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Nation’s Mayors Address U.S. Financial Crisis, Impact on Americans in Poverty FORUM in Los Angeles

By Elena Temple
September 29, 2008

In the midst of the nation’s financial crisis and the largest proposed bailout in U.S. history, mayors from around the country gathered for a press conference in Los Angeles to discuss with the media how the current Wall Street debacle impacts local governments, as well as low and middle-income families.

Conference of Mayors President Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, along with Host Los Angeles Mayor Antonio A. Villaraigosa, led the press event at the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center to discuss the mayors’ strategy to address the root causes of poverty in America’s cities.

Diaz declared, “The current financial climate in America underscores that poverty and economic opportunity are not only local problems, but national problems. And national problems demand national investments. As Washington bails out Wall Street, they must also remember Main Street and invest in education, infrastructure, and poverty-reduction measures to ensure that all Americans are self-sufficient.”

Villaraigosa, chair of the USCM Task Force on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, challenged mayors and elected officials to think differently about poverty and its changing dynamic in America. “Americans must not stand idly by in the face of rising poverty rates and growing homelessness. Now is the time for new solutions and fresh ideas for our most vulnerable citizens, and the next President of the United States must place this issue at the top of the public policy agenda on his first day in office,” he said.

Statistics show that one in every six children in this country lives in poverty, with nearly half living in extreme poverty. In addition, of the more than 140 million Americans employed in 2006, 8.7 million were living in poverty – evidence that even full-time work can fail to lift workers out of poverty.

In response, mayors are proposing a recalculation of how poverty is measured to accurately determine the true nature of poverty in this country. Mayors are also calling for a cabinet-level position to direct and coordinate poverty reduction programs with a special emphasis on early-childhood education and healthcare, as well as tax-code reforms to simplify the process to access benefits and make them available to a wider number of families.

Mayors are also keenly aware of connection between the high school dropout crisis and the cycle of poverty. Nearly 7,000 students drop out of school every day in this country, and more than 12 million students will drop out over the next decade. Thus mayors are calling for significant investment in workforce development programs to give students multiple paths to employment.

Diaz, who has referred to the mayors’ forums as the 3rd Campaign of the Political Season, believes that, “Washington no longer invests in its cities and its people.” Diaz has called on Washington to stop being a marginal player in meeting the needs of America’s families. “Washington has lost its values – lost its principles – lost its sense of purpose – engaging in endless debate and partisan bickering while people in this country continue to suffer. Plain and simple, Washington has abandoned us.”

“The next President of the United States must understand that an investment in America’s cities, an investment in America’s people, is an investment in America’s future,” Diaz concluded.