Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Politics of the Poor – Poverty in NYC

Our mayor (R) is a billionaire. Our governor (D) lives on Fifth Ave. Our politicians are loaded.

So how do we get issues of poverty on the agenda?

Beyond hoping that the power of the people is stronger than the power of the purse (doubtful at best) we find politicians who are willing to take a risk for what is right. This week I have been talking about poverty. It seems that while I live and work in a relatively posh environment, I can't go outside without noticing poverty. So I wonder how the mayor or the governor can go without noticing.

The poverty line is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services. For 2007 HHS says that for a person to be considered "in poverty," he or she must make less than $10,210 a year and a family of three needs to clear more than $17, 170. Wow. That is not much money. If you remember from Monday, average rent for a studio in New York is more expensive than the poverty level for a family of three.

So when people don't have enough money to live in a city, but they have to work here in low paying jobs how do you get the politicians to pay attention? Clearly these folks don't have money to donate to campaigns. Only one presidential candidate is coming close to talking about poverty in any real terms. John Edwards even took time out of his fund raising schedule to go to a Poverty Forum that was closed to the press. He also is willing to tell the truth about his positions on poverty, welfare and has even said he might raise taxes to cover healthcare programs.

Besides the Section 8 announcement from late January, what has this city done to curb the crushing effects of the astronomical cost of living here? Not much. Should the city do anything will clearly be the next question from anyone who isn't as far to the left as I am…I say yes. (Shocking I know) But let businesses do it. Politicians will only listen to those with money. MinWag helps business says new studies. More cash flow, means stronger economies which leads to happy voters. Happy voters means strong incumbents, means happy politicians.

But will politicians listen? Senator Clinton has raised millions and millions of dollars in her time building up to her White House run. This week alone she has raised $889,257 (as of 3 pm on the 27th). I am willing to bet that those setting up the lunches at a few hundred thousand a plate will have the ear of Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Obama isn't far behind with his $1.3 Million dollar event a few weeks back in LA. Mr. Edwards is coming at this from a completely different perspective, a son of poverty, but now not so much poverty except in his speeches. He is raising a million on his website too, but he has told us the $911,113.93 has come from 8,353 donors. But last I checked that is about $110 a donor. Poor folks still don't have that kind of money.

While the Supreme Court may say that political donations are akin to free speech, I still think there needs to be some sort of way to insure those with the least are heard the loudest. Deuteronomy 16 says, "You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take gifts, for gifts blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just." The Talmud in Tractate Kethuboth teaches, "What is the reason [for the prohibition against taking] a gift. Because as soon as a man receives a gift from another he becomes so well disposed towards him that he becomes like his own person, and no man sees himself in the wrong." Perhaps as a society we need to re-think how money is made and if spending it really is “free” speech, or just a way to create disposed leaders.

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