The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice.
At the start of 2022, more than 12.5 million children were living in poverty.1 “3.7 Million More Children in Poverty in Jan 2022 Without Monthly Child Tax Credit,” Center on Poverty & Social Policy at Columbia University (Feb. 17, 2022).
More than 44 million people in the U.S. experience food insecurity.2 “Household Food Security in the United States in 2022,” USDA (Oct. 25, 2023).
Up to 10 million people owe a collective $50 billion in court debt.3 “Justice-Involved Individuals and the Consumer Financial Marketplace,” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Jan. 2022).
More than 33% of U.S. residents live in the 12 states that have refused to expand Medicaid.4 Status of State Action on the Medicaid Expansion Decision, Kaiser Family Foundation (July 21, 2022); Census Quick Facts, U.S. Census (visited Aug. 30, 2022).
For over 30 years, EJI has provided legal services to some of the poorest people in the country facing loss of life or liberty in the criminal legal system. We believe that widespread poverty is a huge barrier to reducing incarceration, improving public safety, and creating healthy and just opportunities for all people. We provide direct assistance to people living in poverty and advocate for anti-poverty policies nationwide.
Nearly 40 million people currently live in poverty in the U.S., most of whom experience food insecurity. More than 11 million of the poorest people in America are children at great risk of developmental challenges that result from poverty.
The South has the highest official poverty rate in the country, the highest rate of food insecurity, and the least access to health care. Alabama consistently ranks in the bottom five states on indicators like infant mortality, overall child well-being, and life expectancy.
In a nation as wealthy as the U.S., persistent poverty and material deprivation represent significant inequality and injustice that should be addressed. Economic inequality impacts individuals’ development, opportunity, and risk of incarceration by a criminal legal system that frequently treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent.
Compounding the problems of poverty are the growing challenges created by unjust court fees and fines imposed on low-income people. Most of these debts relate to misdemeanors and traffic tickets, but thousands of people have been incarcerated because they are unable to pay them.
EJI is working to reduce poverty and assist some of the most vulnerable people in our region by creating new services and support around hunger, unjust fees and fines, and health care.