WASHINGTON – Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday called on Americans to recognize poverty as “the central issue of our time” during a speech to a Washington-based think tank.
Villaraigosa delivered remarks to the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Half In Ten campaign, an organization dedicated to cutting poverty in half over the next decade. His remarks coincided with the release of Half in Ten’s second annual report, for which he wrote the foreword.
"To grow the economy, to cut the deficit, to build a firm fiscal foundation, we've got to cut poverty,” Villaraigosa said.
Although the economy did grow in 2011, very few people at the lower income levels felt that economic growth. While incomes in the top 5% grew, middle class incomes declined and the poverty rate did not budge, according to Erik Stegman, manager of the Half In Ten campaign.
The report also looked at the early effects of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to by Republicans as Obamacare, and found that the percentage of those without insurance dropped from 16.3% in 2010 to 15.7 percent in 2011.
Villaraigosa took the opportunity to harshly criticize governors who have refused to properly implement the health care law.
“It’s malpractice,” he said, and it’s “doing real long-term damage to their states and their people – they're neglecting the futures of the people they've been elected to serve".
"I love this country, but such desperate need is fundamentally un-American,” he added.
In 2011, more than one in four children in America lived in poverty, with higher levels among African American and Hispanic children. More than 42% of black children and more than 36% of Hispanic children lived in poverty last year.
Following Villaraigosa’s remarks, a panel of speakers discussed the findings of the report and suggested long term solutions to poverty.
Angela Sutton, a student at Drexel University’s School of Public Health, served as Half in Ten’s “Witness to Hunger”.
Sutton, 36, was shot at 14 and homeless at 16. After nights spent sleeping in snow and eating out of trash cans, the mother of two is the “living proof” that programs to help alleviate poverty are necessary.
Sutton challenged the notion that those who receive benefits are unappreciative.
"We are very appreciate of all the hard work,” she said. "We need to keep fighting for people like me who want to change."
“The benefits and the dividends don't just go to you,” Villaraigosa said to Sutton. “They go to the nation.”