WASHINGTON – For an hour Monday,former Sen. John Edwards sounded strikingly close to the man sauntering down the campaign trail one year ago.
The former Democratic vice presidential nominee lined a speech with references to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and sang a familiar tune about poverty in America.
Edwards focused on the effects of Katrina,which he said exposed a poverty that was there before and will persist if it is ignored. He spoke at the Center for American Progress,a nonpartisan research and educational institute founded by John Podesta,former President Clinton's chief of staff.
Edwards spoke of both the New Orleans flooding and the country's problems with poverty as situations in which “we haven't built the levees high enough.”
“All over this country,too many children are growing up in harm's way – and too many lives are being washed away – because the levees we've built are too weak or too low,” he said.
Edwards declared the present as a moment of “historic opportunity,” a time to live in an America no longer accepting poverty as a fact of life or a time to choose to ignore it.
“The day after Katrina hit,new government statistics showed that 37 million Americans live in poverty,up for the fourth year in a row,” Edwards said.
Edwards proposed a plan he said would help all Americans acquire the assets they need to get ahead.
“First,let's help folks buy a home they can actually keep,” he said. “For the first five years you are working,we will set aside up to $1,000 in an account to help you make home payments … after five years,you'll have up to $5,000 for down payments.”
Edwards also called for an increase in the minimum wage,an extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit,vouchers to give working parents who are poor a chance to move into a neighborhood with better schools and an idea he called “College for Everyone.”
“If you stay out of trouble in high school and agree to work your first year in college,you ought to get your first year of tuition at a public or community college free.” he said. “I could give you a whole speech about education alone. Because we will never end poverty unless we improve our schools.”
Edwards said race is associated with poverty in America. He noted that the typical white family has about $80,000 in assets; the typical Hispanic family, about $8,000,and the typical African-American family just $6,000.
“The American dream has become too distant,” he said. “Millions of parents work full time but still live in poverty.”
Edwards asserted that the problem doesn't rest just with those who meet the strict definition of poverty.
“Americans with families who make $25,000 or even $30,000 a year are often in poverty as well,” Edwards said. “If you're a family of four,making $25,000 a year,you are living in poverty every minute of your life.”
Edwards,director of the Center on Poverty,Work,and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,praised Americans' donations to hurricane victims.
“We care about our national community,” he said “We know that when one person is down it drags all of us down. This is not something we do for them. This is something we do for us.”