Despite being the richest country in the world, our poverty rate is one of the highest among highly developed nations.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Georgetown law professor Peter Edelman, to discuss his decades of anti-poverty work and his new book, So Rich So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty In America. Peter Edelman was legislative aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and accompanied Kennedy on his 1967 visits to the deep South to understand hunger and poverty in this country and how to fix it. Edelman also served as Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services years later under President Bill Clinton. He resigned this post in protest of Clinton's signing of the welfare reform legislation that converted the federal anti-poverty cash-assistance entitlement into a state block grant program that severely restricted the availability of cash assistance to those in need. [Disclosure: Edelman serves an adviser to the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and sits on the board of one of the project's current funders, the Public Welfare Foundation.]
Karen Dolan: Peter, you tell us in your book that "extreme poverty" in the U.S. is increasing. Can you explain what this means with regard to things like shelter and food and whether it's getting a lot harder to be poor than it was a few decades ago?
Peter Edelman: Extreme poverty means having an income of less than half the poverty line. That's less than $9,000 a year for a family of three. The stunning fact is that in 2010, there were 20.5 million people who had incomes that low. And perhaps even more disturbing -- 6 million people have no income other than food stamps (SNAP). That means an income at one third of the poverty line or less than $6,000 a year for a family of three. You can't live on that.