We need to attack poverty now

Candidates this season must stop ignoring a huge moral issue: poverty.

All we seem to hear about these days is the middle class and the upper class. Democrats claim to be champions of the middle class, while Republicans are defending tax cuts for the richest of the rich.

But few candidates are talking about helping those in the rising ranks of the poor.

In 2008, 13.2 percent of the population was living below the poverty line. But in 2009, the percentage of poor people skyrocketed to 14.3 percent.

Today, one in seven Americans is poor. For our children, it’s even worse: one in five.

It’s not all the recession’s fault, either.

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Poverty in the United States was rising before the current recession began in 2008. It increased during most of the time when President Bush was in office with a Republican Congress from 2001 to 2007, and it has increased since the Democrats took control of Congress in 2007.

To his credit, President Obama did mention poverty recently.

“The most important anti-poverty effort is growing the economy and making sure there are enough jobs out there,” he said.

While it is true that most of us would benefit from a better economy in these tough times, an unapologetic commitment to addressing poverty and assisting the poor is especially needed, in addition to helping the beleaguered middle class.

Obama is aware that poverty is a structural, entrenched historical problem in need of bold intervention. If he wants poverty to decrease, he needs to attack poverty directly.

There is proof that direct intervention works.

When President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” and implemented programs to redress it, the poverty rate dramatically plunged from 23 percent to 14 percent from 1963 to 1969.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, another president who tackled poverty, said it best in 1937: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

We are flunking that test today.

Brian Gilmore, a lawyer and poet, resides in Michigan. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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