Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Change in The Public Discourse on Poverty

In her article  Poverty Focus May Not Pay Off Politically  Liz Halloran points out,  " Nearly two years ago, as a shocked nation watched impoverished residents of New Orleans beg for help in Hurricane Katrina's wake, there were stirrings about the need for a new war on poverty ".   However for many years prior to that John Edwards and Barak Obama were well acquainted with and speaking out on the growing economic divide in America.  In fact, John Edwards tried to raise awareness of what he called "two Americas"  during the 2004 US presidential campaign.  At that time very few viewed the struggles of those in poverty as an important issue.  There was still a prevailing attitude in America that blamed the poor for their own misfortune.  Now that more and more of America's middle-class is slipping into the ranks of the "working poor"  the issue of poverty is gaining attention but it is still not considered an important issue. 

As Liz Halloran's article points out:

The most recent statistics available from the U.S. Census Bureau show a steady creep in the nation's poverty rate--from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 12.6 percent in 2005. In 2000, 31.1 million Americans were living in poverty, according to the census. By 2005, that number had increased to 37 million. During that period, poor people living in suburbs began to outnumber those in urban areas, and poverty rates in metro areas in the Midwest and South climbed significantly, a recent Brookings Institution analysis showed."

While the President kept telling Americans that the economy was in great shape and the stock market was booming, the number of personal bankruptcies and home foreclosures exploded. There are discussions about the attack on the middle-class and increased discussion of poverty. 
Now the poor are not just in the inner cities and rural areas.  They are also in the suburbs and the small towns of America's heartland.  The poor are not just the faces broadcast from the New Orleans convention center, the homeless that we try to ignore on big city streets or, the faces seen in documentaries on Appalachia.  The poor are often our neighbors, our friends or may be ourselves. 

But do American's really care about those struggling in our society?    If John Edwards' ranking in the political polls is any indication, not enough.  

And if the time comes that much of today's middle-class has slipped into poverty, the tax payer base has declined,  the housing market has slumped and when a nation of consumers can no longer afford to consume,  what will we care about then?


an excerpt from:
E. J. Dionne Jr. - Making The Poor Visible -

Read the entire article at:


John Edwards may be running third in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but he has already changed the national conversation on a crucial issue. Poverty is no longer a hidden subject in American politics.

Since the late 1980s, Democrats have been obsessed with the middle class for reasons of simple math: no middle-class votes, no electoral victories.

But focusing on the middle class is one thing. Keeping the poor in the political closet is another. Must appealing to the self-interest of the middle class preclude appealing to its conscience?

Democrats have lost enormous ground by allowing a myth to take hold that Lyndon Johnson's Great Society was a failure. "In the 1960s, we waged war on poverty, and poverty won" is one of the most powerful bits of rhetoric in the conservative arsenal.

Edwards took on this falsehood directly in his speech Wednesday in Prestonsburg, Ky., at the end of his tour of impoverished regions. "We accomplished a lot," he said of LBJ's time, "civil rights laws, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps and Head Start and Title I aid for poor schools. The Great Society and other safety-net programs have cut the number of people living in poverty in half."

Edwards understands that unless the country is given hard evidence that government can succeed, it will never embrace government-led efforts at social reform.

Quietly, a new anti-poverty consensus -- reflected in the dueling speeches Edwards and Obama gave this week -- is being born.

It stresses personal and parental responsibility while also addressing economic changes that are promoting inequality. It seeks to deal with the growing isolation of the poor, the need for early intervention in the lives of poor children and the importance of increasing the economic rewards for what is now low-wage work. Mostly out of public view, anti-poverty scholars and activists have used their time in the political wilderness to figure out what actually works.

* * * * *

Restoring America's Promise -- a speech by John Edwards

Originally posted to Pam's Coffee Conversation on 8/15/2005

... In the following article John Edward reminds us of the importance of securing the future of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. While I am certainly not happy with the privatization strategies proposed by the current administration, I have not heard the Democrats bring a better proposal to the table. As regular readers of this blog know, I strongly advocate reforming the Social Security system in order to ensure that assistance is available to those in need for decades to come. Fiscal mismanagement and fraudulent abuses demand that the current Social Security system be overhauled. This should be a non-partisan issue for everyone man & woman of good conscience who cares about their neighbors in need. Ensuring the future of SS, Medicare & Medicaid will take strong leadership that honestly goes before the American public and asks each of us to make the necessary sacrifices for the good of our society.

August 10, 2005

John Edwards is a former senator from North Carolina and was John Kerry's vice presidential candidate in 2004. Visit Edwards' new website at .

Since its founding, America has been known as the land of opportunity, the place where, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead. Today, though, America is not living up to her great promise. Thirty-six million of our fellow citizens are living in poverty. Millions of men and women are working two or three jobs and still struggling to make ends meet. That's not right.

In a nation of our wealth, it is wrong for people who work hard to have to live on the margins. As Democrats, we believe that every person who wants to work should have the opportunity to go as far in life as he or she is able. We believe that every American has the right to affordable, quality health care and a secure retirement. President Lyndon Johnson created Medicare and Medicaid to ensure that health care wasn't just a luxury for the rich, and President Roosevelt created Social Security so that millions of seniors could do more than just get by. As Democrats, we have always fought for these rights and will continue to do so.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the creation of Medicare and Medicaid and the 70th anniversary of the creation of Social Security. These programs have lifted millions of Americans out of poverty and kept millions more from falling into it.

Social Security is one of our nation's most successful domestic programs. Yet Republicans want to dismantle it as part of their radical agenda to help the wealthy at the expense of America's working families. This is unacceptable. Seniors should not be punished so the administration can help out its friends on Wall Street. Privatizing Social Security would be a major setback in the fight against poverty. We cannot and will not allow this to happen.

In the same vein, we must keep Medicare and Medicaid strong. These critical initiatives provide millions of seniors and low-income families with essential health services. Since Medicare was created in 1965, poverty among America's elderly has dropped dramatically. Today, Medicare provides health insurance to more than 40 million Americans, and Medicaid provides insurance to more than 50 million people, including more than one in four children. Given the enormous burden of today's health care costs, Medicare and Medicaid are vital tools in the fight against poverty.

When President Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law 40 years ago, he followed through on a commitment he made to help America's less fortunate. Johnson realized that America was not living up to its name as the land of opportunity. He declared a War on Poverty, calling on Congress and all Americans to work together to restore the great American promise.

Johnson made eradicating poverty a centerpiece of his agenda. That's the kind of leadership we need today from Washington, but sadly we are not seeing it. Today's Republican leaders promote policies that reward and protect wealth over work. The rich keep getting richer at the expense of working families. And to make matters worse, we are continually fighting Republican efforts to dismantle programs that do so much to alleviate poverty, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Decades later, we must continue Johnson's war on poverty. Too many Americans are struggling to get by. They're not asking for handouts. They want to work hard and make a decent living so their kids can have better opportunities than they did. They want to know that when they their kids are sick, they'll be able to take them to the doctor. They want to know that when they retire, they will not have to worry about choosing between food or medicine. Millions of Americans rely on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for help. They work hard for America. And America needs to work for them. That is why it is so important we keep these programs fully funded and intact.

Poverty is all around us. It doesn't have to be that way, though. Instead of ignoring the problem, we can reach out to the people struggling with it. It is time America lives up to its title as the land of opportunity. It is time work is rewarded instead of wealth. Every American who works hard should be able to live comfortably, afford good health care and be able to enjoy retirement.

Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have been instrumental in allowing millions to live the American dream. These programs show that when we are determined and focused on dealing with poverty, we are able to make a difference. Let us honor the legacies of these programs by continuing the fight against poverty. With the will and the resources, we can make a difference in the lives of millions of Americans.


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