Two Americas

By Todd Cohen

Nearly 36 million Americans are poor, including more than 1 million North Carolinians, with annual income below $19,350, the federal poverty line for a family of four.

Millions more lack access to the healthcare, education and jobs the rest of us take for granted.

Yet while more services are available for the poor than when the war on poverty was launched 40 years ago, an ideological split stymies efforts to attack poverty’s roots, says Emily Hanford, producer of a series on poverty that WUNC-FM begins airing April 11.

Many conservatives say poverty is an “absolute” condition, and that poor Americans are better off than before and than the poor abroad, while many liberals say poverty is “relative,” and growing, Hanford says.

So social progress falls prey to gridlock in the increasingly nasty fight over the role of government.

“I think it’s easier, politically, to think about how to create programs to help people,” Hanford says, “rather than to step back fundamentally and ask what’s causing it.”

Government lacks vision, business cannot see beyond profits, and academics live in a dream world.

So charity must push to change deeply flawed public policies that fuel poverty and keep America from moving forward.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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