A National Goal: End Poverty Within 30 Years
John Edwards... followed [up on his health care plan] yesterday with an excellent speech on poverty at home and abroad, with some good and specific ideas."
The New York Times
"Edwards has already done America a great service by running for President and putting the issue of poverty where it belongs: front and center... Edwards is doing what every Democratic presidential candidate ought to be doing - talking about ways to eliminate desperate poverty from our midst once and for all."
-- Errol Louis
New York Daily News
"Restoring our moral authority means leading by example and making clear that the hard challenges don't frighten us. There is no better opportunity than the challenge of poverty - the great moral issue of our time." -- John Edwards
In a speech at the National Press Club, former Sen. John Edwards called poverty "the great moral issue of our time" and challenged our country to cut it by a third in a decade and end it within 30 years. To get there, he has proposed major new initiatives to reward work, break up high-poverty neighborhoods, help families save, and encourage families to act responsibly. In his vision of a "Working Society," everyone who is able to work will be expected to work and rewarded for working. Edwards also called on communities to discourage the reckless behavior that threatens the future of many young people.
End Poverty by 2036: Edwards believes that ending poverty should be a goal our nation actively pursues. A national goal will rally support for the cause and help us measure our progress. In 1999, Tony Blair announced a 20-year goal to end child poverty in Great Britain and he has already reduced child poverty by 17 percent. Today, Edwards called for a national effort to:
* Cut poverty by one third within a decade, lifting 12 million Americans out of poverty by 2016.
* End poverty within 30 years, lifting 37 million Americans out of poverty by 2036. [Census Bureau, 2007]
Reform the Poverty Measure: The poverty measure excludes necessities like taxes, health care, child care and transportation. It also fails to count some forms of aid including tax credits, food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized housing. The National Academy of Science has recommended improvements that would increase the count of people in poverty by more than 1 million. Edwards believes we need to measure poverty honestly, evaluate our performance, and hold politicians accountable for policies that change the number of people suffering hardship. He supports revisions along the lines recommended by NAS. [Census Bureau, 2005; NAS, 1995]
Creating a Working Society
Edwards has outlined a Working Society initiative to lift 12 million Americans out of poverty in a decade and beat poverty over the next 30 years. In the Working Society, everyone who is able to work hard will be expected to work and, in turn, be rewarded for it. The initiative includes major new policies in the areas of work, housing, education, debt and savings, and family responsibility.
* Make Work Pay: Edwards will increase the reward to working by raising the minimum wage to at $9.50 an hour by 2012 and then indexing it, tripling the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for adults without children and cutting the EITC marriage penalty. In 2001, a $1 increase in the minimum wage alone would have lifted an estimated 900,000 people out of poverty. [Sawhill and Thomas, 2001]
* Create One Million Stepping Stone Jobs: Every American should have the chance to work their way out of poverty, but some willing workers cannot find jobs because of where they live, a lack of experience or skills, or other obstacles like a criminal record. Edwards will create a million short-term jobs to help individuals move into permanent work.
* Create Opportunity in Rural America: Nearly 90 percent of America's poorest counties are rural. Edwards will invest more in rural community colleges, link training to actual business needs, and support rural small business centers. [Rural Poverty Research Center, 2006]
* Strengthen Labor Laws: Union membership can be the difference between a poverty-wage job and middle-class security. Federal law promises workers the right to choose a union, but the law is poorly enforced, full of loopholes, and routinely violated by employers. Edwards supports the Employee Free Choice Act to give workers a real choice in whether to form a union.
* Enforce Workplace Protections: To help protect workers, Edwards will create a new Labor taskforce to target the industries with the worst abuses of minimum wage and overtime laws. He will step up enforcement of the misclassification of employees as independent contractors and strengthen workplace safety rules.
Overhaul Housing Policy:
* Create a Million New Housing Vouchers: Our current housing policies concentrate low-income families together, isolating willing workers from entry-level jobs and children from good schools. Edwards will create a million vouchers over five years to help low-income families move to better neighborhoods. At the same time, he will phase out housing projects that tie families to certain locations and are often lower quality and more expensive than private sector alternatives.
* Revitalize Devastated Neighborhoods: Edwards believes that it is better to invest in struggling neighborhoods than abandon them. He will reform and expand the HOPE VI program to replace dilapidated housing in areas of concentrated poverty.
Fight Abusive Lenders and Help Working Families Save:
* Create New Work Bonds: Edwards proposed a new tax credit to help low-income, working Americans save for the future. The credit would match savings up to $500 per year.
* Expand Access to Bank Accounts: As many as 28 million Americans don't have bank accounts. Edwards will subsidize bank accounts for working families. [Federal Reserve, 2007]
* Defend Homeowners against Predatory Mortgages and Foreclosure: Edwards will pass a strong national law to prohibit the worst abuses in the mortgage market. The law will strengthen underwriting standards to ensure that borrowers receive affordable loans suited to their means and reach non-bank lenders and mortgage brokers. To help the estimated 2.2 million families already facing foreclosure, Edwards will create a Home Rescue Fund to help families get into more affordable mortgages and let families shed excess mortgage debt that exceeds their home's value through bankruptcy. [Center for Responsible Lending, 2007; New America Foundation, 2007]
* Protect Families from Abusive Financial Products: Families need someone on their side to help them get a fair deal from lenders and investment companies. Edwards will create a new Family Savings and Credit Commission to protect consumers. It will review all financial services products marketed to consumers and oversee all types of financial institutions, whether chartered under federal or state law. [Warren, 2007]
* Limiting Irresponsible Credit Card Practices: Edwards will restore balance in the credit card market through a Borrower's Security Act that creates a late payment grace period, limits penalty interest rates to new purchases, and ends the practice of universal default. [Demos, 2003; GAO, 2006]
* Banning the Most Abusive Payday Loans: After the Pentagon concluded that exploitive payday loans undermined military readiness, Congress capped interest rates on payday and other loans to military families at 36 percent, a cutoff that many states use to prevent loan sharking. Edwards will extend this cap to all payday loans, which now average over 300 percent APR. He will also encourage states, local non-profits and responsible lenders to offer low- or no-interest emergency loans. [Center for Responsible Lending, 2006]
Strengthening Our Schools:
* Strengthen Public Schools: Edwards proposed expanding access to preschool programs, investing more in teacher pay and training to attract good teachers where we need them most, and strengthening high schools with a more challenging curriculum.
* Promote Economic Diversity: Our nation has two school systems, segregated by race and economic status. While not a substitute either for racial integration or improving schools in every neighborhood, Edwards will promote economic diversity within school districts and across district lines by giving bonuses to middle-class schools enrolling low-income students and double current federal magnet schools funding to attract middle-class suburban students to high-poverty urban neighborhoods.
* Create Second-Chance Schools for High School Dropouts: As many as one-third of all students drop out of school, and the rates are even worse for poor and minority students. Large majorities of recent dropouts regret their decision. Edwards will create second-chance schools to help former dropouts get back on track. [Civic Enterprises, 2006; Manhattan Institute, 2006]
* Expand College Opportunity: Edwards will enact a College for Everyone program to pay public-college tuition, books and fees for students who agree to work part-time during their first year at a school. Additional student aid can make the greatest difference in the first year of college. [Dynarski, 1999]
Support Responsible Families:
* Encourage and Reward Responsibility from Fathers: Welfare reform required mothers to work and helps them find jobs, but it failed to do the same for fathers. Edwards will help fathers find work, require them to help support their children, and increase child support collections by more than $8 billion over the next decade and use those payments to benefit children.
* Fight Teen Pregnancy: The U.S. has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrialized world. Edwards believes we should have more support for teenagers struggling to beat the odds.
* Home Visits for New Parents: Home visits improve prenatal health and the quality of care-giving after birth. Children receiving nurse visits are cognitively more advanced, have fewer behavioral problems, and are less likely to be abused or neglected. John Edwards will invest in home visits by registered nurses to low-income new parents, providing matching grants to states to serve 50,000 families. [AAP, 2004; RJWF, 2006; NFP, 2006]
* Invest in Family Literacy: Thirty million American adults have very limited literacy skills; the children of functionally illiterate parents are twice as likely to be illiterate themselves. John Edwards will restore funding for family literacy programs, which address the educational needs of both parents and children, and give them the support they deserve. [National Center for Family Literacy, Undated; National Even Start Association, 2007]