Spotlight Exclusives

Obama Gives Some Hints on His Anti-Poverty Agenda

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Although much of the focus leading up to the 2010 midterm congressionalelections has been on the middle class, American Urban Radio Networks reporterApril Ryan asked President Obama during a Friday pressconference to “discuss your efforts at reviewing history as it relates tothe poverty agenda, meaning LBJ and Dr. King.” The President answered that “the most important anti-poverty effort isgrowing the economy and making sure there are enough jobs out there,” but alsoacknowledged that “That doesn۪t mean that there aren۪t some targeted things wecan do to help communities that are especially in need.”  As an example,he discussed elementary and secondary school reform, as well as loan reform forhigher education.Here۪s the President۪s full response:


Withrespect to the history of fighting poverty, I got my start in public service asa community organizer working in the shadow steel plants that had been closedin some of the poorest neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago.  That۪swhat led me to want to serve.  And so I am constantly thinking about howdo we create ladders for communities and individuals to climb into the middleclass.


Now, Ithink the history of anti-poverty efforts is, is that the most importantanti-poverty effort is growing the economy and making sure there are enoughjobs out there — single most important thing we can do.  It۪s moreimportant than any program we could set up.  It۪s more important than anytransfer payment that we could have.  If we can grow the economy fasterand create more jobs, then everybody is swept up into that virtuouscycle.  And if the economy is shrinking and things are going badly, thenthe folks who are most vulnerable are going to be those poorest communities.


So what wewant to focus on right now is broad-based job growth and broad-based economicexpansion.  And we۪re doing so against some tough headwinds, because, as Isaid, we are coming out of a very difficult — very difficult time.  We۪vestarted to turn the corner but we۪re not there yet.


And sothat is going to be my central focus:  How do I grow the economy? How do I make sure that there۪s more job growth?


Thatdoesn۪t mean that there aren۪t some targeted things we can do to helpcommunities that are especially in need.  And probably the most importantthing we can do after growing the economy generally is how can we improveschool systems in low-income communities.  And I am very proud of theefforts that we۪ve made on education reform — which have received praise fromDemocrats and Republicans. This is one area where actually we۪ve seen some goodbipartisan cooperation.


And theidea is very simple. If we can make sure that we have the very best teachers inthe classroom, if we can reward excellence instead of mediocrity and the statusquo, if we can make sure that we۪re tracking progress in real, serious ways andwe۪re willing to make investments in what goes on in the classroom and not theschool bureaucracy, and reward innovation, then schools can improve. There are models out there of schools in the toughest inner-city neighborhoodthat are now graduating kids, 90 percent of whom are going to college. And the key is how do we duplicate those?


And sowhat our Race to the Top program has done is it۪s said to every state aroundthe country, instead of just getting money based on a formula, we want you tocompete.  Show us how you are reforming your school systems to promoteexcellence, based on proven ideas out there.  And if you do that, we۪regoing to reward you with some extra money.  And just the competition alonehas actually spurred 46 states so far to initiate legislation designed toreform the school system.


So we۪revery proud of that, and that I think is going to be one of the most importantthings we can do. It۪s not just, by the way, K-12.  It۪s also — it۪s alsohigher education.  And as a consequence of a battle that we had — and itwas a contentious battle — in Congress, we۪ve been able to take tens ofbillions of dollars that were going to banks and financial intermediaries inthe student loan program and said we۪re going to give that money directly tostudents so that they get more help going to college.  And obviously poorkids are the ones who are going to benefit most from those programs.

Posted by Sam


Hereat Out of the Spotlight, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at the latest newsand information essential to anyone working to fight poverty. From keypolitical appointees to clashes over policy, we cover the news that doesn۪talways make the evening news. Check out Out of the Spotlight for our take onthe twists and turns of the latest political developments and its impact onpoverty reduction. Topics and ideas are welcome! Just contact mlaracy@aecf.orgor

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