Is poverty finally becoming a focal point of America’s political discourse? There are encouraging signs here and there that we might be getting some traction on what many see as an intractable issue.
That’s great if it means that policy-makers are truly committed to eradicating poverty in our nation, but it’s worse than cynical if our most vulnerable citizens are being used as pawns in a high-stakes political chess match. Let’s hope that the 15 percent of Americans living in poverty are not part of a series of strategic moves being played out until the bell rings signaling the end of the mid-term elections.
Too often the issue of poverty devolves into a conversation about handouts, lack of will or parental responsibility. Instead of playing the blame game and assigning fault to the victims of an economic system and political structure that has done precious little to help lift them out of poverty, it is essential that politicians, activists, businesses, faith- and community-based organizations and concerned citizens take advantage of the marginal-but-better-than-usual media attention now being paid to issues surrounding poverty. Now is the time for us to mount a coordinated, targeted and effective war on poverty.
To that end, two key issues are emerging this year as critical to battling poverty; jobs/wages and income disparity.
The minimum wage is shaping up to become a key issue in the upcoming midterm elections. Some members of Congress are pushing to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. Too little for me frankly, but we must stand behind these efforts. People need jobs with a living wage. Period. To do any less is to concede that we accept leaving the poor behind.
Pressure must also be applied to Congress and the business community to create more jobs. According to CNBC, corporations are sitting on more than 1-trillion dollars in cash. It’s time for that money to be reinvested in American jobs.
The other big issue is income disparity, which needs to be addressed through reforming the tax code. We must find a way to tax investment income at a more equitable rate and corporations need to find a way to close the gap between the incomes of CEO’s and average workers.
There are many other issues that can be targeted in the battle to eliminate poverty. We must identify those issues and work diligently to implement the best of the best strategies for success. In the poverty manifesto text which I co-wrote with Dr. Cornel West, The Rich and the Rest of Us, you can delve deeper into some of these ideas.
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There is both a moral obligation and an economic imperative for public and private sectors to work side by side to build a bridge for the poor. We must be willing to share responsibilities and resources to reach our shared objectives of achieving sustained results in reducing and preventing poverty. Each of us has the power to make a difference.
The Tavis Smiley Foundation has announced the launch of ENDING POVERTY: America’s Silent Spaces, a $3 million, four-year national initiative to examine barriers and identify solutions to alleviate poverty in the United States. The initiative will help advance action against poverty by engaging and mobilizing individuals, communities, and organizations to identify innovative and community-based solutions that will inform a meaningful path out of poverty for fellow citizens. For more information and to find out how you can help end the cycle of poverty, visit www.tavistalks.com/endingpoverty.
We look forward to combining the efforts of our Foundation with others working in the fight to eradicate poverty in America. I salute the Center for American Progress for launching TalkPoverty.org with my friend Greg Kaufmann, and believe this website will be a great resource for those who want to take action in the fight against poverty. The future of our democracy depends on how seriously we take the plight of our nation’s poor.