Benny's World

Saturday, September 17, 2005

JRE Offers Perspective on Poverty in California

At chamber event with speakers including Powell and Ashcroft, Edwards tells capital conference that storm exposed a national problem.

by Dorothy Korber -- Bee Staff Writer, Saturday, September 17, 2005

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell received two standing ovations from a sellout crowd at the annual Perspectives convocation in Sacramento on Friday, and former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft offered an upbeat account of his days in the Cabinet of President Bush.

But it was left to a Democrat, former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, to tackle the most compelling news of recent weeks: the devastation unleashed on the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina.

Other speakers at the daylong event were CNN journalist Judy Woodruff and world-champion boxer Sugar Ray Leonard.

Edwards, who as a North Carolina senator became John Kerry's running mate in the 2004 presidential race, said the painful images spawned by Katrina have forced the nation to acknowledge some grim facts about poverty in America.

"Katrina exposed the ugly face of poverty, not just in New Orleans but across the country," Edwards told the crowd of 3,400 at the event sponsored for the 11th year by the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Edwards, now running a poverty think tank at the University of North Carolina, noted that most of those stranded in the flooded city were poor and black. Their poverty is not surprising, Edwards said, noting that the average net worth of black families in the U.S. is $6,000. For Latino families, the figure is $8,000. For white families: $80,000.

He said Katrina's victims "represent one of the great moral issues this country faces. These people are on the razor's edge. When things happen, when they have problems they don't expect, they don't have anything to fall back on."

But, he said, the painful situation also provides an opportunity - and the world is watching. He suggested creating a Depression-style public works program to put Katrina evacuees back to work.

"How about, we let the people who were displaced rebuild their own cities, at a decent wage and with benefits," Edwards said.

"There is nothing America can't do - absolutely nothing," he concluded. "We can show the world America is up to this challenge - we just need to seize it."



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