Friday, June 23, 2006

Edwards proposes goal to end US poverty in 30 years

Edwards proposes goal to end US poverty in 30 years
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat John Edwards, a potential presidential candidate in 2008, called poverty "the great moral issue of our time" on Thursday and proposed setting a goal to end it in the United States in the next 30 years.

"How we decide as a country to deal with poverty says everything about America," the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 said in a speech at the National Press Club. "Poverty is an issue where we cannot fail."

Edwards, who has opened an anti-poverty center in his native North Carolina, said the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the deep poverty of its victims showed the truth of his 2004 campaign references to "two Americas" -- one for the wealthy and one for the struggling.

"They have become the faces of poverty in America," he said, and the outpouring of support for them and public anger at their treatment "showed that this country wants one America."

He proposed a series of work, housing and school measures aimed at lifting 12 million Americans out of poverty in the next 10 years and ending poverty in 30 years for the 37 million Americans classified as living below the poverty line.

He said the proposals were the first steps toward restoring America's tarnished credibility and providing the leadership missing under President George W. Bush.

"I want to live in an America that is once again looked up to and respected around the world, an America that is an inspiration to common people everywhere," he said.

Edwards, a presidential candidate in 2004 before Democrat John Kerry tapped him as his running mate, is one of as many as a dozen Democrats contemplating a White House run in 2008.

He proposed a work program to create one million short-term "stepping-stone" jobs to let people work their way out of poverty, and an increase in the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour from the current $5.15 an hour. Senate Republicans rejected a similar raise in the minimum wage on Wednesday.

Edwards also called for an overhaul of the federal Housing and Urban Development Agency, cutting its use of contractors, eliminating at least 1,500 employees and shifting authority to states and cities on housing.

"We all pay a price when the American dream no long seems American," he said.