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Tavis Smiley: We’ve Been ‘Talking About Bailing Out Wall Street…But No Conversation About The Side Street’

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"Tavis Smiley: We’ve Been ‘Talking About Bailing Out Wall Street…But No Conversation About The Side Street’"

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This week, Congress returns for a lame-duck session, and at the top of the agenda is a proposal to aid America’s ailing auto industry. During Meet the Press’ roundtable yesterday, much of the discussion centered on the auto bailout, and the effect it would have on the economy at-large.

PRI and PBS’ Tavis Smiley, though, lamented that bailout-mania has removed from the political picture “the working poor” and any discussion of poverty. “We’ve been talking about bailing out industry, talking about bailing out Wall Street. Every now and then, some conversation about Main Street. But no conversation about the side street, and that’s where too many Americans live these days,” he said. Watch it:

It’s easy to forget during the battle of the bailouts, but nearly 40 million Americans live in poverty. And there are several steps the new administration can take to alleviate poverty, even in light of the financial crisis. As the Center for American Progress Action Fund laid out in Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President:

The White House’s domestic policy agenda should make it a priority to address the challenges faced by nearly 40 million Americans living in poverty. Critical policies to achieve these ends include: raising and indexing the minimum wage; improving government support programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and food stamps; removing the barriers to union organizing to allow parents to earn more; and making health care available to all.

A Center for American Progress analysis has found that a $90 billion yearly investment could cut poverty in half, and that the money could be raised “by bringing better balance to the federal tax system and recouping part of what has been lost by the excessive tax cuts of recent years.”

It won’t be on the agenda this week, but while Congress is bailing out (or not bailing out) America’s industries, it needs to turn its attention to the working poor, who could sure use a bailout as well.

Transcript:

But I’m glad you raised the working class, Tom, because I, I, I look at this from a different perspective. I think that government has to always be challenged to be responsible to its citizens who are disadvantaged and disenfranchised. And the truth of the matter is that this entire economic crisis has been a top-down conversation and not a bottom-up conversation.

Detroit, the city, is the poorest city in the country. In some, in, in some economic areas and categories, the unemployment rate in Detroit is three times, triple the national average. And so everyday people, the working poor and the very poor, cannot be left out of this conversation. And so I don’t think that poor people–although we had three presidential debates, let’s be honest about it, where the word poverty never came up, where the working poor and the very poor were never discussed in three presidential debates.

I don’t think, Tom, that the working poor and the very poor in this country begrudge people who are better off. They understand, I think, that there are three million jobs tied into this auto industry. At the same time, where is the conversation about corporate mendacity? Where is the conversation about everyday people and how this government is responsible to those persons who are disadvantaged, disenfranchised? I’ve not seen enough of that conversation yet.

We’ve been talking about bailing out industry, talking about bailing out Wall Street. Every now and then, some conversation about Main Street. But no conversation about the side street, and that’s where too many Americans live these days.

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