Say it with me now—“Poverty.” Maybe even three times—“poverty, poverty, poverty.”
Why’s that so important? Because for a record 46 million Americans, including 22 percent of all children, that’s what they are living in—less than $22,300 annually for a family of four. Yet in a sixty-five-minute address describing the state of the union, President Obama decided it merited barely a mention.
Here’s what he had to say about poverty—don’t blink, you’ll miss it:
“A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance.”
Got that? Great teacher, poverty, child who dreams. We good?
Obama is hardly alone in his aversion to what Peter Edelman—a Georgetown Law professor and former aide to Senator Robert Kennedy—refers to as “the p-word” in his upcoming book, So Rich, So Poor. In Congress these days, most legislators will talk about the homeless if they happen to be homeless veterans, or maybe even “the most vulnerable,” but it’s ix-nay on the overty-pay.
“Economic inequality was a major theme of the president’s speech, so that’s good from an antipoverty perspective. He talked about education and job training, and that’s a plus too,” Edelman told me. “But he said nothing direct about the issues confronting the lowest-income people. If we’re going to make progress on poverty as the recovery goes on and thereafter, we need leadership from the top.”
Edelman says that Obama has in fact done a lot for poor people. He calls adding 16 million uninsured people to Medicaid “a historic achievement,” and says the Recovery Act contained “major elements” to help low-income people. He describes Race to the Top as “basically about the education of low-income children.”
“But every time our leaders fail to include those who are having the very toughest time when they discuss people who are struggling,” says Edelman, “it makes it just a little harder to pursue policies that close the equality gap from both the top and the bottom. It also leaves the door open for blunderbuss allegations that people on food stamps are just drinking from the public trough instead of going out and finding a job.”