Why This War on the Poor?

By Harry R. Jackson

A few years ago, I was invited by a group of Harvard scholars, well-known scientists, and clergymen to visit Alaska. Our visit was to investigate the effects of climate change in that state. Alaska is unique by virtue of the fact that its environment is so varied that one can observe everything from regime change of insects, the melting of glaciers, the erosion of islands, and the change in spawning patterns of salmon. I left the trip concerned that green-activists would overstate genuine changes that were happening and force the nation into non-productive reactions to what are our real problems.

After I returned home, I did further research asking the following question. How can we satisfy the scientists’ concerns while producing a genuine return on our investment? Yet I was shocked to find out that very often the poor are not actually considered in the strategic planning of projects.

Therefore, two years ago I joined several civil rights organizations that developed a poignant campaign called “Stop the War on the Poor!” To the surprise of media who attended to our first press conference, our target was not the banking industry or automobile industry. We wanted to send the message to environmental leaders that our own domestic poor must be considered in this critical time. We wanted to raise a warning that the green supporters who promoted measures to drive up energy costs as a way of “forcing” conservation were hurting the impoverished.

Driving up energy costs is a course of action that economically traumatizes “the last and the least” of America’s citizens – the poor. One of the great limitations to recommending ideologically based solutions to the nation’s macro problems is that there are always unintended consequences to these solutions.

The Environmental Protection Agency asserts that changes in our climate could produce the following:
• Higher concentrations of ozone at ground level
• Drought
• Heavier rain downpours resulting in flooding
• An increase in incidence and intensity of heat waves resulting in wild fires
• A swell in sea level
• Damage to our water sources, our food supply, wildlife and the attached ecosystems
• Grave implications to our national security

The EPA also contends that climate variations would impact the health of specific groups of people disproportionately. These groups include the poor, seniors, infants, those who have existing health challenges, disabled individuals, people who live alone, and those population groups who depend on just a few resources.

The EPA concerns seem well founded, but a new study released March 30, 2010 shows that the Stop the War on the Poor advocates were absolutely right in their concerns. The study shows that the EPA current climate change prescriptions will be hazardous to the poor. Specifically, the study released by Management Information Systems in Washington, DC deduces that current CO2 legislation will have adverse affects on our overall national economy, while especially damaging blacks and Hispanics in the process. In other words, minority jobs will be jeopardized in the current focus of green house regulations.

Some of the disparity between minorities and other groups has to do with how differently each ethnic group spends its resources and how each group is affected by rising energy costs. For example, blacks spend 20 percent more of their income on food, 10 percent more on housing, 40 percent more on clothing, and 50 percent more on utilities than do whites. Conversely, Hispanics spend 90 percent more of their income on food than whites. In addition they spend 5 percent more on housing, 40 percent more on clothing, and 10 percent more on utilities than do whites.

Against this unique ethnic economic backdrop, the new study suggests that EPA regulations will have these unintended impacts:

1.) Loss of jobs by African Americans and Hispanics will be 1.7 million and 2.4 million jobs respectively in just ten years.
2.) It will increase the African-American poverty rate by 20% by 2025
3.) Hispanic povertywill rise by 22 percent by 2025
4.) These measures will also cause average annual job losses by Hispanics in these states:
• Nearly 70,000 in California
• Nearly 40,000 in Texas
• Nearly 20,000 in Florida
• Nearly 13,000 in New York
5.) Black job losses will be more evenly spread around the country with hot spots in these states:
• More than 13,000 in Texas
• More than 13,000 in Florida
• Nearly 13,000 in Georgia
• Nearly 12,000 in New York

Affordable energy may well be one of the great civil rights issues of this century. What happens to the poor both domestically and internationally has to be weighed and considered. If the statistics have alarmed you, join me in taking specific action.

Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md. He co-authored “Personal Faith, Public Policy.”

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