How to Fight Poverty in the U.S.

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Commentator Clarence Page offers suggestions on how to alleviate poverty in the United States. Page is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

This weekends' Millions More Movement march was organized in part to bring attention to steadily increasing poverty in our nation. Speaker after speaker focused on the issue. Some speakers called for more federal spending on the poor; others emphasized greater self-reliance. Commentator Clarence Page has his own ideas about how to help people living in poverty.


A lot of people are talking about poverty these days, more than usual. It shows you how powerful those Gulf Coast hurricanes were, so powerful that they actually blew poverty back onto the national agenda after years of benign neglect. But I wonders sometimes, how many Americans really know what poverty is? Most of the people I see talking about poverty on television don't look like they've ever been poor. Poor folks know firsthand that poverty is more than just a lack of money. It's also a lack of spirit, a lack of optimism about your abilities and resources. We never had much money in my family growing up. `We're not poor,' my father used to say. `We're just broke.' `Broke' was a temporary condition. `Poor' was long term. We were poor in cash, but rich in spirit. My mom and dad always had jobs, maybe two or three jobs. No times were too hard, no work was too humble to break their spirit.

Where do you go to subsidize somebody's spirit? Since the civil rights revolution, the black poverty rate dropped in half, from more than 55 percent in 1960 to about 25 percent today. But there's a new divide opening up between those who are taking advantage of new opportunities and those who are left behind. The gap between black poor and the black middle class has grown wider than the economic gap between blacks and whites. Nobody's happy about that. Liberals want government to spend more time and money giving a hand to our urban poor. Conservatives want poor folks to produce fewer out-of-wedlock babies. Both sides have a point. Maybe we can strike a deal. I don't care what's left or right. I care about what works. Poverty, like the poor, may always be with us, but there's a lot we can do to reduce their numbers. Jobs, job training, day care and health care will help make work pay for today's poor. More than a million black children still live in poverty, most of them raised by single moms. `Where are the fathers?' we need to ask. `If you want to reduce teen pregnancy,' a social worker once told me, `don't just give them a condom, give them a future.' `Maybe then,' as my fathers used to say, `they won't have to be po' no mo'.'

GORDON: Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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