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President Barack Obama

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During a candid talk about race and poverty Tuesday at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama tackled the changing face of economic inequality in the U.S. in the aftermath of the great recession.

Scores have now been boxed out of the free market economy, which has previously lifted billions out of poverty, the president said during a panel discussion with Robert Putnam, a Harvard University professor and writer on inequality, and Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, at a Georgetown University summit on poverty.

It used to be that those left out of the free market economy were mostly Blacks, but the president essentially added Whites into the mix in response to a question about how Congress and other elected officials can help poor people rise out of poverty.

Here is what the president said, according to a White House transcript:

Now, one other thing I’ve got to say about this is that even back in [Bob Putnam’s] day that was also happening.  It’s just it was happening to Black people. And so, in some ways, part of what’s changed is that those biases or those restrictions on who had access to resources that allowed them to climb out of poverty — who had access to the firefighters job, who had access to the assembly line job, the blue-collar job that paid well enough to be in the middle class and then got you to the suburbs, and then the next generation was suddenly office workers — all those things were foreclosed to a big chunk of the minority population in this country for decades. 

And that accumulated and built up. And over time, people with less and less resources, more and more strains — because it’s hard being poor. People don’t like being poor.  It’s time-consuming’ it’s stressful.  It’s hard.  And so over time, families frayed. Men who could not get jobs left.  Mothers who are single are not able to read as much to their kids.  So all that was happening 40 years ago to African Americans. And now what we’re seeing is that those same trends have accelerated and they’re spreading to the broader community.   

But the pattern that, Bob, you’re recording in some of your stories is no different than what William Julius Wilson was talking about when he talked about the truly disadvantaged. So I say all this — and I know that was not an answer to your question.  (Laughter.)  I will be willing to answer it, but I think it is important for us at the outset to acknowledge if, in fact, we are going to find common ground, then we also have to acknowledge that there are certain investments we are willing to make as a society, as a whole, in public schools and public universities; in, today, I believe early childhood education; in making sure that economic opportunity is available in communities that are isolated, and that somebody can get a job, and that there’s actually a train that takes folks to where the jobs are  — that broadband lines are in rural communities and not just in cities.  And those things are not going to happen through market forces alone.   

And if that’s the case, then our government and our budgets have to reflect our willingness to make those investments.  If we don’t make those investments, then we could agree on the earned income tax credit — which I know Arthur [Brooks] believes in. We could agree on home visitation for low-income parents. All those things will make a difference, but the broader trends in our society will make it harder and harder for us to deal with both inequality and poverty….

Do you agree with the president? Let us know in the comments and click here to read the entire transcript.



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President Obama: Rise In White Poverty Pushes Issue To The Forefront  was originally published on