Posted 8 years ago on April 21, 2012, 7:54 a.m. EST by flip
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JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to an issue seldom talked about on the presidential campaign trail by President Obama or any of his Republican rivals. The issue is poverty. A recent article in the Chicago Reader described poverty as "the forgotten issue in the presidential campaign." Census data shows nearly one in two Americans, or 150 million people, have fallen into poverty or could be classified as low-income. Thirty-eight percent of African-American children and 35 percent of Latino children live in poverty. In February, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney openly declared he is, quote, "not concerned about the very poor."
AMY GOODMAN: We’re now joined by two guests, Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, who are attempting to start a national dialog on poverty. Last year they took part in a 10-state poverty tour, and they’ve just published a book on the issue called The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto.
Cornel West is a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University, author of many books. Tavis Smiley is an award-winning TV and radio broadcaster. He hosts the PBS TV show Tavis Smiley and two radio shows, The Tavis Smiley Show and Smiley & West, which he hosts with Cornel West.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
CORNEL WEST: Thank you. A blessing to be here.
TAVIS SMILEY: Delighted to be here. Thank you both for having us.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you are on a whirlwind tour. The title, Tavis, The Rich and the Rest of Us.
TAVIS SMILEY: That’s what America looks like right about now. There is this gap between the haves and the have-nots, a growing gap, in fact. When 1 percent of the people control 42 percent—own and control 42 percent of the wealth, that’s a problem. When one out of two Americans is either in or near poverty—you take the perennially poor or the persistent poor, on top of them the new poor—we argue in this book the new poor are the former middle class—and the near poor, folk who are a paycheck away, that’s 150 million Americans wrestling with poverty. Mitt Romney, who Juan referenced earlier, wants to call this the "politics of envy." But we think it’s about fundamental fairness, and that’s what we’re trying to talk about in the book.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, that’s an astounding figure. I just want to stop and not let it go by.
TAVIS SMILEY: I say the same thing.
AMY GOODMAN: One in two Americans?
TAVIS SMILEY: Exactly. One out of two of us, 150 million people, is either in or near poverty. So, you’ve got half of your democracy fighting to get out or to stay out of poverty. And what we argue in this book is that poverty threatens our democracy and that poverty is a matter of national security, that poverty is no longer color-coded. Americans of all races, all colors, all creeds. As you mentioned, Amy, on our poverty tour last summer, 11 states, 18 cities, we saw all kinds of Americans wrestling with this issue. And finally, we saw on this tour poverty that was so extreme, Juan, that it’s clear to us that a slight uptick in our economy, the kind of which we’re experiencing now, a slight uptick, is not going to do much of anything to really alleviate or to address the kind of poverty that we saw. This poverty is not a character flaw anymore. It’s a societal crisis.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But, Cornel West, it was half a century ago that President—another president, Lyndon Johnson, declared a war on poverty. And you, in the book, talk about how that war has progressed, supposedly, or has not progressed.
CORNEL WEST: Well, we know, as a result of the social movements, led by Martin Luther King Jr., but connected Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan and others, that we went from nearly 24 percent of Americans living in poverty to 11 percent—Michael Harrington, Frances Fox Piven, others playing a crucial role. Social movements make a difference. But also, greed at the top has social consequences. This is issues of economic injustice, issues of class inequality, 1 percent of the population having 42 percent of the wealth. 2010, the top 1 percent got 93 percent of the income. And we’re not talking about wealth at this point. Income. Now that’s morally obscene. You have 22 percent of our children of all colors, each one precious, living in poverty. That’s an ethical abomination.