An Open Letter to Our Nation's Leaders
By Rev. Jesse Jackson
September 17, 2010
Today's US Census report on poverty in the United
States is a clarion call to our nation and our elected
We in the United States possess the greatest resources
and wealth ever known to humankind. So to have over 44
million people -- 14% of our population -- and 20% of
our children living in poverty strains the soul of
America. That fully one in four Americans -- 72 million
people -- are "near poor" (officially, a family of four
earning just $32,634 in 2009) should call us into
action. It's a moral disgrace.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is
credited with saving or creating 1.4 million to 3.3
million jobs, and kept more than 6 million additional
people from falling into poverty. Despite these
efforts, it is unfathomable to think that poverty
continues to grow in America: three million more in
2009, and more poor people living in poverty now than
50 years ago when data was first published.
These realities are devastating. In 2009, poverty
jumped to 14.3 percent, and the number of people
without health-care insurance broke 50 million for the
very first time. The unemployment rate swelled from
7.7% at the beginning of the year to 10%. The
unemployment rate of African-Americans and Latinos is
nearly double and sometimes even triple the national
The middle class continues to sink. Major cities around
the country are losing public transportation jobs,
public school teachers, public housing and home
foreclosures are on the rise. The effect of such
devastating poverty is undercutting excellence in
public education and it is overwhelming American
I just spent a week on a bus tour meeting and with
congregations, students, and workers at plant gates in
Michigan. Astonishingly, Detroit has 90,000 vacant
homes and/or lots and not one national chain grocery
store or retailer. While Detroit faces mounting
hardships, we bailed out General Motors, a company
whose number one market for Buick is China, and new
manufacturing plants are being built there and in
The cries of babies in Appalachia, the tears of mothers
in the rural South, and the frustration of workers laid
off in cities across America -- is this the face of
America in 2010?
As people of conscience, as elected leaders of the
greatest democracy in the world, we ask ourselves, is
there not a need for a new War on Poverty or a Great
Society plan similar to that enacted by President
Lyndon B. Johnson? Dr. King's cry for a Poor People's
Campaign has come full circle.
There must be a sense of urgency to address this moral
and economic crisis. In Stimulus I, we have watered the
leaves. We need Stimulus II to water the roots.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, we had a plan for security,
stability, investment, reconstruction, and rebuilding
infrastructure. Our people, our cities, our nation
deserve nothing less.
The Poverty Report is a call to Congress to create a FY
2011 budget that expands funding to "war on poverty"
programs supporting employment, education, and basic
human needs. Focus on the least of these, and extend
the TANF Emergency Fund -- not the Bush tax cuts for
the wealthiest Americans -- to expand subsidized jobs
programs. Extend the reforms to the earned income tax
credit, or EITC, and the child tax credit, or CTC.
Focus on extending programs that support the least of
these, not those with the most.
Expand the weatherization program -- and enact a
modern-day urban homesteading program where the urban
unemployed can reclaim lost homes, learn carpentry,
plumbing and green job skills to rebuild America. We
can begin to work our way out.
Congressional leaders, take the bold step of committing
to reducing poverty by 50% over the next ten years --
half in ten!
America, give us a listening ear. The people are
restless and rising up. America, please hear our plea.
There is not time to waste. It's time for a change.
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