup trucks are common because they work part or full time in agricultural jobs. It takes a larger percentage of a person’s income for transportation in rural areas because of longer commutes.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.