Poverty is powerful -- in the lives of individuals, at the community level, and in a nation with impoverished social spending.
In a groundbreaking 2010 study, the CDC confirmed that poverty is the single most important demographic factor associated with rising HIV infection among inner-city heterosexuals. Indeed, the role of poverty in driving new HIV infections and poor health outcomes is evident across every community impacted by HIV/AIDS.
But this poverty just doesn’t arise out of thin air. It is the direct result of economically unjust decisions made by politically powerful groups in their own self-interest. These decisions destabilize our economy, increase inequality and undermine our best-laid plans and policies by reducing much needed government revenue.
An increasingly strapped federal HIV/AIDS response is reducing the impact of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). The past three years since its creation have exposed the fact that the goals of the NHAS will not be reached without significant new investments.
But of course, even more devastating than the toll economic injustice inflicts on Washington’s budget numbers is the power it has to force either/or decisions in the everyday lives of people affected by HIV/AIDS: either food or rent, either fund community outreach or clinical programs.
But we are powerful, too. Growing movements across the nation are fighting for economic justice, and we are key members of these movements. Together, the HIV PJA and our allies will overturn the power of poverty and fight for economic justice.
Why We Need to Fight for Economic Justice
Economic justice is defined as “the attainment of rightful access to basic financial and material resources and opportunities,” and is a key factor to ending the AIDS epidemic in the United States and around the world.
Research has shown that economic vulnerability leads to increased risk for HIV infection, and a greater likelihood that HIV will progress to AIDS. In addition, living with HIV or AIDS creates greater economic vulnerability for individuals, their families and communities. We believe that achieving economic justice will mean less HIV and AIDS, reduced suffering and fewer premature deaths.
While it is necessary to defend HIV-specific funding and programs, we also recognize that:
People living with HIV and those at risk of infection are deeply affected by broader economic and social conditions that shape their health, such as homophobia and transphobia, gender bias, racism, and mass imprisonment.
Changing the conditions that drive the epidemic will take more than HIV-specific federal funding streams or community-based HIV-specific programming
Many unemployed people living with HIV are eager to get good jobs that will provide consistent income and support their health, but have not found resources for reaching this goal in much of the AIDS service sector.
The HIV PJA is the only national network linking those engaged in these areas and drawing more supporters into these struggles.We not only contribute to specific campaigns that affect our access to HIV prevention, care, treatment, and jobs, but also join allies around the country to demand new, economically just priorities for our nation’s economy to expand health care and social programs. In doing so, we embolden our community with the facts, strategies and infrastructure to be pivotal leaders in these campaigns for change.
This work has become even more important as impressive research findings have led to a dangerous oversimplification that ending the epidemic is a mere matter of funding access to treatment for everyone who is HIV positive, in order to reduce new transmissions.
We need only to look at the myriad health disparities among poor communities in the United States to see that the power of poverty can overcome even the most solid research findings and our best efforts to extend access to care. Poor people continue to experience worse health outcomes from conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, even though longstanding diagnostic methods and treatment options could have wiped out these differences decades ago.
As more HIV care transitions to general health care settings under the Affordable Care Act, services that mitigate the impact of economic injustice on people with HIV are in jeopardy. These services not only make a direct impact on recipients, but also provide jobs to people living with HIV and others from heavily impacted communities.
Indeed, employment itself is all too often overlooked as an economic justice based intervention, while the need is overwhelming. For example, transgender people of color have had the highest rates of unemployment prior to the broader economic downturn, a persistent challenge rooted in discrimination and bias that exacerbates vulnerability to HIV infection.
In the recent National Working Positive Coalition Employment Needs Survey, 91% of those living with HIV who had jobs report that being employed improved their outlook on the future. Furthermore, many unemployed respondents anticipate that employment would lead to improved health and reduced risk factors associated with HIV transmission.
What impact will we see in the community if our efforts are successful?
Our impact, if successful in our economic justice struggles, will be tremendous. Less poverty means less HIV. More economic justice means healthier and more resilient communities. And on the road to full economic justice in the near-term, lives will be improved and lives will be saved.
Success in our medium term goals to foster opportunities for training, community engagement and base building means people and communities affected by HIV will be able to articulate the realities of our lives with dignity and join with others in a common cause to fight for economic justice.
Our economic justice work is led by a diverse range of people living with HIV and/or LGBTQ people, working in coalition with our allies. Therefore, our greater participation in these struggles will succeed as an anti-stigma intervention, as broader groups forge respectful working relationships with people openly living with HIV or as queer people. As we proudly contribute to ending the key social struggles of our era, we will add our own perspectives and passions while debunking myths about our communities.
Our Campaigns and Our Partners:
The HIV PJA offers a strategic range of economic justice campaigns and programs to our network members, in which we:
- Insist on sufficient federal, state and local resources to add new breakthroughs to the toolbox of effective HIV/AIDS strategies, without slashing what has been shown to work.
- Vigorously promote economic justice by and for people living with HIV and members of their communities, including the right to jobs, vocational training and income support
- Bring the passion and strength of the HIV/AIDS community to strategic and creative economic justice campaigns in the United States that would create millions of new, good jobs and provide billions of dollars for health care and social spending in our communities.
Our network has a wide spectrum of experiences and perspectives on economic justice, creating opportunities for collaboration. For example, member organization African Services Committee learned about the Caring Across Generations campaign through HIV PJA, and immediately brought crucial experiences and perspectives, since 75% of their female clients are key constituents of the campaign -- immigrant workers living with HIV engaging in home care services, who share the lack of workers rights and protections as other domestic workers while experiencing additional challenges related to their HIV status.
In 2013, we will staff and house our economic justice work with a core of partners in New York City. The New York City office of the HIV PJA is located within the headquarters of Queers for Economic Justice, a pivotal group in economic justice advocacy that intersects with the HIV/AIDS community. The city is also the base of the National Working Positive Coalition, which connects individuals who are interested in the economic advancement of people with HIV. This coalition aims to share resources and knowledge and have a greater impact on achieving our collective goal of improving educational, vocational and employment opportunities for people with HIV.
In 2012, the HIV PJA joined two new national coalitions on economic justice:
The Robin Hood Tax campaign, working closely with Health GAP and VOCAL-NY as key HIV/AIDS advocacy partners, demands that banks, hedge funds and the rest of the financial sector pay their fair share to repair and re-orient the deeply damaged US economy. By requiring these entities to pay a small financial transaction tax on speculative trades, billions of dollars can be generated – thus creating a new, much-needed funding source for HIV/AIDS, health care and other social spending.
Caring Across Generations, led by the Domestic Workers Alliance and Jobs with Justice, is a national grassroots movement to improve how we care for elders (including increasing numbers of people living with HIV) and people with disabilities in the United States. The movement aims to improve conditions for the workers who provide that care, and to create at least two million new, good home care jobs to meet the need.
In addition, we deepened our working alliances with two key HIV/AIDS groups dedicated to economic justice, the National Working Positive Coalition and the U.S. Positive Women’s Network. We continue to work with Housing Works and VOCAL-NY, among others, on HIV and housing issues.
Our parent organization, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, as well as the Federal AIDS Policy Partnership and its member groups, tracks HIV-specific budget issues, allowing us to focus on mobilization on these issues as well as broader economic justice work, rather than duplicative budget monitoring. We turn to groups like the Coalition on Human Needs and the New Bottom Line Coalition for analysis and action on additional economic justice issues.
Long Term Goals:
HIV PJA seeks to empower individuals, groups and organizations to work together to shift the dominant HIV prevention paradigm away from a focus on individual behavior and towards a structural approach that addresses the root causes of HIV: social inequity and economic disparity. Our economic justice work is central in these efforts.
Economic justice is emerging as a central social justice and human rights issue of our day. Over the long term, the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance (HIV PJA) will engage in these movements and use the economic justice frame to articulate and win key HIV/AIDS policy and strengthen our communities. The goal of reducing the disparities that are evident in communities hardest hit by HIV mandates a focus on economic justice.
We will measure progress towards these goals by evaluating the results of our contributions to key economic justice coalitions and HIV/AIDS-specific funding and employment campaigns, as well as ensuring that policy and economic changes that come from broader social movements ultimately benefit people living with HIV and those most vulnerable to HIV. In addition, we will see the successful integration of LBGTQ people and emerging HIV-positive leaders at all levels of social justice and human rights engagement to ensure we are valued and vested in the transitions to come.
Our constituents are vested in all aspects of economic justice campaigns. For example, many people with HIV have or would like to work in home care jobs, and would benefit directly from improved working conditions and sector expansion. But also as people with HIV survive and thrive to become elders, they will also benefit as consumers of home care services provided by those with solid training and labor rights.
How Our Network Members Will Be Involved:
As with all our efforts, our priority is to work strategically with and across our network membership to fight for change. In the case of economic justice, we contribute to broad, national campaigns as well as HIV-specific initiatives.
To this end, we will:
- Meet with each national coalition and partner group to determine specific roles and action steps for a range of HIV PJA individual and organizational members in 2013;
- Work with members to develop their unique voices as strategists, spokespeople and storytellers for specific campaigns, helping them develop skills they can also bring to other campaigns and community challenges; and
- Contribute to the development of specific economic justice perspectives on key HIV/AIDS issues such as the future of the Ryan White CARE Act;
- Further our initial efforts to increase federal support for interventions to improve HIV prevention outcomes through poverty alleviation, employment/vocational systems and services, and initiatives to boost educational attainment.
- Activate our network on policy issues that affect the federal budget, revenue and other economic issues, while supporting our members on addressing these issues at the local and state levels.
The silver lining of the current economic crisis in the United States is the light it sheds on income inequality and the need for economic justice. Yet, even with this increased attention, the economic marginalization of communities heavily impacted by HIV has not seen an equal spotlight.
Additionally, the HIV/AIDS sector itself has been a major employer of those who know the realities of economic inequity – including people living with HIV, current and former drug users, LGBTQ people and people of color. The mounting cuts and shifts of funding in the sector threaten this small haven of employment options in our communities.
Our members have called out for bringing the experiences and passion of the HIV/AIDS community to economic justice, with this issue area placing first among social justice issues of interest in network surveys for our 2012 Action Agenda. In 2013, we will deepen our work in crucial national campaigns on broad economic issues, while furthering our own work for specific economic justice for people with HIV, our families and communities.
Supplemental materials to be developed:
Photo and interview of Donte as Robin Hood
Quote from African Services Committee on Caring Across Generations
Quote from Mark Misrok on how the HIV PJA call with CDC opened doors on longstanding NWPC issues