America's new poverty

Talk show host Tavis Smiley, left, and Dr. Cornel West attend the Time 100 Gala, a celebration of TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world, on Tuesday, May 5, 2009 in New York.
AP Photo

With the role of government and the cost of the social safety net taking center stage in this year's Presidential election, a new book suggests that the problem of the poor in America is getting wider and the term "poor" now classifies many Americans who used to be middle class.

In their book, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West say that politicians only gloss over the problem. They criticize elected officials on both sides of the aisle who "seem to know nothing about poverty or the poor" and routinely "throw meat to their base" by "demonstrating their willingness to destroy the welfare system."

Smiley and West's book looks at the history of poverty, but focuses on the new face of poverty which includes the former middle class, including many white voters. Poverty today "is no longer confined by class or color; like an unrestrained and deadly virus, it doesn't discriminate."

The virus has spread to 50 million people - a number large enough for a social revolution of sorts, according to the duo. They write, "If the 50 million poor ever reached consensus about the roots of their suffering, the plutocratic apple cart would be upended permanently." Which is why, they reason, "ignoring, denying and dismissing the poor has become a multimillion-dollar enterprise" that politicians encourage.

They warn society as we know it could be upended soon - insisting the U.S. is "dangerously close to cementing a permanent American catastrophe." Smiley and West categorize widespread poverty as nothing less than a national security issue.

This Sunday on Face the Nation, Smiley and West will take up this "potential national pandemic" with Bob Schieffer. What are the first steps to addressing poverty? How has the issue changed in light of the Great Recession? What does it mean that now that "the media are delving into the plight of the poor because the escalating numbers of the 'new poor' and the 'near poor' are white citizens?" We'll find out what they see wrong with both Mitt Romney's and President Barack Obama's jobs plans.