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Why We’re Not Having The Right Conversation About Poverty

Posted in Our Blog on November 16, 2011

Last week in this space, we quoted a column by syndicated columnists Cokie and Steve Roberts. The Robertses have a brilliant way of cutting through the noise of political chatter to get to the heart of the issues we face, and they’ve done so again in a column published Sunday about America’s rising poverty levels.

As you may remember, in September the US Census revealed that an all-time high of 46.2 million Americans are living below the poverty line of an annual income of $24,343 for a family of four. The Census also revealed that 49.9 million Americans are currently without health insurance.

What should have led to a realistic national discussion about how to fight poverty instead devolved into a blame game. As the Robertses say, “…Republicans don’t want to talk about the issue, because they don’t want pressure for more spending on those poverty-reducing programs. Democrats don’t want to talk about it because they fear the man in charge – President Obama – will take the blame.”

They go on to say: “Not talking about poverty doesn’t make it go away. And information is essential for action. Most Americans are horrified when they learn that one in five of our kids goes to bed hungry every night. That’s not the country we celebrate as the world’s greatest nation. To change that awful statistic, people – especially the people running for president – need to talk about it.”

True. But of course, in our 24-hour news cycle culture, thoughtful and reasonable conversation doesn’t quite move the needle like pointing fingers does. We want easy answers, but there are no easy answers to solving our nation’s poverty problem. It is an immensely complicated problem, and the only way we can begin to understand and ultimately fix it is for our leaders to begin talking, and for us to start listening.