Advocating for the Poor – Someone’s Gotta Do It

Advocating for the Poor – Someone’s Gotta Do It


No doubt the John Edwards trial and verdict was high on the list of news items that rounded off a sensational week of offbeat and off-color events.

We won’t go into all the zombie episodes.

Interestingly enough, upon emerging from the courtroom after acquittal on one charge and mistrial on the rest, Edwards addressed the press.  He ended his short remarks vowing to use his “second” chance for the common good. He’d take up the cause of the poor – especially poor children.

“What I’m hopeful about, is all those kids I’ve seen, in the poorest parts of this country and in some of the poorest places of the world, that I can help them, in whatever way I’m still capable to help them,” Edwards remarked during his post-trial, come-to-Jesus presser last Thursday with daughter Cate and parents Wallace and Bobbie Edwards by his side.

He added: “I don’t think God is through with me.”

Cynics will doubt the sincerity of the gesture and question Edwards’ authenticity, calling the move part of an egomaniacal pattern from a man who danced loosely on the boundaries of ethics and morality.  We can’t forget his affair with a hired campaign aide and fathering the love child while his wife Elizabeth ultimately succumbed to cancer in December 2010.

Still others will welcome the claim and hope that he is indeed a changed man.

But will John Edwards be able to do for the poor what others haven’t already done? Can he elevate their cause and make them relevant again in such a way that existing well-known poor advocates like Princeton professor Cornell West and TV/radio personality Tavis Smiley can’t?

Last fall, the two launched an 18-city, 11-state poverty tour which involved headlining at events discussing the interest of America’s poor. They’ve done much to bring light to the plight of the truly poor – not just those who have to cut back on their weekly lattes to save pennies. Edwards seems pressed to join the effort soon.

But at this rate, it appears as if the poor can always count on the politically marginalized to come to their rescue and champion their cause.

They include public figures who find themselves on the outskirts of the main parties whether for embarrassing misdeeds, as in Edwards’ case, or for alienating a community that adores its first Black president, as with West and Smiley. But the low income, which traditionally suffers from political alienation, needs all the help the group can get.

So far, both political parties and their presidential candidates seem primarily interested in the plight of the middle class, small business and big corporations.  But, what about the poor?  It’s like poor is a dirty word, if you think about it.  No one wants to admit they’re poor, not even those under the poverty line, despite the fact that in recent years more Americans  are finding  themselves technically falling into  that category.

Last year, Census figures indicated that 9 million more Americans were classified as poor since 2009.  Recent reports indicate that nearly 1 in 2 Americans have  fallen into poverty or is scraping by on earnings that classify as low income.  With a change in the poverty guidelines, it was determined that 146.4 million, or 48 percent, of the U.S. population is classified as low-income.

A December 2011 Associated Press report indicated that “many formerly middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold — roughly $45,000 for a family of four — because of pay cuts, a forced reduction of work hours or a spouse losing a job.”

It would make sense that, based on this number, this growing constituency group deserves an advocate now more than ever. That’s if they can get over the stigma of the classification.

Even the media, academics and social scientists are hesitant about calling certain groups poor.

There is a very noticeable difference in the lexicon use when referring to lower income Whites who are often referred to as working class.  Funny because it appears there is no hesitance in calling lower income Blacks and Hispanics simply as “the poor.”

And if one didn’t know, there is a reason why it’s tough to find a politician taking up their cause. They don’t vote.  The poor generally has the lowest voter turnout.  Data for every election show a clear pattern: turnout and the portion of the vote going to the Republican candidate both rise as income increases. The 2000 Census Bureau Current Population survey revealed that voter turnout ranging from about 35% for the lowest income quintile to about 71% for the highest.

And until that number changes, which most likely won’t be any time soon, it’s a God-send for the group to have national names like Edwards pledge to advocate for their concerns.


  1. Personal experience of the past twelve years, have certainly given me less resources to be in the know, for sure, but greater compassion and insight into the lives of those I know and live by…is there any organization that promotes the rights of the poor from a perspective of at least recent past experience? Can't find a job but I find the political "machine" more and more out of touch, even as they "develop" programs/policy for the "least of these."