Supporters of a rent control initiative, including families, march near the Capitol calling for more rent control, April 23, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. AP Photo by Rich Pedroncelli.
Supporters of affordable housing march near the California state Capitol in Sacramento, California on April 23, 2018. They called for more rent control. Copyright photo by Rich Pedroncelli of The Associated Press

Equal Voice

It Was a Year of Local Progress for Low-Income Families

December 14, 2018

Paul Nyhan
By Paul Nyhan
Manager of Storytelling

Community organizations led by families made progress in 2018 in the drive to find solutions to poverty. Equal Voice News looks at a sampling of these family-led victories.

It was another wild year of politics and policymaking, and during a sometimes chaotic 2018, families won long-sought changes throughout the United States that will help working parents, disenfranchised voters, lower-wage workers, tenants and the environment.

You just have to look closely.

Often in 2018, the public’s attention was drawn to the federal stage, where the Trump administration appeared focused on unmaking policies – deregulating – and fighting over immigration and with the media.

But, progress for low-income families was happening locally: at city council meetings; on the floor of state legislatures; in governors’ mansions; and in the voting booth.

Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland enacted statewide automatic voter registration policies, changes that could affect 2 million voters.

Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice News looked at 2018 and picked a sampling of local wins for low-income families around the country – wins that reflected their priorities and issues. (There were plenty more.)

Voting Rights

In perhaps the most intense midterm election season in modern memory, Florida voters reinstated suffrage rights for 1.4 million state residents with felony convictions, the largest expansion of its kind in the U.S. in nearly half a century. Read more about the restoration of voting rights in this Equal Voice News story and a follow-up article about the next steps for organizers.

Earlier in the year, the Louisiana state Legislature took a similar step, restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions who are on parole or probation, once they have been released from prison for five years, The Advocate reports.

Elsewhere, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland enacted statewide automatic voter registration policies, changes that could affect 2 million voters, according to The Center for Popular Democracy.


California led the way on climate change in 2018, enacting legislation that commits the state to fossil-free electricity by 2045, a change championed by the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) and Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE).

Protesters gather outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 1, 2017, to protest President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the Unites States from the Paris climate change accord. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Protesters gather outside the White House in June 2017 to call attention to climate change and the environment. Those concerns continued in 2018. Copyright photo by Susan Walsh of The Associated Press

The story didn’t stop there: “California Gov. Jerry Brown casually unveils history’s most ambitious climate target: Full carbon neutrality is now on the table for the world’s fifth largest economy.”

Check out the whole story because it’s a crash course on the difference between carbon neutrality and fossil-free electricity, as well as California’s ambitious path toward both goals.

And the story just might give you hope: “For the first time, true carbon zero is on the table as a policy option in the US. We might actually see it happen in California, in our lifetimes. It’s a stunner, a ray of hope in otherwise dark times, and a fitting way for Brown to conclude his long and fertile career of public service,” according to Vox.


Wages: The fight for higher minimum wages raged on in 2018, with voters in Arkansas and Missouri approving hikes in what hourly workers earn. Arkansas will have the highest minimum wage in the South, when it rises to $11 an hour in 2021 from $8.50 in 2018, while Missouri’s basic wage will rise to $12 in 2023 from $7.85, the Economic Policy Institute says.

Protesters rally in front of a McDonalds restaurant, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, in Detroit. The group of protesters were calling for higher pay and the right to form unions in Michigan. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Protesters rally in support of higher hourly pay and unions outside a McDonald's restaurant on Oct. 2, 2018 in Detroit. Higher minimum wages were an issue for many workers nationwide in 2018. Copyright photo by Carlos Osorio of The Associated Press

Higher minimum wages in both states will raise pay for 977,000 workers, according to the National Employment Law Project. Read more at Salon: “Red state voters just overwhelmingly supported a minimum wage hike.”

The fight for higher minimum wages raged on in 2018, with voters in Arkansas and Missouri approving hikes in what hourly workers earn.

Paid Leave: Austin, Texas delivered another long-sought win for families, when its City Council approved paid sick leave for workers in February. Six months later, San Antonio followed Austin’s lead by approving paid sick leave.

Paid sick leave isn’t a done deal in the two cities, the first two in Texas to take this step, because of a legal challenge, “Paid Sick Leave Is Blocked Before It Begins in Austin,” Governing reports.


There is a lot at stake in the upcoming Census 2020 because it will help determine how hundreds of billions of federal dollars are distributed to communities and the shape of political districts.

In a win for families, The Monitor reports the U.S. Census Bureau will open an office in South Texas’s Hidalgo County in 2019, thanks in part to leadership by the Rio Grande Equal Voice Network. (This change was actually announced in late  2017.)

The new office builds on past progress by the Rio Grande Equal Voice Network. Days before census workers began knocking on doors around South Texas in 2010, the agency’s national director asked for a meeting with the Network to discuss ways to ensure a more accurate count, which would help the region receive a fairer share of federal resources. Then in 2015, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldaña met with the Network.

The Alabama state Legislature passed legislation that will require all for-profit child care centers that receive federal child care subsidies from families to be licensed.

Child Care

In June, San Francisco voters approved Proposition C, which will create a $150 million fund to invest in child care around the city. The fund will expand access to high-quality care, while also raising wages for those who work in child care. In addition, Prop. C will clear wait-lists and make other investments in early education.

Like paid sick leave in Austin and San Antonio, this fight isn’t over, as groups are challenging the validity of Prop. C’s passage in court.

Across the country, the Alabama state Legislature passed legislation that will require all for-profit child care centers that receive federal child care subsidies from families to be licensed, Alabama reports. It’s a policy that Montgomery, Alabama-based Voices for Alabama’s Children has been working on for years.

Criminal Justice and Immigration

Cities and states continued to lead reform of the nation’s approach to criminal justice in 2018.

Voters in Louisiana, for example, finally overturned a law dating to the Jim Crow era that required felony trials to be decided by a majority verdict, a policy designed to undermine power among African Americans, according to The Times-Picayune/ Now, trials will be determined by a unanimous verdict, the news organization reports.

The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights was among the leaders that helped win enactment of legislation that will limit mandatory sentencing for youth and give juvenile court judges some authority to change sentences, according to the Louisiana Youth Justice Coalition.

Austin moved to bring greater equity to its policing by passing the Freedom City Policy, designed to reduce discretionary arrests and racial disparities in arrests, according to Grassroots Leadership, Workers Defense Project and United We Dream, who fought for the changes.

The Freedom City Policy will also “require full vetting and reporting on requests by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for APD (Austin Police Department) resources, and ensure officers who ask about immigration status inform people of their rights to not answer, as well as complete a report explaining the encounter,” according to the groups. Read more at the Los Angeles Times: “Freedom city’? Going beyond ‘sanctuary,’ Austin, Texas, vows to curtail arrests.”


In Oakland, voters extended new protections from eviction to at least 8,000 residents by approving Measure Y, according to Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a Bay Area-based grassroots organization working on housing rights and racial justice.

“This win is built upon decades of tenant organizing efforts and is the local renter movement’s second major win in only two years…,” Causa Justa :: Just Cause said in a statement.

That’s only a sample of progress that families made in 2018. The stage for 2019 could even be bigger.


Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Equal Voice. Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. All original and contracted Equal Voice content – articles, photos and videos – can be reproduced for free, as long as proper credit and a link to our homepage are included.

2018 © Marguerite Casey Foundation

It Was a Year of Local Progress for Low-Income Families