Poverty In America

    WASHINGTON - The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.

       A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 - half the federal poverty line - was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

       The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. McClatchy's review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn't confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.

    If anyone needed a reason to support John Edwards this should do the trick. No one in the race Republican or Democrat is speaking out more or with the specificity of Senator Edwards. After we finally get untangled from Iraq, poverty will be an issue that must be recognized and dealt with. This administration has used the Iraq war to ignore and deprive the poor, while allowing the corporate profits and CEO salaries to reach all-time highs. There is a problem when you have these types of record extremes. It is an indication that the ones in the middle are disappearing. If we do not address this problem America will begin to resemble our Central and South American neighbors, where you have a few very wealthy people and the majority very poor. I believe that democracy cannot survive without a middle-class. I think that the larger the middle-class the stronger the democracy. Those with the largest stake in democracy are the middle-class. The rich don't need it and the poor don't believe in it.

    So, what are we to do with the severely poor? How do we defeat the systemic causes of extreme poverty in America? Can we free those who are entrenched in this cycle of poverty?

       Fighting poverty is a job for government, but it is also a job for all of us in our own communities. I believe our nation is up to this challenge. Hurricane Katrina exposed us to heartbreaking images of extreme poverty but it also reminded us of the extraordinary compassion of the American people -- millions opened their hearts, homes and wallets after the storm.
We need to speak up when we know something is wrong. Let's put poverty on top of the national agenda and pledge to hold our government accountable for ignoring the suffering of so many for far too long. I've traveled the country for more than a year, meeting with people who are struggling to get out of poverty. One thing I've noticed in these conversations is that they have never had a champion. They have no idea what it's like to have somebody to speak up for them. All of us must champion their cause.

       We must act both locally and nationally to fight for a higher minimum wage and other measures that will improve the lives of low-income families. And we need to get involved when our neighbors are in need. This can be as simple as volunteering your time to be a mentor to a young person or to help build a house for a homeless family. Each of us can make a huge difference.

       According to Senator Edwards government and individuals must play a role in solving this national scourge. There is no one right way to do this. It is going to require all of us to come together and collectively exchange ideas and resolutions. I think one of the biggest problems is that we have allowed Conservatives to scare us off this issue. So what everything we tried in the past didn't work, but that doesn't mean we throw out the baby. We must be willing to do what this administration is not and that is to evaluate our strategies and when they don't work, we try something different. We need to include everyday people in the process as well. One of the things that help to drive innovation in the business world was the suggestion box. A simple little thing like that can make a world of difference. It allowed the people dealing with the problem an opportunity to help solve the problem. Who knows better where to start looking for a solution than those who are at ground zero of an issue?

       Solving this issue is one of the most difficult and pressing concerns of this nation. We can no longer continue to let the gap between the richest and the poorest grow at these record rates. We have the money and we have the knowledge  of what works from years of studies and experience. What is missing is the political will to act. We are also missing the leadership to take up this challenge. When President Johnson launched his "war on poverty" there were plenty of naysayers and intransigents, but because of his strong leadership and political capital he made hard fought gains. And in doing so, he helped to reduce poverty by its largest margins since the depression.

       Now it is our turn to complete the process. Will we continue to turn a blind eye to the poorest among us, while the wealthiest continue to make record growth? Will we continue to step over the fallen strangers pretending not to see, rather than being the good Samaritan? The answers to these questions will say a lot about who we are as a nation and what values we believe are important. We have the technology to solve this, do we have the desire?

Tags: economics, extreme poverty, rich (all tags)

Comments

15 Comments

Re: Poverty In America

Excellent diary. Our One Corps chapter cooked dinner at transitional housing in north St. Louis just last Sunday. The volunteer staffer told me that they've never had a room open longer than 3 hours. The condition of the neighborhood would not compare favorably with wartime Sarajevo - no businesses, no jobs, no development.

It's not that there's no hope, either, because the neighborhood I live in now used to be the same way. It just takes opening your eyes and working on the problems.

by clarkent 2007-05-23 08:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

That's why it's good Edwards is focusing on poverty. Hopefully this will lead poverty to be a focus issue for all candidates in 08.

by Populista 2007-05-23 10:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

Sojourners is hosting Edwards, Clinton, and Obama during their conference on poverty in early June.

by clarkent 2007-05-23 10:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

I know. I can't wait. Hopefully Obama and Clinton will annonce poverty plans. Also I haven't been hearing much about homelessness. Hopefully that gets addressed.

http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=act ion.P07&item=pentecost07_main

That's where anyone can find the info. It's going to be live on CNN. The candidates part is at least.

by Populista 2007-05-23 02:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

Unfortunately being the "frontrunners" they can't. For Obama it is a trap he can't afford to touch. He has to try to stay away from any minority sensitive issue so he won't be labeled a "black" candidate and for Hilary she just takes for granted that she will have the base support.

There are many more wrong answers than right ones, and they are easier to find
Michael Friedlander
The Disputed Truth

by Forgiven 2007-05-23 02:36PM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

I would beg to differ. Have you read Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama? He spent 3 years organizing people on the South Side of Chicago. Mostly in the poverty stricken housing projects. During that time he wasn't exactly living a high rolling life. He quit that to go to law school so he could learn more about how society works and make a larger difference. I think that's why he got into politics.

I would argue the Obama has more real experience fighting poverty then anyone else. Edwards is running on it more but Obama I think knows the challenges of fighting poverty from his direct experience of working to fight poverty on a grassroots level. Edwards has done a whole lot on it though so I don't know.

Hilary, well her husband signed Welfare "Reform" and pushed though NAFTA and other "Free Trade" agreements. So I'm not going to argue you about that but I really think Obama does care about Poverty and will address it.

By the way no matter whether you think that or not you should read Dreams of my Father. Excellent book. Far better then any book I've ever read. And no don't worry it's not his political musings. It's just a honest story about a very unique life and it was before his political career so he was very blunt and honest.

by Populista 2007-05-23 02:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

Dreams of My Father is literally the best book you've ever read? No offense, but you should probably read more books. And I don't mean this as a slight on Obama, either, it's just that there are lot of excellent books out there.

by clarkent 2007-05-23 03:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

No offense taken. I guess I just haven't been interested in politics and all that for very long. So I never really read many non-fiction books.

On a second thought it probably isn't the best book I've read.

Any suggestions for books? And have you read Dreams on my Father? It really is tons better the Audacity of Hope. Which was a good background on his idea's but overall pretty boring.

I'm reading 17 Traditions next, Nader's newest book. I heard a speech by him about it. Very inspiring, even though I'm not exactly a fan of his.

by Populista 2007-05-23 04:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

Off the top of my head, I would recommend "The Best and the Brightest" by David Halberstam, about how we got entangled in Vietnam even though JFK's foreign policy team was composed of the "best and the brightest" of America. But now we are digressing.

by clarkent 2007-05-23 05:15PM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

You obviously didn't read what I said. I never said that he didn't know about poverty and the poor or that he wasn't sensitive to it. What I said was that as a Black candidate there are people who want to pigeon hole him as the "Black candidate" meaning his only appeal would be to Blacks and far left whites thus marginalizing his candidacy. I believe that he is sensitive to the needs of the poor and would be more vocal, but again, he is walking a very narrow road.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. - Daniel Patrick Moynihan
The Disputed Truth

by Forgiven 2007-05-23 05:37PM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

No I did read the post. I wouldn't have replied if I hadn't would I?

At a religious conference announcing a poverty plan doesn't sound too "black candidate"

"Those people" won't vote for him in the first place and there only going to have influence on other people that would never consider voting for him.

I see what you're trying to say I just think that him putting out one plan isn't going to hurt him that much or make him a "black" candidate in the eyes of voters anymore then other things he's done. Like call for the firing of Don Imus.

And frankly while he is a politic an I don't think he cares that much about what righties say or even the MSM. And frankly I don't think they would hit him that hard on it. If he made it his focus of the campaign like Edwards, maybe. After all they won't shut up about how he makes money and yet claims to want to help the poor (because they care about the poor so much).

Those people have enough stuff to "pigeon hole him as the "Black candidate" " but frankly I don't think many people care about what they say anymore.

by Populista 2007-05-23 06:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

Edwards has addressed rural poverty much more directly than he has urban poverty, also, which I think he needs to speak about more.  His plans would certainly address it, but I think he needs to be more vocal about it.

by jallen 2007-05-23 02:51PM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

That would seem to me to be due to his background and his base - which is much older, more rural and more conservative than Obama's as a rule (blogosphere aside). I think this is definitely an area where Obama and Edwards could profitably adopt rhetoric and ideas from each other.

by Englishlefty 2007-05-23 04:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

Actually, having thought about it, I don't think what I said was true.  But he should come out with an urban recovery plan like he did his rural one.

And yes, Obama and other Democrats should pay more attention to rural areas.

by jallen 2007-05-23 04:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Poverty In America

Anyone want a reason why I don't like Hillary? Because she can't shut up about the poor, forsaken middle class! I know, all those homeowners with working cars make me sad, too. If it wasn't for their steady income, 401ks, E*Trade account and college education, they might be out on the streets!

But what about the 15% of the population that lives below the poverty line? You know, those people who are actually poor, who struggle to get by, who resort to crime and who sometimes end up on the streets. The same people who are at the highest risk for unwanted pregnancy, STDs, drug addiction and violent crime. Any politician that trumps the plight of the middle class over the struggle of the poor will never get my vote.

And this is the single biggest reason why I have chosen to support Edwards.

by LandStander 2007-05-23 01:13PM | 0 recs

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