skip to content

SENATOR KENNEDY SETS NATIONAL GOAL OF CUTTING CHILD POVERTY IN HALF WITHIN A DECADE

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

  • By: Toni Maxey
  • Organization: Virginia Poverty Law Center
MARCH 11, 2005


SENATOR KENNEDY SETS NATIONAL GOAL OF CUTTING CHILD POVERTY IN HALF WITHIN A DECADE
WILL OFFER ANTI-POVERTY AMENDMENT TO THE BUDGET ** Fact Sheet and Remarks Below**



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: LAURA CAPPS/MELISSA WAGONER (202)224-2633

WILL OFFER ANTI-POVERTY AMENDMENT TO THE BUDGET

Washington, DC - Today at a speech before the National Community Action Foundation, Senator Edward M. Kennedy declared that cutting child poverty in half is an attainable -- and moral -- goal to achieve within this decade. To meet this commitment he will offer an amendment to the budget next week that would enact a one percent surtax to be paid by our wealthiest citizens in order to take care of the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.

Senator Kennedy outlined the severity of the issue and discussed imperative we have to make a national commitment to our nation's poor children. "Poverty is a moral issue and we have a moral obligation to address it. We are the wealthiest country on earth. We are blessed with great abundance. And in the powerful words of Luke's Gospel, "To whom much is given, much is required," Senator Kennedy said in his remarks.

Today, nearly one child in five is living in poverty. Nearly 36 million men, women, and children in the United States now live below the poverty line-an increase of over 4 million since President Bush was first elected. The poverty rate for children in the United States is substantially higher -- often two to three times higher -- than that of most other major Western industrialized nations. And the number of Americans living in hunger and malnutrition has soared to almost 36 million.

The Senate is set to debate the budget next week. President Bush's budget includes severe, yet often hidden, cuts from programs that most directly impact America's poorest families-in education, nutrition, child care, health care, affordable housing, job training, heating and cooling assistance, and in community and rural development. For example, it cuts the Women, Infants, and Children Program, which provides health information and nutritious meals to low income pregnant women and their children. And the budget would cut Medicaid, which ensures that more than 50 million children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities have access to the medical services they need.

###

FACT SHEET ON POVERTY IN AMERICA

• Nearly one in five children lives in poverty.

• America's children are more likely to live in poverty than Americans in any other age group.

• African-American and Latino children are much more likely to live in poverty than white children. One third of African-American children are low-income, as are nearly a third of Latino children.

• The poverty rate for children in the United States is substantially higher -- often two to three times higher -- than that of most other major Western industrialized nations. Sweden's child poverty rate is a fifth of America's. Poland's is a little more than half of America's.

• The number of Americans living in poverty has increased by 4.3 million during the Bush Administration.

• Today, 36 million people live in poverty. And many of those living in poverty have children -- 13 million children are in poverty.

• Since the late 1970s, the number of full-time workers in poverty has doubled -- from 1.3 million then to 2.6 million today. An unacceptably low minimum wage is part of the problem.

• Poverty is particularly acute for women and children. Indeed, more than 40 percent of young children who live in households headed by women live in poverty.

• New data from the Census Bureau shows that poverty has hit minorities especially hard. The poverty rate for African Americans is 24 percent, twice that for all Americans. For Hispanic Americans it is 23 percent.

• The number of African Americans who were poor increased by more than 800,000 in the last four years and the number of poor Hispanics increased by more than 1.3 million.

Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy to the National Community Action Foundation March 11, 2005

Thank you, David, for that generous introduction. It's a privilege to be here with you and with Bob Coard from the Action for Boston Community Development; with Patsy Lewis from the Worcester Community Action Network; and with all the hard-working representatives here today from Massachusetts and states across the country. I commend each of you at the National Community Action Foundation for all you do so well on this cause we share.

The National Community Action Foundation has continually demonstrated great passion and dedication and skill in helping those in need.

For more than twenty years, you've fought for the rights of low-income families, working to improve the Community Services Block Grant, Head Start, Low-Income Energy Assistance, housing and shelter for the homeless, services for older Americans, health care and nutrition policy, tax and income policy, and energy conservation programs. Members of the National Community Action Foundation make a real difference in the lives of the poor, and I congratulate you on your success.

As we all know, your work is more important today than ever. In the last four years, over four million of our fellow citizens have fallen into poverty. Nearly 36 million Americans live below the poverty line. Three million more working Americans live in hunger or on the verge of hunger today than in the year 2000.

It is shameful that in the richest and most powerful nation on earth, nearly a fifth of all children go to bed hungry at night and are living in poverty. This is a moral issue and we have a moral obligation to address it.

We should set a national goal of cutting child poverty in half within a decade, and to eliminate it entirely as soon as possible thereafter. To meet this moral commitment, we should enact a one percent surtax to be paid by our wealthiest citizens in order to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. And I intend to offer this proposal in the Senate's budget debate next week.

We are the wealthiest country on earth. We are blessed with great abundance. And in the powerful words of Luke's Gospel, "To whom much is given, much is required." That should be our national commitment to our nation's poor children today.

This is what the American people expect -- moral leadership. The American people expect their leaders to stand for fairness, freedom, and opportunity. Those values are the cornerstone of the American dream. We believe that if you live right and work hard, you should be able to care for your family. You should be able to afford a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood. You should be able to put your children through school and in college.

You should have time to spend with your family, practice your faith, and contribute to your community.

We also believe that when life deals you an unexpected setback, you can count on your neighbors to pitch in. If you lose your job or become seriously ill, we all want to help out. You should be given a second chance to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and reclaim the American dream for yourself and your family. That's the American way. That's the American spirit.

You know that spirit well. You embody that spirit. And I'm so glad you're here to remind Washington what that spirit is really about.

That spirit is missing when the White House tries to reduce funds for the Community Services Block Grant.

It is missing when the Senate votes for a bankruptcy bill written by the credit card companies that piles all the burdens on the poor…all the benefits on the credit card industry.

It's missing when the Republican leadership offers a minimum wage amendment written by the restaurant and retail industries that would actually take away minimum wage, overtime and equal pay protections from over 10 million Americans.

Credit card companies, big corporations, Wall Street--when are this President and this Republican Congress finally going to represent all the American people? When are we going to make health care more affordable, so parents don't worry every night if one of their children is sick? When are we going to make college affordable so parents can proudly educate their children and enable them to build a decent future? When are we going to have clean water and clean air, so we can raise our families in better health?

When are we going to compete for good jobs, not by lowering the pay but by raising our skills in the global economy? When are we going to guarantee a fair retirement for Americans who have lived responsibly and worked hard all their lives? When is the Senate finally going to stand up and fight for the American people?

Unfortunately, we have a Republican President and a Republican Congress who are content to look the other way while millions of their fellow citizens work hard, play by the rules, and still can't get ahead.

Let's talk about the President's budget for a minute. A budget is a document that looks technical, but it's supposed to reflect a nation's basic values and priorities. That's not this budget. There's nothing compassionate about it. It combines the Community Services Block Grant with 17 other programs. It moves it out of the Department of Health and Human Services and into the Department of Commerce. It makes no sense.

You and I both know that this program provides funding for over 1,000 local organizations. All of you are at the forefront of its programs, and you know how important and necessary they are in fighting poverty, and promoting self-sufficiency.

Patsy Lewis of the Worcester Community Action Council in Massachusetts sent me a letter telling me what would happen to them if they lost this funding. They would have to reduce or close their GED classes and partnerships for at-risk students in the Worcester Public Schools. The agency could be forced to move away or even be forced to close.

These problems are not unique to Massachusetts. We can't turn our backs on the poor in community after community throughout the nation. Senator Clinton and I have called for greater, not lesser, funding for the Community Services Block Grants-- $675 million for next year. It has to remain a free-standing program as well.

Everywhere you look, this budget is a nightmare for those who need our help the most. It cuts the Women, Infants, and Children Program, which provides health information and nutritious meals to low income pregnant women and their children. These cuts are hidden in the President's budget. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the President's budget cuts $658 million over the next five years.

It cuts food stamps. It cuts Medicaid. It cuts low-income housing. It cuts low-income education. That's unacceptable. And yet the White House pretends it has an anti-poverty agenda. Nonsense.

That's why we must address the goal of ending child poverty in the budget. The Senate Republican Leadership announced its own anti-poverty agenda last week, and it's nothing of the kind. It's not anti-poverty--it's anti-poor. It includes a welfare bill that forces single mothers to work longer hours without giving them adequate support to care for their children during those hours. It mentions hunger but it is silent on support for food stamps, for school breakfast and school lunch programs, or support for the Women, Infants, and Children program.

Americans believe in personal responsibility. A fundamental principle and value of our society is that all adults should take responsibility for themselves and for their children. But there are problems in the economy that get in the way.

To solve them, we have to return to the nobler ideal we used to admire in our country-to another and even more fundamental principle that America is not only about personal responsibility, but also community responsibility, and government responsibility.

Americans know they have a role to play in looking out for each other. We see it in every day miracles--when the school teacher pays the bill out of her own limited pocketbook, so a child in her class can eat a decent meal, because the Administration has short-changed the School Lunch Program.

We see it when, in a rural community that has no public transportation, a welfare official drives welfare recipients to work so they won't lose their jobs.

We see it when a neighbor next door volunteers to care for a single mother's child, because the cost of child-care is out of sight.

We see it when families buy metal at local shops to mail their loved ones in Iraq, because the Army has no armor to protect our troops.

It's a wonderful country when things like this happen. But what kind of country is it that requires such things to happen so that people can survive, because their country refuses to unlock a little more of its wealth.

Personal responsibility, community responsibility, government responsibility-they go hand in hand. And when one of them breaks down, as it has today, we have to fix it.

Work is still the touchstone. As my brother Bobby said, "Work is the meaning of what this country is all about. We need it as individuals. We need to sense it in our fellow citizens. And we need it as a society and as a people."

Those words are meaningless, though, unless we agree, as Bobby did, that all who want to work in our society should be able to find jobs. The challenge in today's troubled economy is that it's still creating only one new job for every two out-of-work Americans. We need an economy that works for everyone, and a job creation plan that enables every American to afford a decent quality of life.

That means investing in good jobs by putting resources into education and job training, research and development, broadband technology, infrastructure, and schools.

It means jobs that pay a living wage. Right now, we're sending the wrong message to low-income workers. We're telling them that hard work does not pay. We're saying that those who play by the rules deserve little or even nothing in return.

The stubborn and inexplicable refusal of Republicans to raise the minimum wage is a huge part of the problem. For eight long years, Democrats have been trying to pass an increase in the minimum wage from its current level of $5.15 an hour. For employees working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, that's $10,700 a year -- $5,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.

I offered a proposal earlier this week to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. That would help over 7 million workers -- and 60 percent of them are women. Nearly three and a half million children have parents who would get an immediate raise under that proposal. And to their credit we received support from five courageous Republicans. I hope those of you from their states will go home and thank Senator John Chafee from Rhode Island, Senator Norm Coleman from Minnesota, Senator Mike DeWine from Ohio, Senator Pete Domenici from New Mexico and Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania for their support for a true increase in the minimum wage.

But too many other Republicans opposed this amendment and it failed. Why can't we all agree that no one-no one-who works for a living should have to live in poverty?

We'll be back. We'll be back to continue to hold them accountable for failing to raise the minimum wage. And I'm confident we'll prevail because the gross injustice of what's happening to minimum wage families today cries out for change, and the American people hear it.

We know that poverty has many dimensions. It's a labor issue, because the pay is so low and the workers are so exploited. It's a civil rights issue, because so many more minorities are the ones left behind. It's a health issue, because the health care they get is so often second-class care, or even no care at all. It's a women's issue, because women are so many times more likely to live in poverty. It's a children's issue, because they did nothing wrong, but still pay the price all their lives.

It's a disability issue, because Americans with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as other Americans.

It's an education issue, and it's on the front burner in Congress now, because the Bush Administration refuses to keep the promise it made to pay for the school reforms required by the No Child Left Behind Act. Some parents are shocked to learn that the public schools they know and respect in their own middle-class communities are now being cited under the Act as in need of improvement.

But I say, look harder, because the need is there. It's not enough to educate most students well in a class, or even the large majority of students, when poverty holds some students back. They deserve extra help. That's why we said "No Child" in the No Child Left Behind Act. We meant it, and President Bush and Congress must mean it too, because when all else fails for a child, education is still the golden door to opportunity.

Child care is another essential part of the poverty issue. The last thing the nation needs is the welfare plan of President Bush that will force parents into the workplace with or without adequate child care. We need to enact a welfare bill that truly lifts people out of poverty and into self-sufficiency.

Nearly three in four mothers with children under eighteen work outside the home. The well-off can pay for child care, but the low-income worker often can't. States are continuing to cut back funding because of their own budget crisis.

It's shameful that the United States is one of the few remaining industrial nations in the world in this day and age that fails to provide broad assistance for child-care.

Head Start is a vital part of this. For 40 years, Head Start has given the most disadvantaged children the chance to reach school ready to succeed. It's one of the most important and effective poverty-fighting programs in our country. It guarantees that nearly one million children can see doctors and dentists, and be immunized against diseases.

The challenge is obvious. We need greater funding for Head Start and Early Head Start. We need higher standards for Head Start teachers. We need to strengthen the quality and performance standards that are the heart of Head Start.

I'm hopeful we'll get bipartisan support for these reforms. The last thing we need is a block grant for the program that would dismantle the services that so many children and families depend so heavily on.

Last but far from least, we have to mend the holes in the nation's safety net, because too many Americans are falling through it.

We know how to mend it. All we lack is the will. History provides a powerful example. The elderly were once the poorest of the poor in our society. But we made a firm commitment that growing old should not mean endless troubled years of poverty and illness and early death.

We enacted Social Security and Medicare, the two greatest triumphs of social policy in our history, and they've made the older years truly golden years for millions of our citizens.

Now, however, Social Security is under intense assault by the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress. They're bent on dismantling Social Security. Our reply is as simple as it is obvious-don't you dare privatize Social Security. And any Republican in Congress who tries to do it should be privatized in the next election.

Each of you knows the wide range of challenges we face. You're serving on the front lines. You're the true army of compassion, and you've been fighting with great skill, often against heavy odds. But the challenge has become too critical in all of its dimensions for Americans to ignore any longer. The soothing promises of those in powerful places have been unmasked for what they are--promises they never meant to keep.

We all share a vision for a better America. We're all committed to true opportunity for all-not as an abstract principle, but as a practical necessity. A new American majority is ready to respond to our call for a revitalized American dream--grounded firmly in the Constitution and in the endless adventure of lifting this nation to ever new heights of discovery, prosperity, progress, and service to all our people and to all humanity.

If we summon the courage and determination to take our stand and state it clearly, I'm convinced the battles that lie ahead will bring our greatest victories. I look forward to working with each of you to see that every American can fully share in our country's extraordinary prosperity. And in doing so, we will make America America again. Thank you very much.

MARCH 11, 2005


SENATOR KENNEDY SETS NATIONAL GOAL OF CUTTING CHILD POVERTY IN HALF WITHIN A DECADE
WILL OFFER ANTI-POVERTY AMENDMENT TO THE BUDGET ** Fact Sheet and Remarks Below**



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: LAURA CAPPS/MELISSA WAGONER (202)224-2633

WILL OFFER ANTI-POVERTY AMENDMENT TO THE BUDGET

Washington, DC - Today at a speech before the National Community Action Foundation, Senator Edward M. Kennedy declared that cutting child poverty in half is an attainable -- and moral -- goal to achieve within this decade. To meet this commitment he will offer an amendment to the budget next week that would enact a one percent surtax to be paid by our wealthiest citizens in order to take care of the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.

Senator Kennedy outlined the severity of the issue and discussed imperative we have to make a national commitment to our nation's poor children. "Poverty is a moral issue and we have a moral obligation to address it. We are the wealthiest country on earth. We are blessed with great abundance. And in the powerful words of Luke's Gospel, "To whom much is given, much is required," Senator Kennedy said in his remarks.

Today, nearly one child in five is living in poverty. Nearly 36 million men, women, and children in the United States now live below the poverty line-an increase of over 4 million since President Bush was first elected. The poverty rate for children in the United States is substantially higher -- often two to three times higher -- than that of most other major Western industrialized nations. And the number of Americans living in hunger and malnutrition has soared to almost 36 million.

The Senate is set to debate the budget next week. President Bush's budget includes severe, yet often hidden, cuts from programs that most directly impact America's poorest families-in education, nutrition, child care, health care, affordable housing, job training, heating and cooling assistance, and in community and rural development. For example, it cuts the Women, Infants, and Children Program, which provides health information and nutritious meals to low income pregnant women and their children. And the budget would cut Medicaid, which ensures that more than 50 million children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities have access to the medical services they need.

###

FACT SHEET ON POVERTY IN AMERICA

• Nearly one in five children lives in poverty.

• America's children are more likely to live in poverty than Americans in any other age group.

• African-American and Latino children are much more likely to live in poverty than white children. One third of African-American children are low-income, as are nearly a third of Latino children.

• The poverty rate for children in the United States is substantially higher -- often two to three times higher -- than that of most other major Western industrialized nations. Sweden's child poverty rate is a fifth of America's. Poland's is a little more than half of America's.

• The number of Americans living in poverty has increased by 4.3 million during the Bush Administration.

• Today, 36 million people live in poverty. And many of those living in poverty have children -- 13 million children are in poverty.

• Since the late 1970s, the number of full-time workers in poverty has doubled -- from 1.3 million then to 2.6 million today. An unacceptably low minimum wage is part of the problem.

• Poverty is particularly acute for women and children. Indeed, more than 40 percent of young children who live in households headed by women live in poverty.

• New data from the Census Bureau shows that poverty has hit minorities especially hard. The poverty rate for African Americans is 24 percent, twice that for all Americans. For Hispanic Americans it is 23 percent.

• The number of African Americans who were poor increased by more than 800,000 in the last four years and the number of poor Hispanics increased by more than 1.3 million.

Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy to the National Community Action Foundation March 11, 2005

Thank you, David, for that generous introduction. It's a privilege to be here with you and with Bob Coard from the Action for Boston Community Development; with Patsy Lewis from the Worcester Community Action Network; and with all the hard-working representatives here today from Massachusetts and states across the country. I commend each of you at the National Community Action Foundation for all you do so well on this cause we share.

The National Community Action Foundation has continually demonstrated great passion and dedication and skill in helping those in need.

For more than twenty years, you've fought for the rights of low-income families, working to improve the Community Services Block Grant, Head Start, Low-Income Energy Assistance, housing and shelter for the homeless, services for older Americans, health care and nutrition policy, tax and income policy, and energy conservation programs. Members of the National Community Action Foundation make a real difference in the lives of the poor, and I congratulate you on your success.

As we all know, your work is more important today than ever. In the last four years, over four million of our fellow citizens have fallen into poverty. Nearly 36 million Americans live below the poverty line. Three million more working Americans live in hunger or on the verge of hunger today than in the year 2000.

It is shameful that in the richest and most powerful nation on earth, nearly a fifth of all children go to bed hungry at night and are living in poverty. This is a moral issue and we have a moral obligation to address it.

We should set a national goal of cutting child poverty in half within a decade, and to eliminate it entirely as soon as possible thereafter. To meet this moral commitment, we should enact a one percent surtax to be paid by our wealthiest citizens in order to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. And I intend to offer this proposal in the Senate's budget debate next week.

We are the wealthiest country on earth. We are blessed with great abundance. And in the powerful words of Luke's Gospel, "To whom much is given, much is required." That should be our national commitment to our nation's poor children today.

This is what the American people expect -- moral leadership. The American people expect their leaders to stand for fairness, freedom, and opportunity. Those values are the cornerstone of the American dream. We believe that if you live right and work hard, you should be able to care for your family. You should be able to afford a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood. You should be able to put your children through school and in college.

You should have time to spend with your family, practice your faith, and contribute to your community.

We also believe that when life deals you an unexpected setback, you can count on your neighbors to pitch in. If you lose your job or become seriously ill, we all want to help out. You should be given a second chance to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and reclaim the American dream for yourself and your family. That's the American way. That's the American spirit.

You know that spirit well. You embody that spirit. And I'm so glad you're here to remind Washington what that spirit is really about.

That spirit is missing when the White House tries to reduce funds for the Community Services Block Grant.

It is missing when the Senate votes for a bankruptcy bill written by the credit card companies that piles all the burdens on the poor…all the benefits on the credit card industry.

It's missing when the Republican leadership offers a minimum wage amendment written by the restaurant and retail industries that would actually take away minimum wage, overtime and equal pay protections from over 10 million Americans.

Credit card companies, big corporations, Wall Street--when are this President and this Republican Congress finally going to represent all the American people? When are we going to make health care more affordable, so parents don't worry every night if one of their children is sick? When are we going to make college affordable so parents can proudly educate their children and enable them to build a decent future? When are we going to have clean water and clean air, so we can raise our families in better health?

When are we going to compete for good jobs, not by lowering the pay but by raising our skills in the global economy? When are we going to guarantee a fair retirement for Americans who have lived responsibly and worked hard all their lives? When is the Senate finally going to stand up and fight for the American people?

Unfortunately, we have a Republican President and a Republican Congress who are content to look the other way while millions of their fellow citizens work hard, play by the rules, and still can't get ahead.

Let's talk about the President's budget for a minute. A budget is a document that looks technical, but it's supposed to reflect a nation's basic values and priorities. That's not this budget. There's nothing compassionate about it. It combines the Community Services Block Grant with 17 other programs. It moves it out of the Department of Health and Human Services and into the Department of Commerce. It makes no sense.

You and I both know that this program provides funding for over 1,000 local organizations. All of you are at the forefront of its programs, and you know how important and necessary they are in fighting poverty, and promoting self-sufficiency.

Patsy Lewis of the Worcester Community Action Council in Massachusetts sent me a letter telling me what would happen to them if they lost this funding. They would have to reduce or close their GED classes and partnerships for at-risk students in the Worcester Public Schools. The agency could be forced to move away or even be forced to close.

These problems are not unique to Massachusetts. We can't turn our backs on the poor in community after community throughout the nation. Senator Clinton and I have called for greater, not lesser, funding for the Community Services Block Grants-- $675 million for next year. It has to remain a free-standing program as well.

Everywhere you look, this budget is a nightmare for those who need our help the most. It cuts the Women, Infants, and Children Program, which provides health information and nutritious meals to low income pregnant women and their children. These cuts are hidden in the President's budget. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the President's budget cuts $658 million over the next five years.

It cuts food stamps. It cuts Medicaid. It cuts low-income housing. It cuts low-income education. That's unacceptable. And yet the White House pretends it has an anti-poverty agenda. Nonsense.

That's why we must address the goal of ending child poverty in the budget. The Senate Republican Leadership announced its own anti-poverty agenda last week, and it's nothing of the kind. It's not anti-poverty--it's anti-poor. It includes a welfare bill that forces single mothers to work longer hours without giving them adequate support to care for their children during those hours. It mentions hunger but it is silent on support for food stamps, for school breakfast and school lunch programs, or support for the Women, Infants, and Children program.

Americans believe in personal responsibility. A fundamental principle and value of our society is that all adults should take responsibility for themselves and for their children. But there are problems in the economy that get in the way.

To solve them, we have to return to the nobler ideal we used to admire in our country-to another and even more fundamental principle that America is not only about personal responsibility, but also community responsibility, and government responsibility.

Americans know they have a role to play in looking out for each other. We see it in every day miracles--when the school teacher pays the bill out of her own limited pocketbook, so a child in her class can eat a decent meal, because the Administration has short-changed the School Lunch Program.

We see it when, in a rural community that has no public transportation, a welfare official drives welfare recipients to work so they won't lose their jobs.

We see it when a neighbor next door volunteers to care for a single mother's child, because the cost of child-care is out of sight.

We see it when families buy metal at local shops to mail their loved ones in Iraq, because the Army has no armor to protect our troops.

It's a wonderful country when things like this happen. But what kind of country is it that requires such things to happen so that people can survive, because their country refuses to unlock a little more of its wealth.

Personal responsibility, community responsibility, government responsibility-they go hand in hand. And when one of them breaks down, as it has today, we have to fix it.

Work is still the touchstone. As my brother Bobby said, "Work is the meaning of what this country is all about. We need it as individuals. We need to sense it in our fellow citizens. And we need it as a society and as a people."

Those words are meaningless, though, unless we agree, as Bobby did, that all who want to work in our society should be able to find jobs. The challenge in today's troubled economy is that it's still creating only one new job for every two out-of-work Americans. We need an economy that works for everyone, and a job creation plan that enables every American to afford a decent quality of life.

That means investing in good jobs by putting resources into education and job training, research and development, broadband technology, infrastructure, and schools.

It means jobs that pay a living wage. Right now, we're sending the wrong message to low-income workers. We're telling them that hard work does not pay. We're saying that those who play by the rules deserve little or even nothing in return.

The stubborn and inexplicable refusal of Republicans to raise the minimum wage is a huge part of the problem. For eight long years, Democrats have been trying to pass an increase in the minimum wage from its current level of $5.15 an hour. For employees working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, that's $10,700 a year -- $5,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.

I offered a proposal earlier this week to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. That would help over 7 million workers -- and 60 percent of them are women. Nearly three and a half million children have parents who would get an immediate raise under that proposal. And to their credit we received support from five courageous Republicans. I hope those of you from their states will go home and thank Senator John Chafee from Rhode Island, Senator Norm Coleman from Minnesota, Senator Mike DeWine from Ohio, Senator Pete Domenici from New Mexico and Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania for their support for a true increase in the minimum wage.

But too many other Republicans opposed this amendment and it failed. Why can't we all agree that no one-no one-who works for a living should have to live in poverty?

We'll be back. We'll be back to continue to hold them accountable for failing to raise the minimum wage. And I'm confident we'll prevail because the gross injustice of what's happening to minimum wage families today cries out for change, and the American people hear it.

We know that poverty has many dimensions. It's a labor issue, because the pay is so low and the workers are so exploited. It's a civil rights issue, because so many more minorities are the ones left behind. It's a health issue, because the health care they get is so often second-class care, or even no care at all. It's a women's issue, because women are so many times more likely to live in poverty. It's a children's issue, because they did nothing wrong, but still pay the price all their lives.

It's a disability issue, because Americans with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as other Americans.

It's an education issue, and it's on the front burner in Congress now, because the Bush Administration refuses to keep the promise it made to pay for the school reforms required by the No Child Left Behind Act. Some parents are shocked to learn that the public schools they know and respect in their own middle-class communities are now being cited under the Act as in need of improvement.

But I say, look harder, because the need is there. It's not enough to educate most students well in a class, or even the large majority of students, when poverty holds some students back. They deserve extra help. That's why we said "No Child" in the No Child Left Behind Act. We meant it, and President Bush and Congress must mean it too, because when all else fails for a child, education is still the golden door to opportunity.

Child care is another essential part of the poverty issue. The last thing the nation needs is the welfare plan of President Bush that will force parents into the workplace with or without adequate child care. We need to enact a welfare bill that truly lifts people out of poverty and into self-sufficiency.

Nearly three in four mothers with children under eighteen work outside the home. The well-off can pay for child care, but the low-income worker often can't. States are continuing to cut back funding because of their own budget crisis.

It's shameful that the United States is one of the few remaining industrial nations in the world in this day and age that fails to provide broad assistance for child-care.

Head Start is a vital part of this. For 40 years, Head Start has given the most disadvantaged children the chance to reach school ready to succeed. It's one of the most important and effective poverty-fighting programs in our country. It guarantees that nearly one million children can see doctors and dentists, and be immunized against diseases.

The challenge is obvious. We need greater funding for Head Start and Early Head Start. We need higher standards for Head Start teachers. We need to strengthen the quality and performance standards that are the heart of Head Start.

I'm hopeful we'll get bipartisan support for these reforms. The last thing we need is a block grant for the program that would dismantle the services that so many children and families depend so heavily on.

Last but far from least, we have to mend the holes in the nation's safety net, because too many Americans are falling through it.

We know how to mend it. All we lack is the will. History provides a powerful example. The elderly were once the poorest of the poor in our society. But we made a firm commitment that growing old should not mean endless troubled years of poverty and illness and early death.

We enacted Social Security and Medicare, the two greatest triumphs of social policy in our history, and they've made the older years truly golden years for millions of our citizens.

Now, however, Social Security is under intense assault by the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress. They're bent on dismantling Social Security. Our reply is as simple as it is obvious-don't you dare privatize Social Security. And any Republican in Congress who tries to do it should be privatized in the next election.

Each of you knows the wide range of challenges we face. You're serving on the front lines. You're the true army of compassion, and you've been fighting with great skill, often against heavy odds. But the challenge has become too critical in all of its dimensions for Americans to ignore any longer. The soothing promises of those in powerful places have been unmasked for what they are--promises they never meant to keep.

We all share a vision for a better America. We're all committed to true opportunity for all-not as an abstract principle, but as a practical necessity. A new American majority is ready to respond to our call for a revitalized American dream--grounded firmly in the Constitution and in the endless adventure of lifting this nation to ever new heights of discovery, prosperity, progress, and service to all our people and to all humanity.

If we summon the courage and determination to take our stand and state it clearly, I'm convinced the battles that lie ahead will bring our greatest victories. I look forward to working with each of you to see that every American can fully share in our country's extraordinary prosperity. And in doing so, we will make America America again. Thank you very much.

Login
Pro Bono and legal aid attorney resources - Pro Bono Net

VaLegalAid.org

Civil legal information for the public