For Low-Income People, Generosity Is A Survival Tactic

If you aren’t one of Renee Rushka’s neighbors in Bethel, Connecticut, you probably don’t know about the chain of events that took place there this past December. They were small and quiet and didn’t change the world, but they changed the lives of the people they touched. It started a few weeks before Christmas, when Rushka was a few dollars short of what she needed to pay for her groceries. Someone behind her in line offered to cover what Rushka couldn’t. The following week she posted a thank you on the neighborhood’s Facebook page. There was an immediate flood of replies, she says, from people asking whether her family needed anything else to get through the holiday. There was also one woman asking if Rushka could recommend resources, because she was struggling too.

“She was a single mom with a six-year-old son,” Rushka says, adding, “she was just coming out of an abusive relationship.” So Rushka decided to see if she could organize some of the folks who had offered to help her into helping this woman instead. She ended up with a minivan full of donations — some used, some new — of everything from clothes for mom to toys for her son. Rushka describes the people who met her as coming from a range of social classes, but notes that many were middle class or lower middle class. A lot of them, she says, commented that they were helping because they too had struggled. “The woman was crying when I met her,” Rushka recalls. “I told her honestly, I’m an addict in recovery and a lot of people have helped me out.”

This kind of story doesn’t end up in the news as often as descriptions of dramatic convenience store robberies or violence-plagued low-income neighborhoods — but it’s a known, common thread within these communities. Poor people hold one another up. For decades, if not forever, poor communities have not been able to count on the government for support. SNAP (formerly known as “food stamps”) only provides about $1.40 per person per meal, and in the poorest states in the country, less than 4 percent of poor families receive TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, often referred to as “welfare”). Perhaps this lack of sufficient government assistance is why a 2010 study by researchers at University of California, Berkeley and University of Toronto discovered that lower-income people are more inclined toward thinking on a community level than people from other classes.

In the study, participants were told to gather as many points as possible. They were given an initial number of points and the option to keep the points for themselves or to give a portion of their points to an unseen partner. Anything they gave to their partner would be tripled, and then their partner would have the option to share a portion of their new, higher total of points with the study participant. Of course, there was no actual partner; the experiment was a measure of prosocial trust. Would participants trust their partner enough to share a sizable portion of their own points so they could both leave with a bigger total payout, or would they keep their points to themselves?

The results showed lower-class participants gave up more of their points in hopes that their partners would share a larger amount of their total, supporting an overall hypothesis that the increased generosity seen in low-income people results from intra-communal reliance. The lower-income participants needed a larger payout than they could get on their own, so they had to trust their partner to support them. As a result, need spurred generosity.

The expectation that people can take when they need and give when they have plenty is essential to how societies work.

The tendency of low-income people to help others in need is something you can observe in the real world all the time, if you know where to look. You see it in the form of family hand-me-downs, diapers donated to a neighbor in need, or rideshares to the grocery store. Right now in Boston, the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls is working to formalize this phenomenon by creating supportive microcommunities within vulnerable neighborhoods. “Our organizing motto is ‘block by block,'” says Executive Director Andrea James. She describes a system in which women reach out to neighbors to find out what they need in order to thrive, whether that’s a food pantry, a bail fund, a community garden, or a ride to the polls. It is a grassroots pushback against the government failure to provide, or at least provide enough, for its most vulnerable citizens. Led by women with criminal backgrounds — the exact kind of people often labeled “underprivileged” — this grassroots welfare project exemplifies that same generosity and trust observed by the researchers at Berkeley in 2010, and by Rushka last Christmas.

These community-focused habits are spreading outside of low-income communities, with mixed results. One of the better-known examples, The Buy Nothing Group, was specifically modeled after a poor community that the founders witnessed while working a relief mission in Nepal. In theory, the tenets of the Buy Nothing Project are simple: nothing is sold or traded. Each item is given freely, with no expectation of reward. Participation spans class, and at times, can work beautifully. I personally owe a lot to my local Buy Nothing Group: Members helped furnish my home, helped me with diapers for my daughters, and even provided food grown in backyard gardens.

It was a beautiful experience — but it was different from the giving and receiving that takes place within the confines of low-income communities. When people gave or received items in my Buy Nothing community, it was not often driven by need. Items are supposed to go to whomever the giver wishes, using whatever criteria she decides. Some people went so far as to state that they would not give to anyone who openly expressed needing something; they found that discussing need was distasteful.

That’s where the appropriation of low-income community tools became problematic.

Some people do need more than others. Pretending otherwise introduces an element of shame that doesn’t exist within low-income giving circles, in which everyone understands what they are providing and why. What’s worse, it introduces the idea that need is a weakness, rather than a normal and reciprocal part of human existence. The expectation that people can take when they need and give when they have plenty is essential to how societies work. If it’s been a long time since you needed something, it’s easy to forget that. But that’s not a luxury that most low-income people have.

Generosity is a beautiful human trait. It’s also a survival tactic. If economically stable communities are going to start implementing the survival tactics of the poor for other reasons — whether it’s to pass the time, meet their neighbors, or just get rid of stuff — they need to recognize that there are still people who rely on community resourcing. And they need to acknowledge that these neighborhood-sharing programs have their roots in low-income communities, whose members have been helping each other stay afloat long before it was trendy.



The Shutdown Causes Some Parents To Pay Twice for Child Care

17 days into the second-longest government shutdown in U.S. history, the ripple effects are being felt across the country. Roughly 800,000 federal employees and 2,000 contractors are going without pay, and the consequences don’t end there.

As federal worker Sam Shirazi noted on Twitter, the shutdown has created a child care emergency for some families: “I’m a furloughed Federal employee, but the #GovernmentShutdown doesn’t just affect me. My daughter’s daycare is in the Commerce Dept and is closed during the shutdown, but we still have to pay our weekly invoice.”

Nearly 100 child care centers serving federal employees, along with some civilians, operate across the U.S. The spaces are leased by the General Services Administration, which pays $5.6 billion in rent every year. According to the GSA, nearly 7,500 children receive care each day at such facilities, approximately two thirds of whom are children of federal employees. The facilities run on parent fees; the service is not provided by the government.

Even more child care centers provide services directly through government agencies, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, which maintains on-site child care for staffers and a limited number of civilians at locations like its Maryland campus. NASA also provides on-site child care to employees.

Federal workers and the civilians who take advantage of these services have come to count on them, and the child care providers who staff them rely on their wages to support their own families. During the shutdown, parents and workers alike are struggling to make ends meet, whether they’re civilians suddenly without child care, federal employees who remain working but have nowhere for their children to go, or child care workers uncertain about their pay status.

In GSA spaces or federal agencies that remain open, child care centers are operating as usual, though some reported declines in attendance, with federal workers keeping their enrolled children home. Others, like Shirazi’s Commerce Kids, are closed, forcing parents to look elsewhere for child care. Some are operating in GSA buildings with skeleton crews, like the Growing Years Child Development Center in Washington, where the GSA personnel who assist with building maintenance and safety concerns have all been furloughed. The precise number of facilities closed is unclear; many weren’t answering phones or responding to messages.

Many administrators are making the decision to pay child care providers who have been affected by involuntary leave in order to retain them, whether they are employees of nonprofits operating with a memorandum of understanding in GSA spaces or staffers at contract companies. abby, a civilian parent in Colorado, says “the teachers are definitely more poor than the parents,” and can ill-afford unpaid leave. Despite their low pay, they are highly-skilled workers who “could all find new jobs” if they chose to start looking.

To keep paying staffers, centers are still collecting fees from parents, even those who are furloughed without pay, though some are offering discounts and tuition assistance. This means some parents are paying twice: Once to the facility their children normally go to, which is currently closed, and again to whoever is filling in the gap during the shutdown.

Cathy Bisaillon, president and CEO of Easterseals Washington, the program provider at Growing Years, comments that nonprofit child cares run on very slim margins, making it hard to waive or reduce tuition fees, even though their office is sympathetic to and concerned about families like those in the Coast Guard who are currently on furlough. Lack of communication from the government is also complicating matters; she expressed concerns about Head Start funding, even though the program is funded through the Department of Health and Human Services, which remains unaffected by the shutdown.

Federal employees have child care fees to add to long lists of expenses for households that live paycheck to paycheck.

Whether furloughed or ordered to work without pay, federal employees have child care fees to add to long lists of expenses for households that live paycheck to paycheck. And in the case of those working without pay who have children in closed facilities, there’s a scramble to meet child care needs as they report for work. For civilians who have relied on federal child care for their young children, the shutdown is creating uncertainty and frustration as they game out child care arrangements, uncertain about when the shutdown will end.

Child care administrators are sending out bulletins suggesting parents find college students on break or consider paying center staff for in-home care. Parents are frantically seeking spots in other facilities, or working out care arrangements with friends and family on a day-by-day basis. Those with flex time or paid leave are using it, and some are simply taking their children to work with them, for lack of a better option.

NASA engineer Jessica M reported on Twitter that her child care is raising rates to offset the costs of the shutdown. Some parents have child care access but can’t afford it because of the furlough, so they’re pulling their kids out and hoping they don’t lose their spaces in facilities that often have lengthy waiting lists.

According to the Center for American Progress’ Early Childhood team — one of whom is among the DC-area parents struggling to meet child care needs due to a facility closure — “licensed infant and toddler child care is unaffordable for most families.” While child care subsidies are available, only 1 in 6 eligible families are currently receiving them. Washington, DC, which has been hit especially hard by the shutdown, has particularly high child care costs; parents need to spend 21 percent of the area’s median income on center-based care that meets licensing requirements. Maryland and Virginia both have high costs, and a high concentration of federal employees, as well.

The price tag for child care isn’t the only problem, as many parents affected by the shutdown are discovering. There’s also a significant shortage of available spots and providers; among parents who can afford to pay tuition at a shuttered center and pay for other arrangements, some, like abby, are learning that there are no other arrangements available.

In a painful juxtaposition, at the precise moment that parents affected by the shutdown are desperate for childcare, Congress has just opened a state-of-the-art care facility for the children of staffers. Limited child care options, you see, had been driving staffers away from Capitol Hill.



We Already Have a Border Wall. It’s an Environmental Disaster.

As of Thursday, the U.S. government has been partially shut down for 13 days due to the Trump administration’s demand that a new funding package include money for a border wall with Mexico. The new House Democratic majority intends to vote on a bill to re-open the government that doesn’t include such funding soon after it’s sworn in. The administration and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have called the bill a non-starter.

But ask anyone living along the U.S.-Mexico line, and they’ll tell you: We already have fences and walls, drones and helicopters, surveillance towers, checkpoints, and border patrol agents speeding their ATVs across the fragile biotic crust of the desert.

In fact, communities are suffering due to decades of militarization and border infrastructure. Today’s walls and fences already cover 700 miles of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, dividing towns and families, and causing damage to the environment and border communities, many of which are low-income, tribal, or on the Mexican side of the line.

In short, we don’t need or want another wall.

In 1994, landing strips from the Vietnam War-era were welded together into a wall that separated Nogales, Arizona from its sister city of Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Raised like a crude, rusty flag, the wall was part of Operation Gatekeeper, implemented by the Clinton administration alongside a new border strategy called “prevention through deterrence.” The policy set out to deter border crossers by militarizing urban areas along the border.

But the sudden increase in walls, cameras, and border patrol agents did nothing to curb border crossers, and instead pushed them further into the inhospitable desert. Two decades later, the desert has become a graveyard, with more than 7,000 bodies found and thousands of additional border crossers missing.

In October 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Secure Fence Act, which approved the building of additional border fencing. A year earlier, the REAL ID Act of 2005 included a provision that gives the secretary of homeland security power to waive any law deemed at odds with the “expeditious construction of physical barriers and roads” along the U.S. border.

“The result [of the REAL ID Act] been that along a quarter of the 2000-mile border, we have a total of four dozen laws that are off the books,” says Dan Millis, the borderlands program manager of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter. A total of 48 federal laws have been waived, including the Clear Air Act, Clean Water Act, Migratory Bird Treaty, Endangered Species Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

“That means that if you live in a border community where these laws have been waived, and the border patrol wants to set up a giant gravel pit to build Donald Trump’s wall, they have the ability to do that, and not comply with any of the laws that other gravel pits have to,” says Millis. “They could dump toxic sludge into your drinking water and there’s nothing you could do about it, because these laws don’t apply. The body of laws that have been built up over decades to try to protect human rights and the environment have been thrown in the trash can.”

Walls in general cause structural and geological issues, including flood, erosion, and sedimentation, and the poorly-designed, ill-conceived border infrastructure has indeed malfunctioned in serious ways. For instance, in July 2008,  a 5.2-mile section of border fence along southern Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument helped cause a devastating flood.

During a storm that dumped 1-2 inches of rain in 90 minutes, the 15-foot-tall wire mesh fence became a towering net for piled-up debris. The built-in drains in the fence were blocked, preventing water from escaping. And the fence’s foundation, buried six feet below the ground, prevented subsurface draining.

The result was surging water up to 7 feet high that funneled directly through the town of Lukeville, Arizona and the neighboring Mexican town of Sonoyta. The floodwaters caused severe damage to buildings, infrastructure, and natural resources.

Two hundred miles east during the same storm, a 5-foot-high concrete wall built across a storm drain by the U.S. Border Patrol caused severe flooding in sister city Nogales, Sonora. This resulted in $8 million in damage, including damage to 578 homes, and the drownings of two people. Mexican officials declared the flood area a disaster zone.

In response to the flooding, Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Arizona Daily Star, “What we are seeing graphically at Organ Pipe was predictable. … When you build an impediment across a stream, it becomes a dam. And providing some holes in a fence is a joke.”

Not only are such walls structurally and logistically unsound, but some designs would violate a 48-year-old treaty between the U.S. and Mexico regarding the construction of border structures that may affect the flow of the Rio Grande or its floodwaters. The 1970 treaty mandates pre-building approval of both the U.S. and Mexican members of the International Boundary and Water Commission. In 2017, as Trump increased his rhetoric around building a wall, the IBWC’s chief Mexican engineer, Antonio Rascón, told NPR that he would block any proposal that violated the binational treaty. “A concrete wall that blocks trans-border water movement is a total obstruction. If they plan that type of project, we will oppose it,” he said.

But blocking the flow of water is not the only damage the wall causes. The most biologically diverse desert in the United States, the Sonoran Desert spans 120,000 square miles of Arizona, California, and northern Mexico. It is home to thousands of plant and animal species uniquely adapted to the arid climate. Border militarization threatens the habitats, food and water supplies, breeding and migration patterns of these species.

A 2017 report by the Center for Biological Diversity found that “93 threatened, endangered and candidate species would potentially be affected by construction of a wall and related infrastructure spanning the entirety of the border, including jaguars, Mexican gray wolves and Quino checkerspot butterflies.”

“A wall will block movement of many wildlife species, precluding genetic exchange, population rescue and movement of species in response to climate change,” reads the report. “This may very well lead to the extinction of the jaguar, ocelot, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl and other species in the United States.”

The wall also cleaves in half the Tohono O’odham Nation, which has members on both sides of the U.S-Mexico border. The tribe maintains that any barrier is at odds with the Tohono O’odham way of life. “We’ve inhabited this land for so long, since the beginning of time,” says April Ignacio, a member of the Tohono O’odham tribe and an organizer with Indivisible Tohono. “And so not allowing that migration to flow disrupts people’s systems. We know the impacts [the border wall] has already had on our environment.”

They will probably not remember what it was like on O’odham land without the border patrol.
– April Ignacio

As recently as the 1990s, the Tohono O’odham were able to move freely across the border, but Ignacio says all of that changed with Operation Gatekeeper. Tribal members were restricted to certain crossing points and had to carry a tribal ID. As the border wall was erected, the tribe saw increased migrant traffic on tribal lands and observed that certain animals were now unable to migrate. As militarization increased in the form of helicopters, checkpoints, and roving border patrol agents, traditional O’odham practices were greatly affected.

For instance, Ignacio says tribal members are stopped by border patrol while out gathering saguaro fruit or collecting basket-making materials. “One of my cousins was out hunting and had a gun pulled on him,” says Ignacio. “There are areas where men will not hunt because of how border patrol are stationed, or where they’ve patrolled and chased out the game. That directly impacts ceremony.”

Encounters with the border patrol are so disruptive, says Ignacio, that tribal members sometimes discontinue their traditions to avoid them. “They stop collecting. They stop going out.” Or, she says, they become “overly prepared,” carrying tribal ID cards and documents wherever they go and training their children to stay safe during border patrol interactions. She describes “psychological trauma that no one’s talking about, a level of trauma our children are experiencing when they go through checkpoints to state their citizenship… They will probably not remember what it was like on O’odham land without the border patrol.”

Just before Christmas last month, Trump said of the wall on Twitter, “The fact is there is nothing else’s [sic] that will work, and that has been true for thousands of years. It’s like the wheel, there is nothing better. I know tech better than anyone, & technology … on a Border is only effective in conjunction with a Wall.”

Trump does not know the borderlands. He does not know the smell of fry bread, or the way a cholla forest glows in the golden hours just before sunset, or the ferocity of a wash after a summer monsoon. He does not know the pain of a community sliced in half, the bodies in the desert, or the desperation of border crossers fleeing violence and economic destitution. This beautiful, rugged place has already been hijacked and turned into a weapon.

President Trump, we don’t want your wall.





Netflix With Class: What to Watch Over the Holidays

TalkPoverty is taking a break for the next week, to give our staff a chance to take a vacation and plan for 2019. These are a few of the shows we’ll be watching when we’re offline and need a reprieve from conversations with weird Uncle Sal.


The first season of Superstore is essentially The Office, set in a big box store where the workers are making minimum wage. There’s a will-they-won’t-they relationship between coworkers, a brutal assistant manager who would break Dwight Schrute’s spirit in under half an hour, and some classic slapstick to tie it all together.

But the longer the show is on, the better it gets. Beginning in season two, the show starts to tease out the substantive issues that define the characters’ lives and brings them to the forefront without ever getting heavy-handed. That’s not an easy feat: There are plot arcs that deal directly, and unflinchingly, with union busting, health care inequity, documentation status, and paid maternity leave.

The show isn’t perfect: We’d be remiss if we recommended it without noting that a disabled character is played by an actor who does not share his character’s disability. It’s a misstep that could have easily been avoided, and a blemish on a show that handles a number of complicated topics so deftly.

How to watch it: Superstore airs on NBC, and older episodes are available on Hulu. Start with episode two, season two, “Strike.”

Bob’s Burgers

Bob’s Burgers is one of the funniest, most consistent shows on TV. It’s heavy on jokes and wild premises, and its characters are a collection of beautifully unhinged, frantic, awkward humans who are inexplicably relatable. And, at its core, the show is about a working-class family that is barely scraping by. The titular restaurant is always in peril, wealthy business owners are an existential threat, and minor mishaps – like a broken minivan or a decrepit sofa – are big enough financial burdens that zany attempts to replace them often form the basis of an entire episode.

Most importantly, Bob’s Burgers is a joy to watch. It’s a rare depiction of a family that faces stress without becoming bitter, and that struggles without being victims.

How to watch it: New episodes are on FOX, and the entire series is on Hulu. If you’re going to binge it, start with season three – that’s when the show finds its footing.

The cast of The Fosters, a multiracial family drama
Photo: Freeform/Vu Ong

The Fosters

The Fosters finished airing in June and it is genuinely heartwarming, for those looking for some basic queer joy. The Freeform family drama revolves around a lesbian couple raising five kids under one roof – four of whom are foster children. It delves into the working-class life of a police officer and vice principal navigating childrearing, living in a racially mixed family, and the challenges of the foster system. It’s rare to see queer families on television, especially lesbian families, even though nearly 16 percent of same-gender couples are raising children together. For those dismayed its run is over, a spinoff, Good Trouble, is coming to Freeform!

How to watch it: The whole show is on Netflix, and if you want to dip your toes in, try season one’s “I Do” (episode 10) for an extremely wholesome lesbian wedding, and “Quinceañera” (episode four) for some moving family drama.

On My Block

Four inner-city LA teens navigate their coming of age in On My Block, which is a frank look at a part of Los Angeles that’s usually glossed over or turned into a cautionary tale. Monse (Sierra Capri), Cesar (Diego Tinoco), Ruben (Jason Genao), and Jamal (Brett Gray) inhabit different aspects of the Latinx and Afro-Latinx experience in a vibrant narrative deeply rooted in lived experience.

It would be a mistake to focus on the exploration of gang violence here: On My Block also confronts deportations, teen sexuality, family, and more in a diverse reflection of contemporary teen life. Plus, you are going to love Ruben’s abuela.

How to watch it: It’s a Netflix Original, and with only one season available, you can start right at the beginning!

A still from the Speechless Christmas episode
Photo: ABC/Eric McCandless


Energetic mom Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver) and her chaotic family enliven a drama that’s been widely praised by the disability community for its authentic handling of cerebral palsy from both the perspective of disabled youth growing into their autonomy and parents who advocate tirelessly for access and inclusion. Her son JJ is played by Micah Fowler, who actually has cerebral palsy and fills his role as the titular nonverbal character with gusto. Class comes in as the family struggles to find a good school for JJ, and ultimately finds itself living in the junkiest house in a fancy neighborhood and navigating all that comes with it.

How to watch it: Speechless airs on ABC and you can find the entire series on Hulu. You’ll want to start from the beginning to root yourself in the DiMeo family’s woes … and triumphs.


Jenji Kohan’s newest show, based on the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling series that ran from 1986-1992, is a classic dramedy about a band of misfits that defies the odds. The ensemble cast, featuring Marc Maron, Alison Brie, and Betty Gilpin, is comprised of deeply broken human beings who are trying to relaunch their careers (and redeem themselves after some truly astounding personal mistakes) by filming a low-budget women’s wrestling series in a run-down gym.

The episodes are a little uneven in quality, but the series engages directly with class in a way that feels original: Through the characters and the wrestling personas they take on. It’s worth watching just for real-life WWE star Kia Stevens, who plays Tammé. Tammé’s struggle with the wrestling persona she’s been assigned – who is literally named “Welfare Queen” – is given the air time it deserves in the second season. Her attempt to navigate the space between social responsibility and her very real need to support herself is messy and compelling.

How to watch it: GLOW is a Netflix Original. Start from the beginning, or you’ll struggle to piece together the dynamics between the characters.



What Trump Leaves Out When He Talks About the Black Unemployment Rate

President Donald Trump has a lot to say about the economy. His tweets on it are as incessant as they are unreliable: There’s his insistence that we have the “best jobs numbers” in the history of the country (job creation has slowed since Obama’s presidency ended), the time he bragged that we have the “hottest jobs market on planet Earth,” and his confusing claim that he has revitalized the steel industry and spurred the development of six new steel mills (he has not).

None of those claims are exactly true, but the one that happened during his State of the Union address this year is what keeps me up at night. While making the case for his economic platform, Trump specifically touted low black unemployment, saying, “[It’s] something I’m very proud of, African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.” Republicans cheered; Democrats grimaced. I rolled my eyes.

The average black unemployment rate since November 2017 is 6.5 percent — indeed the lowest it has been since the United States started recording unemployment for black workers back in 1972. But that does not mean all black Americans are in full economic health, as the president’s proclamation would suggest. More to the point, it is debatable whether Trump should get any credit for such low unemployment metrics or whether they are just a continuation of the Obama administration’s efforts.

First of all, black unemployment is still nearly double white employment nationwide. (In 14 states and the District of Columbia, black unemployment rates are more than double white rates, and in South Carolina black unemployment is triple white rates.) If white unemployment levels were anywhere near this high, it would be considered a national crisis.

There were only 11 times in the past 50 years when the white unemployment rate has been higher than today’s black unemployment rate — and five of those were during the worst recession since the Great Depression. As a reminder, the government responded to that recession with a $831 billion stimulus to boost the economy and lower unemployment. Yet, Trump is praising the same unemployment rate for blacks today without a similar economic response.

What’s worse, the jobs that black workers and white workers get do not pay the same: Black workers earn less money and build less wealth than white workers.

Trump’s rosy economic picture is dangerously misleading for black workers in America.

The typical full-time black worker still earns about $12,000 less annually than a white worker. Gender pay gaps also compound this inequity. On average in 2017, black women earn 66 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. That has a serious impact on peoples’ lives: Roughly 20 percent of black and Hispanic people live in poverty compared to less than 9 percent of white people. This is, in part, because black workers are more likely to be trapped in low-wage work, and the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for nearly a decade. A yearly income at this rate is just over $15,000.

Structural racism contributes to pull black men, in particular, into low-wage work, especially for those with a criminal record. Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of white men. With an estimated 87 percent of employers conducting criminal background checks, formerly incarcerated individuals are more likely to remain unemployed one year after their release and formerly incarcerated men are paid 40 percent less annually than non-incarcerated men.

In addition to wages, wealth disparities along racial lines are even more disturbing. Wealth, which is often held in the form of a person’s homes, savings, and investments, is a cushion that helps families pay for education or keep themselves afloat during periods of unemployment. In 2016, the median wealth of white Americans was $142,180 compared to $13,460 for black Americans.

This directly impacts black Americans’ social mobility. Racial gaps are identifiable with respect to college completion, homeownership, and criminalization. Black Americans hold college degrees at only 62 percent the rate of whites. Among black households, one-third fewer are homeowners compared to white households. Even when black Americans do become homeowners, if the neighborhood they reside is more than 50 percent black, their homes are valued at nearly half the price of similar homes in communities with no black residents. And, with a prison population of 487,300, black Americans account for one-third of America’s federal and state prison inmates, which is more than twice their share of the U.S. population.

Trump’s rosy economic picture is dangerously misleading for black workers in America. The unemployment rate may be lower for black Americans than in the past, but it is still high compared with white rates — and a web of discrimination, criminalization, and low wages is still holding people back. Glossing over those truths to focus on the statistic that suits the president’s talking points doesn’t make the reality of things any better. Black people should not be used as a convenient political prop — especially without meaningful investment in our communities to better our full economic outcomes.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the nature of employment statistics for formerly incarcerated individuals.