Wednesday, May 23, 2007

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.[1]

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[2] 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?



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