Or... "The Mobility Agenda gets a shout out"
by Research Associate Jonny Finity
On Tuesday, EJ Dionne – distinguished Washington Post journalist,
renowned political analyst, and Brookings Institution Senior Fellow –
addressed a crowd for the 2008 Paul Offner Lecture at The Urban Institute on "Presidential Politics and Poverty."
Mr. Dionne talked at length about the role government plays – and
should play – in supporting "the least among us." He suggested that
many government programs in the last several decades have seen great
success: Medicare, Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Head
Start, the Job Corps, the GI Bill, student loans, and – despite its
problems – Medicaid.
In spite of these successes, Mr. Dionne remarked, the policy
debate over poverty issues is far from over, particularly when it comes
to public perception. He shared some insights citing The Mobility Agenda's own Margy Waller, on a different kind of goal (though one that
works toward shared objectives) that everyone can support:
want to live in a place where all have the opportunity and resources
necessary to contribute and participate fully in our economy and
democracy. We all fare better when no one is left to fall too far
behind and the economy works for everyone. Right now our communities
have become too dependent on corporations that don't pay well and don't
provide benefits like health care or paid sick days. As a result, there
are over 40 million jobs (1 in 3 in our economy!) that pay under about
$11 an hour. If we want a strong economy for all, we have to address
job quality too. If we want people to participate in our civic life -
volunteering in schools and on ball fields - then we need to make sure
that everyone has what they need to do that. Because whenever too many
fall too far behind the rest, our whole society is diminished.
These comments couldn't be timelier, as the economic
crisis unfolds and the media and politicians nationwide clamber for a
redefinition of "poverty." It is true that the current definition of
poverty is flawed and outdated. But the fact remains, that to define
poverty is to divide society. It creates a chasm between "us" and
"them", and creates a culture of sympathy and – equally as often –
blame. To address the problems attributed to poverty, we need to focus
on the bigger picture: a picture in which all of use are included.
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