So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America

Front Cover
The New Press, 2012 - Social Science - 184 pages
If the nation's gross national income?over $14 trillion?were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million?climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for?while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor?

In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle. The structure of today's economy has stultified wage growth for half of America's workers?with even worse results at the bottom and for people of color?while bestowing billions on those at the top.

So Rich, So Poor delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at the continuing crisis of young people of color, whose possibility of a productive life too often is lost on their way to adulthood. This is crucial reading for anyone who wants to understand the most critical American dilemma of the twenty-first century.

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SO RICH, SO POOR: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America

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Edelman (Georgetown University Law Center; Searching for America's Heart: RFK and the Renewal of Hope, 2001, etc.) examines the continuing problem of poverty in the United States.The author worked for ... Read full review

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Q. How was the book? A. I was a bit disappointed. Q. Why is that? A. The book was pretty dull. Peter seems to be a nice guy who has worked against poverty, with his wife and sons also, for many years. But in this book he presents mostly dull statistics. Most of the book reads like a lengthy annotation to a table, or to a bunch of tables. Q. But why is it so hard to end poverty in America? A. Peter presents all the percentages and data and he does touch on the issue of racism. He notes that most poor people are white, but he also spends a lot of time on inner city Afro Americans or those living in rural areas, and how discrimination tunnels many of them into poor education and then prison. These are the legacies of slavery many years ago, but Peter never quite gets into that. He is nobly and commendably attempting to even things out, or even the playing field, where it was so uneven to begin with. He worked with Robert Kennedy and Bill Clinton, he worked in schools and in prisons. He has been around, but even so, I never did see the answer to the question in his title, why it is so hard to end poverty in America, spelled out. Frankly, I think Peter is too nice here. It seems he does not want to offend anyone by coming out and saying that the reason is racism. Maybe he does not think racism is the cause of intransigent poverty in America, but I do. Q. Yes, but who are you to offer an opinion? A. I worked in civil rights in 1969, in Alabama. I taught in San Quentin prison, in the Youth Training School in Chino, and in the prison for women in Chino. I lived in southwest Oakland when the Black Panthers were born there. My career was in poverty programs, anti drug programs in ghettoes and barrios, in California, Boston, and elsewhere. I have no political background, but like Peter, I have seen a lot in my 65 years. Racism does not go away in 200 years. It is still strong and evident all through America. The playing field is not level and this book by Peter will not change things. Q. That is not his goal, is it? Is he not simply updating us on the war on poverty? A. Yes, and he does a good job of that, but he offers only well known solutions, such as charter schools, government funded job programs for youths and adults, decentralization of poverty areas, gentrification and such. He offers nothing new or creative. Q. So what do you have to offer that is new and creative? A. When I figure that out, maybe I will write a book.  


A Snapshot of our current mess
What We have Accomplished
Why Are We Stuck?
the economy and Public Policy Go South
A Gigantic hole in the Safety net
the Abandoned
improving the odds

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About the author (2012)

Peter Edelman is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. A top adviser to Senator Robert F. Kennedy from 1964 to 1968, he went on to fill various roles in President Bill Clinton's administration, from which he famously resigned in protest after Clinton signed the 1996 welfare reform legislation.

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