Villaraigosa Urges Mayors to Address Poverty

Times Staff Writer

Concerned that issues facing the working poor are a low priority in Washington, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told mayors from across the country Friday that they need to work together to bring attention to a national problem.

Villaraigosa chaired a discussion before more than 100 mayors who are searching for ways to provide better-paying jobs and affordable healthcare and housing to millions of Americans living in poverty in their cities.

It was the third meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ poverty task force, which members hope will lead to new federal policy, Villaraigosa said. The mayor said he and a delegation of mayors will travel to Washington to voice their concerns, perhaps by year’s end.


“We’re putting this together for the purpose of forcing a conversation with the nation,” the mayor said after the meeting at the Paris Las Vegas hotel. “We want to put this on the national agenda in a bipartisan way.

“Neither Democrats nor Republicans have been talking about poverty for a very long time,” he said.

“Mayors have to force the debate.”

Villaraigosa said the middle class in Los Angeles and across the country is shrinking, in part because of the high cost of housing and a dearth of higher-paying jobs.

Eighteen percent of Los Angeles families live below the poverty line, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. It’s a city where poorly educated migrant workers hold two or three jobs and still struggle to pay for housing, food and transportation.

Villaraigosa said he hopes to become a high-profile face in the battle against urban poverty and will advocate new partnerships between government and private industry to bring both jobs and affordable housing to cities across the nation.

For Los Angeles, the mayor supports providing incentives for developers to construct low-income housing, training workers for higher-paying jobs and offering programs to improve literacy.

He acknowledged that bringing the public’s attention to the issue would not be easy. During Villaraigosa’s campaign last year, many people seemed more interested in issues such as policing and education -- areas the mayor said he’s emphasized in his first year on the job.

Providing quality education goes hand-in-hand with efforts to reduce poverty, he said. The country also needs to find a solution to the high cost of healthcare, the mayor said, noting that millions of working Americans cannot afford health insurance.

Among those who participated in Friday’s discussion was former U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp, who suggested that the federal government provide tax incentives for businesses that locate in the country’s poorest regions. He also said the government should consider waiving the income tax for workers whose wages are around the poverty level.

After the meeting, Villaraigosa said he had no intention of hitting the casinos. Instead, he planned to meet with several mayors individually. Today the mayor plans to tour a culinary academy that trains people for well-paying jobs in Las Vegas’ hotel industry.