Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Poverty: John Edwards

Former Senator and VP candidate John Edwards, speaking out on poverty: If you have the time, you should seriously go read the whole thing (full text in PDF format is here - it's only 8 pages long.).

But today we have a historic opportunity. We do not have to live in an America that accepts poverty as a fact of life or chooses to ignore it. The day after Katrina hit, new government statistics showed that 37 million Americans live in poverty, up for the fourth year in a row.

The Superdome made those people impossible to ignore, but we could look down the
streets of every city in America and see enough poor and forgotten families to fill all the football stadiums in America. Those families in the Superdome were abandoned, but in a less striking way, that’s how millions of struggling Americans feel every day.

They know there are jobs somewhere, but not jobs they can get to, not jobs they’re
trained for. They know some children go to good schools, but the schools for their
children have overcrowded classrooms and overwhelmed teachers. They know some
people live in safe neighborhoods, but they walk their kids past gang members every


Throughout our history, people around the world have been drawn to America for what we stand for: that we are all created equal, and that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The government’s response to Katrina undermined those ideals. One foreign magazine called it “The Shaming of America.” It has been our shame.

I want the world to see a different America — an America that is working every day to live up to what was written — I want them to see the one America that we all believe in. And that means that while we must first address the urgent tragedy of poverty in the Gulf states, we must also address the tragedy of poverty across the fifty states.


In the 1960s we fought a war on poverty. Our intentions were good, but sometimes we expected government to do things that only individuals and communities can achieve. Sometimes we gave too much money to bureaucracies, not people. Yet those efforts still helped cut the poverty rate by 43 percent from 1963 to 1973.

Again, in the 1990s, the Earned Income Tax Credit and welfare reform helped lift 7 million more people out of poverty. If we are going to fight poverty, we have to commit ourselves once more, more deeply than ever before.


Where I come from, what matters the most isn’t how much you have, it’s how much you give. Work gives pride, dignity, and hope to our lives and our communities. And so the President is wrong: America is not, and never wished to be, a Wealth Society.

To be true to our values, our country must build a Working Society – an America where everyone who works hard finally has the rewards to show for it. In the Working Society, nobody who works full-time should have to raise children in poverty, or in fear that one health emergency or pink slip will drive them over the cliff.

In the Working Society, everyone who works full-time will at last have something to show for it – a home of their own, an account where their savings and paycheck can grow.

In the Working Society, everyone willing to work will have the chance to get ahead.
Anyone who wants to go to college and work will be able to go the first year for free.

In the Working Society, people who work have the right to live in communities where the streets are safe, the schools are good, and jobs can be reached.

In the Working Society, everyone will also be asked to hold up their end of the bargain — to work, to hold off having kids until they’re ready, and to do their part for their kids when the time comes.

The first test of the working society will be in the Gulf. And the central principle of our effort should be the one I just outlined: We can only renew the Gulf if we renew the lives of the Gulf’s people by encouraging and honoring work.

I've been a Clark man for some time. But if Edwards keeps talking like this, he may very well have my support. I think his frame on the issue - that everyone deserves an apportunity to work and that everyone who works deserves a decent living - is brilliant. If only he were elected to something.

Hat tip to Oliver Willis.

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