The truth about poverty in America

Are some people missing from our ongoing economic debates? Contributor Tavis Smiley thinks so.

"I choose to identify with the underprivileged, I choose to identify with the poor, I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity."

In this current debate over deficit reduction, and in our political discourse in general, you almost never hear the word "poverty" or any serious talk about the poor in America.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us, at this critical moment in our history, we have a choice to make as Americans - we either choose to eradicate poverty or poverty just might eradicate us.

Every empire in history has either failed or faltered, but for some reason - be it our arrogance, our hubris, or our nationalism disguised as patriotism - we turn a blind eye to the growing chasm between the have gots and the have nots. One percent of the population owning and controlling more wealth than ninety percent of Americans, is both dangerous and unsustainable.

At the heart of the problem is political cowardice.

As the 2012 race for the White House heats up, it's worth remembering that in 2008, not once during three presidential debates did either candidate even utter the word "poverty." And not much more has been said or done since then; even as the indiscriminant net of poverty ensnares even more Americans.

Indeed, the new poor, are the former middle class.

Somebody has to tell the truth about poverty in America. It is the telling of truth that allows suffering to speak.

Sadly, more and more children are making their way into the ranks of the poor; forced to surrender their life's chances before they even know their life's choices. Because the poor have no powerful lobby - no political clout - and no good cards in a deck already stacked against them.

In America today, we don't just have a poverty of jobs - we have a poverty of affirmation, a poverty of opportunity, a poverty of optimism and a poverty of hope.

In 1968, Robert Kennedy, then a candidate for president, embarked on a tour of some of the poorest and most forgotten places in America.

The notion of a political figure - one so well-heeled and well-known - making a choice to reach out to the least among us, was an inspiration for millions.

In this upcoming election cycle, let's hope someone steps forward to speak on behalf of those most in need.

They probably won't... unless we demand that they do.

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