More than a half century after President Lyndon Johnson announced the War on Poverty, poverty rates in the U.S. average 15% of the population, or 47 million people, among the highest in the industrialized world. It’s a living tragedy and a national disgrace, and TDV has called for a “New War on Poverty.”
Sadly, tackling poverty in the U.S. does not seem to be high on the agenda of either major political party. The Republicans are busy whipping the country into a frenzy of fear and paranoia which helps divert attention from their real priority – more tax breaks for the wealthy.
Meanwhile, many of those attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week seem strangely out of touch with what is going on in the real world, more adept at “sloganeering” than tackling the major issues of concern to ordinary Americans – a lack of opportunity and decent paying jobs.
Perhaps delegates to the Democratic National Convention should spend less time attending fancy receptions and cocktail parties and more time out in the neighborhoods, getting to know the people who actually live in the City of Brotherly Love.
Like many urban areas, Philadelphia has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years. Young millennials have flocked downtown and surrounding areas where they can easily walk to work, get around on public transportation and enjoy a vibrant nightlife of hip bars and eateries.
That’s the Philadelphia that many conventioneers are likely to see, with most events scheduled to take place in South Philadelphia or Center City where much of the “millennial renaissance” has occurred.
But just north of Center City, still in the shadow of the iconic statue of William Penn atop City Hall, are some of the most blighted neighborhoods in America. Philadelphia is the poorest of America’s large cities, with more than 25% of its residents living below the poverty line. In many areas of North and West Philadelphia, the rate is 50% of more – twice the city average (see above chart of poverty rates by zip code).
Here’s a suggestion for those attending the Democratic National Convention – as you leave the Wells Fargo Center where the convention is being held, walk about a block north on Broad Street to AT&T station. Take the subway – the fare is $2.25 – through Center City, past Temple University to Broad & Erie, about a 25 minute ride.
There you will find a vibrant – if dilapidated – commercial district. Look up and you will see the long vacant Beury Building, a graffiti covered Art Deco classic that has been sitting vacant for years. Walk a few blocks in any direction, and you’ll see trash strewn vacant lots and crumbling buildings everywhere. Visit any of the neighborhood schools and you’ll find children who haven’t had a decent meal all day and teachers paying for food and supplies out of their own pockets because the state has cut funding and diverted resources to privately run “charter” schools.
We must eliminate poverty in the US by attacking it where it lives, in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia and other cities and rural areas across the US. We must fix the crumbling infrastructure, provide a safe environment and quality education for all children, and decent jobs and job training for adults struggling to find work in a faltering economy.
When we do that America really will be “the Greatest Nation on Earth,” as Michelle Obama said in her speech Tuesday night. But with all due respect to the First Lady, who gave an otherwise great speech, as long as there are 47 million people living in poverty in the US, we have a long, long way to go to claim that mantle.