WASHINGTON — Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday night again criticized the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina and urged a black policymaking conference to make sure the poor are not left behind again.
“The incompetence was colorblind,” said Obama (D-Ill.). “What wasn’t colorblind was the indifference. Human efforts will always pale in comparison to nature’s forces. But [the Bush administration] is a set of folks who simply don’t recognize what’s happening in large parts of the country.”
“I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren’t just abandoned during the hurricane,” Sen. Barack Obama said last week on the floor of the Senate. “They were abandoned long agoâ€”to murder and mayhem in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing, to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.”
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), echoing language from Clinton, said the crisis should inspire the two parties to bridge the “false dichotomy” over whether the key to reducing poverty was more government help or greater personal responsibility among the poor. For challenges such as improving schools in poor neighborhoods, he said, both would be required.
“I think a good place to start would be for both Democrats and Republicans to say … we are willing to experiment and invest on anything that works,” Obama said.
The poverty level today is within a range common over the last 35 years, Census Bureau figures show, but recent trends are moving in the wrong direction. In the last 35 years, the poverty rate has twice peaked at about 15% — during the economic slowdowns at the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s presidential term and the end of George H.W. Bush’s.
As the economy expanded through Clinton’s two terms, the number of Americans in poverty dropped by nearly 8 million, and the poverty rate fell to just above 11% by 2000. Those were the sharpest reductions since the 1960s.
Since George W. Bush took office, the share and the number of Americans in poverty have increased for four consecutive years. The overall poverty rate remains lower than during most of Clinton’s presidency. But at the same time, 5.4 million more Americans are living below the poverty line today than when Bush took office, and the poverty rate has climbed back to 12.7%.
That’s my Senator. If he’s decided to tackle poverty, I’m in all the way.