Commentator says fiscal cliff negotiators are leaving poor behind
Now more than ever there's a need to set partisan differences aside to address the number of Americans living in poverty, activists say. But with no representation for the growing number of people falling into poverty, some are calling fiscal cliff negotiations a threat to our democracy.
Negotiations over fiscal cliff challenges have paid a lot of attention to the plight of the middle class. But some say addressing economic inequality and the growing rates of poverty are absent from the dialogue.
Tavis Smiley, host of the Tavis Smiley radio program and author of "The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto," says economic inequality hasn't been part of the rhetoric and poor people are being rendered invisible more and more every day.
"Poverty is now a matter of national security," he said. "And now more than ever, all the data indicates that we ought to be having a conversation about poverty. About this growing gap between the rich and the rest of us."
What would change the course we're on, Smiley says, is for President Barack Obama to make eradicating poverty a priority in his second term. By using the bully pulpit of the White House to bring poverty fighters together to create a long-term national plan, he said, we could cut poverty in half in 10 years. Smiley says we could get close to eradicating poverty in 25 years, but only if the president makes it a priority.
President Lyndon Johnson is remembered for declaring a war on poverty in the 1960s, which led to programs like VISTA and Job Corps, as well as changes to the Social Security program.
Census Bureau figures show there are about 50 million people living in poverty right now. But, Smiley says, if you add the people who live near poverty the number is 150 million.
"The fiscal cliff is what I refer to as the so-called fiscal cliff. So many millions of Americans have already gone over the fiscal cliff," he said. "It's not about going over the cliff, it's about austerity masquerading as a conversation about a so-called fiscal cliff."
But the urgency to fix the poverty problem won't come until the president is pushed into it, he said.
"Great presidents aren't born, they're made. They've got to be pushed into their greatness," he said. "(Obama) isn't going to get to be a more progressive president unless he's pushed. Poverty ought to be at the top of that agenda.”
On Jan. 17, Smiley will moderate a nationally televised discussion entitled "Vision for a New America: A Future Without Poverty." It'll be aired by PBS and C-SPAN.
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