By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently convened a hearing on poverty in the country and the key witness was the Rev. William Barber II, the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.
Barber testified on June 12 at the U.S. Capitol before such lawmakers as Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who serves as the Democratic Whip. Before Barber spoke, Cummings talked about the importance of the forum.
“President Obama’s most significant accomplishment was pulling America out of the Great Recession,” he said. “During his administration, we had 75 straight months of job growth. However, far too many Americans are not doing well economically. In 2016, 40 million Americans are living in poverty as the stock market soared.”
Cummings said that Americans life expectancy has declined over the past two years and he noted that many people are going into bankruptcy because of the high cost of medical treatment. He noted that “everyone should benefit from our nation’s growth.”
Warren said that the average American is in a dire financial situation.
“Forty percent of adults don’t have $400 for an emergency,” Warren said. “Fifty percent of all working Americans don’t have a dollar for retirement. America is in a crisis.”
The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a think tank based in the District of Columbia released a statement on June 12 that noted that $140 million Americans or 43.5 percent of the country’s population is either poor or low income “in the world’s richest country.” The statement noted that the 400 wealthiest Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the U.S. population or 204 million people.
The IPS statement said White people made up 42.5 percent of the poor while Latinos consists of 27.4 percent and 22.7 percent of Blacks consisted of the impoverished.
Barber introduced several participants in the Poor People’s Campaign who consists of those in the ranks of the working poor. He invited them to talk about their lives.
Pamela Sue Rush, who lives in rural Alabama, talked about working a full-time low wage job and having to travel miles to Birmingham to seek treatment for her daughter as well as paying high utility bills to live in a mold-infested house that was obtained by a predatory loan.
“It is so unfair,” Rush said. “People shouldn’t have to live like I live.”
Barber made a point that people of color aren’t the only ones suffering from poverty and invited Nick Smith of Southwest Virginia to speak.
“I am the son of a coal miner’s daughter,” Smith said, playing off of the popular Loretta Lynn song. “For many years, I could not drink the water we bathed in. When the coal companies left, there was nothing to replace them and organized labor doesn’t exist in Appalachia.”
Smith said he has seen instances where poor Whites are pitted against Blacks and Browns to keep all three groups down.
“Poor Whites are intentionally segregated from Blacks and Browns to keep us from organizing,” he said.
The members of Congress listened to the testimony but offered no policy solutions. However, Lee suggested that there should be an effort to make sure that every American earns a living wage.