Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began to take its toll on the economy, millions of Americans were already struggling financially, living just one pay check away from financial crisis.

Wes Moore is the CEO of Robin Hood, one of the largest anti-poverty organizations in the country. In this SxSW EDU interview, Moore joins WorkingNation Editor-in-Chief Ramona Schindelheim for an open and honest conversation about poverty in this country, and how nonprofits, businesses, educators, and the civic leaders can work together to fund and create job training and education opportunities to improve living standards for these Americans.

“One of the most heartbreaking things about poverty is our level of toleration of it. The fact is that we don’t have to exist—our society does not have to exist— with the kind of poverty levels we have. We have chosen to.”

Wes Moore, Robin Hood CEO

The numbers before COVID-19 were already staggering. More than 38 million people live in poverty in the United States, nearly 12 percent of the nation’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Another 30 percent—93.6 million—live close to the poverty line.

38.6 million people have filed for initial unemployment benefits since mid-March, when the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders began. The official jobless rate was 14.7 percent in April and is expected to be much higher for May when it is released next month.

A report from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University forecasts that if the unemployment rate stay above 10 percent for a prolonged period of time, the poverty rate could reach 15 percent. The same report projects a 20 percent jobless rate could push the poverty rate to 16.9 percent, the highest level since 1967. Children and working-age adults are at the greatest risk of falling into poverty, according to the report.

Funding early childhood and K-12 education, job training programs, and programs that provide health, housing, and economic security are key to eliminating barriers to economic opportunities for vulnerable populations. That is the mission of Robin Hood.

Moore is also the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Other Wes Moore. His the second book, The Work, was also a bestseller. And his latest book Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City will be available on June 23.

You can watch this SXSW EDU session, Eliminating Barriers to Economic Opportunities, as well as other SXSW EDU 2020 videos on their YouTube channel. You can also discover SXSW EDU On Demand featuring virtual editions of sessions from 2020 speakers in their online schedule.

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