Opinion: Will Obama's words on inequality be backed by deeds? (Al Jazeera America)

December 12, 2013

Thad Williamson, associate professor of leadership studies and philosophy, politics, economics, and law (PPEL), writes about the president's speech on social justice and the Supplemental Poverty Measure.


The city of Washington, D.C., stands as a rebuke to the notion of America as a land of equal social and economic opportunity. In the shadow of the nation’s great memorials to the struggle for political democracy, and just a few minutes away from some of the most affluent suburban communities in the nation, lies a city with many neighborhoods and residents who are largely shut out of the American dream.

Nineteen percent of the D.C. population (including 29 percent of children) is currently classified as impoverished by the federal government, though this figure does not factor in the high cost of living in the Washington area. And in any case the government’s official measure of poverty was designed more than half a century ago according to a crude and outdated formula that assumed households would spend one-third of their budgets on food.

In response to this problem, the Obama administration has developed a more accurate assessment of poverty — the Supplemental Poverty Measure — that attempts to correct for many well-known technical and substantive issues with the official measure. In another sign of President Barack Obama’s sensitivity to the problem, he chose to deliver a major policy speech on poverty and inequality last week at THEARC, a combination theater and community center in southeast Washington, off the beaten track of the city’s political class.

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