Why, in the richest country in the world, is the gap between the prosperous and the poor growing ever wider? Why, after decades of anti-poverty programs, does poverty still persist and deepen in the U.S.? What factors contribute to the steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor? And, most importantly, how can we gain ground in the fight against poverty?
These questions and more will be explored at Pisgah Legal Services’ 2nd Annual Poverty Forum, entitled “So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America,” on Wednesday, October 24, 2012. Peter Edelman, lawyer, professor, author, and a lifelong anti-poverty advocate, will be the keynote speaker for the event, which will be held at the Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville.
In his latest book of the same title, So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America, Edelman applies his lifetime of experience fighting poverty to examine disturbing trends of deepening poverty and inequality in the United States. He says, “We are the wealthiest country in the world; that we should have poverty at all is oxymoronic, and that we have the highest child poverty rate in the industrialized world is downright shameful.”
Peter Edelman is a professor of Law at Georgetown Law Center. He has also served in all three branches of government. He was a member of President Clinton’s first administration, but resigned in protest over the sweeping changes made in welfare reform legislation in 1996. Edelman served as director of the New York State Division of Youth and as vice president of the University of Massachusetts. Earlier in his career he was a legislative assistant to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. He was also a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg and Judge Henry J. Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, and worked in the U.S. Justice Department as special assistant to Attorney General John Douglas. He is married to Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of The Children’s Defense Fund.
According to the poverty statistics released earlier this month by the Census Bureau, 1 in 6 Americans are poor, with 46.2 million people in the U.S. living below the poverty line, on about $23,000 annually for a family of four. Edelman notes that more Americans than ever live in deep poverty; there are 6 million people in the U.S. whose only income is food stamps. Western North Carolina has not escaped these unfortunate statistics. In Buncombe County alone the poverty rate has increased 29 percent in the past five years. Data from the 2006-2010 Census shows that the percentage of people living in poverty in Buncombe County is 17.1 percent, and is even higher in other WNC counties served by Pisgah Legal Services (PLS) such as Rutherford (25 percent) and Madison (19.7 percent).
For more than three decades Pisgah Legal Services has tackled poverty by providing free civil legal aid to low-income people in Western North Carolina and collaborating with community partners to solve reduce poverty. The nonprofit seeks to use this forum as a way to call attention to the problems of poverty and unemployment in our region.
PLS now helps 35 percent more people than it did when the recession began, maximizing its resources despite the fact that the organization has experienced significant funding cuts from the State, county governments, United Way and other funders, due to these funders’ decreased revenues.
The October 24th event begins with a cocktail reception at 5:30 pm, and the forum follows at 7:00 pm at the Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville. Tickets are $50 for the reception and forum, $15 for the forum only and are available at HYPERLINK "http://www.pisgahlegal.org"www.pisgahlegal.org.
Since 1978, PLS has helped low-income people meet their basic needs, such as protection from domestic violence, avoiding homelessness, finding safe housing, and accessing health care and subsistence income. Pisgah Legal Services has 18 attorneys on staff, and relies heavily on the pro bono legal services of 300+ volunteer attorneys and the help of more than 50 office volunteers. PLS’ main service area includes six counties in WNC, with offices in Asheville, Hendersonville, and Spindale. For more information, call Pisgah Legal Services at 828-253-0406 or toll free at 800-489-6144 or go to www.pisgahlegal.org.