July 18th, 2007
02:43 PM ET
9 years ago

Addressing poverty, Obama asks how can we 'allow it?'

Obama poses with a youth group from Covenant House in Washington, Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Speaking at a brand new community center in one of DC's poorer neighborhoods Wednesday, Sen. Barack Obama outlined his vision to revamp America's inner cities.

"The streets here are close to our capital, but far from the people it represents," the Illinois Democrat said to the predominantly African American crowd. "These Americans cannot hire lobbyists to roam the halls of Congress on their behalf, and they cannot write $1,000 campaign checks to make their voices heard. They suffer most from a politics that has been tipped in favor of those with the most money, and influence, and power. How can a country like this allow it?"

Obama unveiled his five-part plan aimed at "changing the odds" for people living in cities. He promised to increase the minimum wage, create affordable housing and jobs, provide education and financial support for parents and create an institution modeled after the World Bank specifically for America's cities.

Obama also said he wanted to launch an "all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck anti-poverty effort" to 20 different cities around the country. The program, originally launched in Harlem, includes free daycare and medical services, affordable food, early education and counseling for expecting parents. He said he knows it will be expensive, but that he "will find the money because we can't afford not to."

"The moral question about poverty in America – How can a country like this allow it? – has an easy answer: we can’t," Obama said. "The political question that follows –what do we do about it? – has always been more difficult. But now that we’re finally seeing the beginnings of an answer, this country has an obligation to keep trying."

One of Obama's rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, John Edwards, is currently on a poverty tour this week.

TIME.com: Can Poverty Define John Edwards?

–CNN Associate Producer Lauren Kornreich

Filed under: Uncategorized
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Jennifer, Houston, TX

    It's good to know that John Edwards' focus on eliminating poverty is being heard by somebody.

    July 18, 2007 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  2. Kevin McAloon, Fenwick Island, DE

    And critics still claim Barack doesn't really reflect African Americans' interests?

    Ironically, nothing can stop Barack except registered Democrats who don't believe he can win. Don't be one of them.

    July 18, 2007 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  3. H. David Carter, Atlanta, GA

    While I appreciate any candidate who focuses on what the nations people need and want, which includes feeling safe and secure to "pursue happiness," no program is FREE. Whether it's affordable housing, healthcare, meals, education or a living wage, the money comes from taxes paid by the working (legal above board) public or by some adjustment in marketing or a businesses sales/profit margin.

    July 18, 2007 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  4. Will - Miami, Fl

    Allow poverty? The only people that "allow" poverty are the those that are responsible for poverty: Those that "suffer" from it.

    In this country there is NO reason that anyone is poor with the possible exception of those that are handicapped to the extent that it is not possible to function and do not have family or relatives capable/willing to care for them.learning or functioning

    For the most part, poverty is a result of bad choices and/or the refusal to take responsibility for ones own success/prosperity.

    This notion that poverty can be "cured" by taxing the "rich" has another name – it's socialism. And guess what folks? It never works in the end.

    Obama should pay more attention to REAL black leaders like Bill Cosby and Allen Keyes.

    July 18, 2007 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  5. Ted, West Chester PA

    Here's a thought, take the millions all the candidate are wasting away campaigning and do something good with them.... These guys crack me up, addressing poverty while they wear thousand dollar suits.....Barack is just grabbing a few sympathy votes from the uneducated here.

    July 18, 2007 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  6. Will - Miami, Fl

    Go ahead and rip on the typo. It's not going to change the truth of the message...

    July 18, 2007 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  7. Jon, Sacramento ~ Ca

    HOW CAN WE ALLOW IT? ~ question raised by Obama and Edwards.

    Gee, I missed the "vote" that was taken to continue allowing poverty. Here I thought we lived in the greatest country in the world when it came to freedom and opportunity for all its citizens. Believing this notion we are "allowing" poverty to exist suggests we can somehow eliminate poverty (which has been a symptom of human existence since the beginning of time).

    Welfare-to-work, retraining programs, scholarships for disadvantaged kids, welfare, Medicaid, food-stamps, affordable housing programs, Affirmative Action, Government contracts earmarked for minority businesses, – the list is endless. We’re “still allowing poverty” so why not just tax the he11 out of working Americans to insure everyone has healthcare, new house, 2 cars, cable, internet, and TiVO to make sure no one misses an episode of Oprah while they're down at the bar knocking back few, or hanging with their "crew".

    There have been many nations that adopted a philosophy to eliminate poverty – it was called Socialism (Former Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc). Considering it worked so well there, why not here!

    Rah rah...go Obama Edwards Clinton – our saviors to stopping poverty.

    July 18, 2007 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  8. Kevin McAloon, West Fenwick Island, DE


    With all due respect, your comments are simply founded in ignorance. Study the economics of inner cities and you will see, without exception, poor Americans (of which the vast majority are black) suffer from an INABILITY to rise above poverty levels. And that is not due to choices on their part, it was (and continues to be) caused by DIRECT public policy. The lack of investment in inner city neighborhoods compared with the public initiatives to spur economic development in suburban areas is–literally–black and white.

    July 18, 2007 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  9. Ted, West Chester PA

    Very true statement.

    Poor thought process

    The has always been poor people, there will always be poor people. With an "investment" you want a return, the inner cities do not have a very good return, both socially and monetarily.

    July 18, 2007 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  10. Will - Miami, Fl

    I'm from a VERY poor family. Nobody ever provided anything for me – I've earned what I have in life. Although I'm not rich, I hold an upper management position in a publicly traded company and have a 6 digit salary.

    I am FAR from ignorant when it comes to being poor. My family recieved various forms of welfare all throughout my childhood, we were evicted more than one time from crappy rentals, I didn't have college money in the bank when I graduated high school. The list goes on and on...

    Now, if YOU have actually known poverty, cantinue talking. Otherwise I expect that you'll kindly retract YOUR ignorant statement that I know nothing about poverty.

    PS. Not that it's at all germain to the actual conversation but: "founded in ignorance" is a silly way to say what you're trying to say. Another way of saying it is "unfounded". You see, ignorance is a LACK of information. How can anything be "founded" on nothing? It can't – it would be "unfounded". lol

    July 18, 2007 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  11. James Atlanta GA


    With all due respect, who is responsible for failing to invest in those areas? By your answer it sounds like the elected inner-city leaders of those areas, which would go back to what Will said. If investments are not being rightfully made, it is the responsibility of those who elected those individuals that make the wrong decisions to replace them with someone who will look out for their own interests. Poverty continues in those inner-city (black) areas due to who those residents turn to help from empty-shirt leaders who have no interest in improving people’s lot in life: the Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other relics of 60's liberalism. These leaders make waves for themselves and then leave those in need to drown in their wakes. Really, what have such leaders accomplished? Such leadership problems do not occur in the suburban areas you speak of because residents look to the local and federal governments to offer opportunities for hard work not handouts. Normally when you offer a helping hand, you expect those you help to eventually let you have your hand back.

    July 18, 2007 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  12. Will - Miami, Fl

    LOL – It's good to see that we're agreeing in this conversation James from Atlanta.

    July 18, 2007 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  13. Kevin McAloon, Fenwick Island, DE


    I don't want to speak for Will, but I am almost CERTAIN that when he says poor "choices" are the cause of poverty, he intends "choices" to mean their personal economic choices in their lives.

    Of course I would agree there are certain candidates who better represent poor blacks' interests (and Barack is one of those candidates). However, inner city blacks aren't poor because they haven't been able to make the "good political choices" that suburban whites made. Representatives, regardless of who elected them, have initiated policy that is directly aimed at fostering economic growth in suburban areas because that's where the MONEY is. Inner city blacks don't want handouts, they want the opportunities suburban whites have literally been given by virtue of public policy. Have you ever been on a suburban train line going to/from a major city? Every morning it's black people going out to work in the nice suburbs where the jobs are, and every evening it's white people going back out to their homes.

    July 18, 2007 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  14. Andrew, Boston MA

    And I too come from a family that doesn't have a lot. I'm sick of hearing from people that "they lived in poverty they know, so they can call all the poor people out." I applaud you if it's true, and challenge you to accept the reality that for most poor people, the opportunities that you had may not be available.

    I don't care what failed in other countries either. We need to find solutions that work, not just do nothing because some things that others already tried didn't.

    Again, its not about supporting people, its about helping them. Unfortunately, the cards are stacked up against people in many ways that it could seem/be insurmountable. The luckier among should do what we can to help these people eliminate these conditions.

    July 18, 2007 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  15. John Smith

    Don't expect the mainstream media to point out just how full of hot air both Obama and Edwards are. Both support illegal immigration, something that leads to the poverty they supposedly oppose. They're both charlatans.

    July 18, 2007 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  16. Andrew, Boston MA

    My original post

    To Will,

    You represent the ignorant of this country when you make ridiculous statements like that. Do you think its so easy to drag yourself out of the horrible conditions that steal hope and opportunity from so many people in our country? How easy do you think it is to find a job when you have no money, no place to live, and quite possibly no access to facilities to keep up with personal hygiene? We DO need programs to help people get on their feet, and to help them take care of themselves, because when employers are out to pay as little as possible to the very workers that keep their businesses afloat, and when people are born into deplorable conditions that could overtake the most strong-willed of people, its not as simple as "well, the only people who are responsible for poverty are those who 'suffer' from it."

    Are poor workers in various other countries to blame that the best work they can find is LOW paying jobs shipped out by powerful corporations not interested in creating products in countries where they'd be held to higher standards? Ok, so its at least a job, but why is it OK to pay these people dirt salaries when someone here would have to be paid at least around 6 or 7 bucks? Tell sweatshop workers that the conditions they live in are their own fault. Back to America, tell the person who is living day by day, paycheck to paycheck, that its their fault they can't get ahead when they have so much trouble even staying where they are.

    Too many people believe lies like the ones you have spewed out in order to make themselves feel that poverty isn't their problem. But misconceptions and misleading (usually conservative) rhetoric doesn't change the fact that in a state of poverty, the odds are tremendously against those afflicted, and it is the moral choice to find a way to help these people. By investing in ways to combat and eliminate poverty, we are ensuring a better future for our country, and can set an example for the rest of the world to eliminate poverty, which could help foster a much more positive environment. Poverty creates and lives off of lack of education, lack of REALISTIC opportunity, and as we see in some other countries, fanatical devotion to destructive religious doctrine (Maybe a lot of people in the Middle East wouldn't be so hell-bent on destroying people of 'more prosperous' countries if they could experience the religious and political "indifference" that much of our middle class does).

    Do you believe it is so easy to move away from the place you were born, from the conditions that your parents brought you into? There is no doubt that SOME people may have fallen on hard times because of poor choices. I would be comfortable betting, however, that even they were more inclined to make those choices because of the environment that they grew up in. The culture that poverty breeds is often lawless and hopeless. Yes, people must take responsibility for their actions, but why should we stand by and do nothing while the conditions that breed and sustain poverty remain intact.

    Ok, thank you for reading my rant 🙂

    July 18, 2007 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  17. Kevin McAloon, Fenwick Island, DE


    You're talking like a WallStreet banker. We're talking about humans here, not business ventures. It is not the government's job to make money. If that were the case, I'd agree with you and say they should be "investing" in Times Square. Instead, it is government's responsibility to care for its citizens, regardless of the "return" they give. The reason inner cities have little "return" is not because they make bad choices, but rather because there IS no "investment" by public policy.

    And don't play McCarthyism here and call me a Socialist or–GASP–a Communist. I'm talking about American democracy providing a living wage for its citizens in order to rise above poverty, that's all.

    July 18, 2007 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  18. Travis

    Poverty will always exist exactly like affluence will always exist. The role of the government is to provide the freedom for an individual to achieve according to their priorities.

    If you want to diagnose the causes of poverty in the intercity, maybe consider lack of family structure, individual expectations, and government handouts, and yes, poor public schools as the major problems.

    But the solution: individual responsibility.

    July 18, 2007 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  19. Andrew, Boston MA

    Also, to the comment about how one can't be ignorant about this when they themselves lived in poverty:

    How do you explain that you have clearly bought into the false beliefs that so many people hold? For you to say that the only people responsible for poverty are those who live in PROVES that you have allowed yourself to become ignorant to the truth of the situation. Class separation and inequality stretches back very far in history. if you're not comfortable saying that people today actively help sustain poverty (whether on purpose or without knowing), will you at least admit that in the past there have most definitely been people (royalty, upper-class, whatever) that HAVE actively and purposely done the it? Poverty has been around for a while, and its not gone right now. Oh, but it must be that lazy people become poor, so that must explain it. WRONG. The wonderful stories we hear about people realizing the "American Dream" by lifting themselves out of poverty are rare.....you can't base an entire philosophy on those instances, since obviously, it isn't likely that's going to happen for most. Thats a reality we must accept, and so we are left with a choice: do nothing, the, for the "less exceptional" people who can't get out of poverty alone, or be compassionate and smart and figure out a way to help eliminate this problem.

    July 18, 2007 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  20. Matthew

    It is a wonder that now because Obama is saying it, it is fine, but when Edwards was saying it, it was horrible. I wonder when people will stop using the double standard. Both these men have come from poverty, and thus both have a right to talk about it.

    July 18, 2007 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  21. Terry Flynn, Townsend, Ma.

    After readin these posts I have to say that for one thing we all know very well that those inner city poor neighborhoods are not just inhabited by black people, nor is poverty strictly a minority problem. Also, I'm sure that most people would agree that any one of us in what I would still like to believe belong to what is refered to as the middle class, can be just a pay check or two away from poverty ourselves. My problem with Obama is that he to a certain degree is spouting the same rhetoric we as tax payers have been hearing for years. The programs are in place and for what ever reason they are not working, creating additonal programs and increasing the burden on tax payers is not the solution. We can not continue to support those who do not make the effort to help support themselves. I'm not saying it's all people in poverty, but I imagine it is a good percentage of them. By the way I would have loved have had assistance with childcare when my kids were young, instead my husband and I worked different shifts to care for our children and keep a household, it wasn't easy, we went without alot! The point is that people need to be proactive and take advantage of what is offered to them, make a better life for themselves and step off the assistance, to leave it open for others that need it.

    July 18, 2007 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  22. Tom Dedham, Mass

    Cycle after cycle after cycle of social programs championed by the Democrats have gotten these folks where exactly? Nowhere.

    The only people that gain from the "arrangement" are the Democrats.

    There are success stories every day in these neighborhoods, good kids who paid attention in class, got good grades and made something of themselves, the American way. Good for them. I applaud them.

    I am tired of it being portrayed that only black kids are poor, I had six brothers and sisters and to feed and clothe us my dad (yes, my dad) worked two jobs to support us and both my parents kicked our tails when needed and gave a solid foundation for us to build upon.

    We lived in the poorest neighborhood and through hard work and sacrifice we moved up.

    When I joined the service for a six year hitch (not because I was poor, because I wanted to) my Dad hugged me and told me that morning, "You only get out of life what you put into it", truer words were never spoken.

    Bleep Obama and the apologists for "poverty", I would rather listen to Bill Cosby or Larry Elder on the "experience" as they don't make excuses, just good sense.

    July 18, 2007 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  23. Kt, Marietta, GA

    So, Will, while in the grips of poverty in your youth, you received various types of welfare. But, now that YOU have risen above, it is time to cut everyone off?

    I agree that poverty will always exist. But, as a civilized country, we ought to provide a life line to those who want to escape. I am a capitalist who believes that my community is better off when everyone is given a chance to succeed.

    July 18, 2007 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  24. Steve, Bakersfield, CA

    There are two types of poverty, situational and generational (“Understanding Poverty” by Dr. Ruby K. Payne). Generational poverty is the hardest type to “cure” because it originates from a mindset that those who have gone through situational poverty don’t have. Edwards came from a poor family. But, he learned a work-ethic somewhere and worked hard so that he could have $400 haircuts while stumping for the poor. The thing missing from the picture is the work-ethic. Case in point, our foster child’s older sister turned 18. In CA that exits you from the system. She was given the opportunity to remain in the system so that she could finish high school. Instead, she found a boyfriend and dropped out (now pregnant). She has no interest in working. Many of those “trapped” in poverty don’t have the work-ethic to get themselves out. Throwing money at them doesn’t work either. Is there a solution? I think so, but I think a candidate that put forth workable options would be crucified in the media.

    July 18, 2007 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    It's been so long (decades?) since a Presidential candidate has seriously addressed the issue of poverty.

    These people are Americans, most have absolutely no healthcare whatsoever. This compounds the problems of how HIV and other diseases are left unchecked.

    Let me tell you that there are huge sections of Los Angeles and many other ciites across the nation that resemble a third world country more than "America". It's so dangerous that even the police are afraid to go into certain neighborhoods.

    It's about time we start to address poverty...because it ain't getting any better, only gets worse the longer we neglect it.

    July 18, 2007 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
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