Edwards campaigns to end poverty

BRIDGEPORT, CT – Surrounded by an enthusiastic, multi-racial gathering of union and community residents, Senator John Edwards unveiled his Half in Ten campaign at Steel Point in Bridgeport, Connecticut last Thursday in the hot afternoon sun.

Edwards chose Bridgeport as part of his national tour to cut poverty in half in ten years because this former industrial hub is now one of the poorest cities in the country, located in the richest county and state.

The former steel production site now slated for economic development is the focal point of a city campaign to require that developers create good, union jobs and affordable housing

“We can’t allow developers to come in here unless they guarantee good union jobs,” declared David Harris, a three year member of SEIU 32 BJ who works at the train station. “With the union I have a regular paycheck, I can take my kids to the dentist, and I have time to spend with my family.”

To afford a two-bedroom apartment in Bridgeport requires an hourly wage of $22.30. Minimum wage workers are forced to work many jobs to try and make ends meet.

“We know very well what has to be done, we just need the national commitment” said Edwards calling for a raise in the minimum wage, expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the child care tax credit, affordable child care, the right to form a union, and expansion of unemployment insurance.

Edwards called on those assembled to be part of the effort every step of the way. Emphasizing the importance of the national elections he added to a rousing cheer, “Get Barack Obama elected as president.”

“It is time to call on the greatness of the American people to say no longer will anyone work and live in poverty,” he exclaimed.

Jim Himes, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 4th CD, now represented by Republican Chris Shays, was among those to sign a poster-size statement of support for a livable city initiative in Bridgeport for good jobs and affordable housing.

Edwards’ tour comes as economic indicators look bleaker than ever, with rising unemployment and continuing loss of jobs, the mortgage foreclosure crisis, health care crisis and escalating gas, electric and food prices. It is harder and harder for families to make ends meet, and food pantries and shelters across the country are overflowing.

The official unemployment rate is 5.5 percent, but the real unemployment rate is twice as high. Last year1.5 million families faced foreclosure, with 2.5 million expected in 2008.

Edwards’ campaign exposes the policies of Bush and McCain which have led to the crisis of everyday living.

The national Half in Ten project which Edwards heads, is a joint project of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF), the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN), and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR).

The project is partnering with local organizations and unions in cities across the country.

Before speaking in Bridgeport, Edwards conducted a roundtable discussion in Hartford with statewide political and community leaders involved in efforts to expand economic opportunity and reduce poverty and economic inequality in Connecticut.

Rising child poverty in the midst of great wealth for a few has been a cause of concern for the past decade. Legislative proposals to create a more progressive tax system which could provide the revenue to end child poverty have failed. In 2004 the legislature was the first in the country to enact a mandate to cut child poverty in half in ten years. But child poverty has not declined. Organizers hope Edwards’ national campaign will add pressure for specific action.