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Barack Obama on Welfare & Poverty

Democratic incumbent President; IL Senator (2004-2008)


FactCheck: Upward mobility hasn't stalled; US always was low

OBAMA: "Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled."

THE FACTS: The most recent evidence suggests that mobility hasn't worsened. A team of Harvard economists released a study last week that found the US isn't any less socially mobile than it was in the 1970s. Looking at children born between 1971 and 1993, the economists found that the odds of a child born in the poorest 20% of families making it into the top 20% hasn't changed.

Still, other research has found that the US isn't as mobile a society as most Americans would like to believe. In a study of 22 countries, [one study] found that the US ranked 15th in social mobility. Only Italy and Britain among wealthy countries ranked lower. By some measures, children in the US are as likely to inherit their parents' economic status as their height

Source: AP/Fox News FactCheck on 2014 State of the Union , Jan 29, 2014

Earned Income Tax Credit has helped half of all families

[Besides raising the minimum wage], there are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the Earned Income Tax Credit. Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some point. But I agree with Sen. Rubio that it doesn't do enough for single workers who don't have kids. So let's work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, and help more Americans get ahead.
Source: 2014 State of the Union address , Jan 28, 2014

Community organizing brings about redistributive change

In a 2001 public radio interview, then-Illinois state senator Barack Obama said that the Constitution was too restrictive and didn't allow for the redistribution of wealth that he felt was needed in America.

"The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society.

One of the tragedies of the civil rights movement was because the civil rights movement became so court-focused I think there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalition of powers through which you bring about redistributive change."

During his presidency, we've seen Mr. Obama's many attempts to skirt the law and get around the Constitution to implement his redistribution agenda. His crowning achievement was one of the most immense pieces of redistributionist legislation in America history--the federal health care law.

Source: Last Line of Defense, by Ken Cuccinelli, p. 37-38 , Feb 12, 2013

People want a hand up, not a handout

Q: Mitt Romney has said that he was not concerned about the 47% of the population [who are dependent on government won't vote Republican]. But now he says he'll be President for the 100%. Your comment?

A: The day I was elected, I said 47% of the people didn't vote for me, but I've heard your voices and I'm going to work just as hard for you as I did for those who did vote for me. That's how you have to operate as a President. But I will say this. When you express an attitude that half the country considers itself victims, that somehow they want to be dependent on government, my thinking is maybe you haven't gotten around a lot. Their problem is not that they're not working hard enough, or they don't want to work, or they're being taxed too little, or they just want to loaf around and gather government checks. We've gone through a challenging time. People want a hand up, not a handout. Are there people who abuse the system? Yes, both at the bottom and at the top.

Source: Obama-Romney interviews by Univision Noticias (Spanish News) , Sep 19, 2012

Help refinancing for homeowners facing foreclosure

We will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments & refinance their mortgages. It's a plan that won't help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of struggling Americans, who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped to bring about. In fact, the average family who refinances can save nearly $2,000 per year on their mortgage.
Source: 2009 State of the Union address , Feb 24, 2009

FactCheck: Cannot limit refinancing to responsible borrowers

Obama said his plan to help struggling homeowners would aid "responsible" borrowers. Obama said, "We have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and refinance their mortgages. It's a plan that won't help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford."

But even the program's defenders concede that it can't possibly distinguish between "responsible" borrowers and those who foolishly (or fraudulently) signed up for mortgages beyond their means.

The chair of the FDIC, also said there was no easy way to vet homeowners. "I think it's just simply impractical to try to do a forensic analysis of each and every one of these delinquent loans," she told NPR, adding that it's in the "collective economic interest" to not have more foreclosed homes on the market.

Source: FactCheck.org on 2009 State of the Union address , Feb 24, 2009

Still denying decent wages, good benefits, & fair treatment

It matters little if you have the right to sit at the front of the bus if you can’t afford the bus fare; it matters little if you have the right to sit at the lunch counter if you can’t afford the lunch. So long as Americans are denied the decent wages, and good benefits, and fair treatment they deserve, the dream for which so many gave so much will remain out of reach; that to live up to our founding promise of equality for all, we have to make sure that opportunity is open to all Americans.
Source: McCain-Obama speeches at 99th NAACP Convention , Jul 12, 2008

AdWatch: Fought for workers from college thru Senate

[Obama ad airing in July]: Announcer: He worked his way through college and Harvard Law.

Turned down big money offers, and helped lift neighborhoods stung by job loss. Fought for workers’ rights.

He passed a law to move people from welfare to work, slashed the rolls by eighty percent. Passed tax cuts for workers; health care for kids.

As president, he’ll end tax breaks for companies that export jobs, reward those that create jobs in America.

And never forget the dignity that comes from work.

Source: GovWatch on 2008 campaign TV ad, “Dignity” Ad-Watch , Jul 2, 2008

GovWatch: Welfare laws he “passed” were federally mandated

Obama’s latest ad, “Dignity,” says he “passed a law to move people from welfare to work, slashed the rolls by 80%.” Actually, the Illinois law was a required follow-up to the 1996 federal welfare reform law worked out by President Clinton and the Republican Congress. Welfare rolls did go down by nearly as much as the ad says, but Obama can’t claim sole credit.

The bill that’s cited is the 1997 law that created the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program in Illinois, based on the federal welfare reform act of 1996. That law gave states the ability to design their own welfare programs. The bill that Obama cosponsored was Illinois’ version.

And far from having “passed” the bill single-handedly, Obama was among 5 Senate sponsors of the measure. But even the 5 co-sponsors of the Illinois law can’t take credit alone: It was the federal law, hammered out by Clinton & the Republican Congress, that set the wheels in motion and forced states to act.

Source: GovWatch on 2008: Washington Post analysis , Jul 2, 2008

Cut poverty in half in 10 years, with faith-based help

Q: In the faith community, we want a new commitment around a measurable goal, something like cutting poverty in half in 10 years. Would you commit to such a goal?

A: I absolutely will make that commitment. I make that commitment with humility because we’ve got a lot of work to do economically in this country to bring about a more just and fair economy. It starts with recognizing the wages for average families have gone down during the most recent economic expansion. That’s never happened before. We’ve got to shore up the mortgage market. We’re going to have to change our tax code. It is a moral imperative to provide health care to every single American. And invest in early childhood education. Many of these can be part of faith-based initiatives I want to keep the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives open, but I want to make sure that its mission is clear. Faith-based initiatives should be targeted specifically at the issue of poverty and how to lift people up.

Source: 2008 Democratic Compassion Forum at Messiah College , Apr 13, 2008

Welfare policies contributed to erosion of black families

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families--a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods--parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pickup, building code enforcement--all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continues to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination but how many men and women overcame the odds, how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

Source: Speech on Race, in Change We Can Believe In, p.223-4 , Mar 18, 2008

Create 20 Promise Neighborhoods in high-poverty cities

Source: Campaign booklet, “Blueprint for Change”, p. 43 , Feb 2, 2008

1980s: Director of the Developing Communities Project

The time Obama spent as a community organizer had a profound impact on his approach to politics. He was the director of the Developing Communities Project in the mid-1980s, spending 4 years organizing African-American neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side. Obama recalled being told, “I just cannot understand why a bright young man like you would go to college, get that degree and become a community organizer.” He said, “It needs to be done, and not enough folks are doing it.”

Obama considers his work on political empowerment, economic development, & grassroots community organizing to be the “best education” he has received. He noted, “Organizing teaches as nothing else does the beauty & strength of everyday people.”

Obama learned that “ordinar citizens are taught that decisions are made based on the public interest or grant principles, when in fact, what really moves things is money and votes and power.” This was his first lesson that fighting cynicism was a first step in political change.

Source: The Improbable Quest, by John K. Wilson, p. 2-3 , Oct 30, 2007

Stop Fraud Act: full disclosure in subprime lending

Q: What’s the role of the US government to keep people from losing their homes?

A: I think it is absolutely critical that we step in and work with financial institutions that gave these loans, oftentimes under false pretenses. And part of the problem of the whole subprime lending market is that we did not have enough regulation of this market, we didn’t have adequate disclosure. I meet families that thought they were getting a low interest mortgage and did not realize that unless their home prices kept on going up they could end up losing their home, and that’s a failure of regulation. And that’s something that we have to work on prospectively. I’ve got legislation called the STOP FRAUD Act that basically requires the kinds of disclosure that should have been in there in the first place. But in the meantime, we’ve got to take a portion of the profits and make certain that people have a chance to refinance their home or least get bridge loans.

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate on Univision in Spanish , Sep 9, 2007

Engages people of faith on all aspects of his public service

Obama has a record of engaging people of faith on all aspects of his public service. His first job out of college was bringing churches together to help address the poorest Chicago neighborhoods’ pressing problems. After Hurricane Katrina, Obama united relief organizations and churches to discuss rebuilding the Gulf Coast. Obama also passed legislation that saved tithing from bankruptcy courts.

In June of 2006, Obama delivered what a Washington Post columnist called perhaps the most important speech on religion and politics in 40 years. Speaking before an evangelical audience, Senator Obama candidly discussed his own Christian faith and the need for a deeper, more substantive conversation about the role of faith in American life.

In December of 2006, Obama joined Pastor Rick Warren to discuss moral leadership and Global AIDS. And in June of 2007, Obama challenged Americans to come together around a ‘Politics of Conscience’ to move our nation forward.

Source: 2008 Presidential campaign website, BarackObama.com “Flyers” , Aug 26, 2007

Saw dire poverty as a child in Indonesia

Indonesia was an exotic experience for Barack, then six years old. Barack encountered new food, wild animals and an entirely foreign culture. He played in rice paddies and rode water buffalo.

For the first time, he also bore witness to the unpleasantness of dire poverty. Beggars would come to their door, and even his mother, who had a woman’s “soft heart,” according to Lolo Soetoro, Obama’s mother’s 2nd husband] eventually learned to “calibrate the level of misery” before handing out money Obama wrote that, over time, he also developed his own calculations, a result of lectures from Lolo advising him not to give all his money away.

Said Obama in a 2004 radio interview: “I think [Indonesia] made me more mindful of not only my blessings as a US citizen, but also the ways that fate can determine the lives of young children, so that one ends up being fabulously wealthy and another ends up being extremely poor.”

Source: From Promise to Power, by David Mendell, p. 32-33 , Aug 14, 2007

1985: Launched project to give voice to disempowered

Obama was drawn to community organizing because it forced him directly into neighborhoods of poverty. Obama was offered a job that seemed to fit his skill set--organizing conferences & lobbying politicians on behalf of poor black communities. But Obama wanted to be closer to the real lives of the dispossessed, and he turned down the offer.

Obama launched the Developing Communities Project, an ecumenically funded group whose mission still today is to empower the poor and disenfranchised through grassroots organization. The group is based in the community organizing tradition of Saul Alinsky.

Alinsky taught organizers to work behind the scenes, listening to residents for hours upon hours to decipher what their community needed and what it coul realistically achieve. Alinsky’s life mission and his methodologies are both central to Obama’s modern political message. A recurring passage in many of Obama’s speeches is his mission of “giving voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless.”

Source: From Promise to Power, by David Mendell, p. 65-67 , Aug 14, 2007

Ownership Society is another term for “Social Darwinism”

[There are those who believe] that the best idea is to give everyone one big refund--divvy it up into individual portions, hand it out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own child care, and so forth. In Washington, they call this the “Ownership Society.”

But in our past there has been another term for it--Social Darwinism--every man or woman for him or herself. It’s a tempting idea, because it doesn’t require much thought or ingenuity. It allows us to say that those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford--tough luck.

But there is a problem. It won’t work. It ignores our history. Our economic dominance has depended on individual initiative and belief in the free market; but it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, that we’re all in it together and everybody’s got a shot at opportunity--that has produced our unrivaled political stability.

Source: From Promise to Power, by David Mendell, p.314-315 , Aug 14, 2007

Community organizer on Chicago’s South Side

The 3 years Obama spent in Chicago as a community organizer served as a political apprenticeship. And a demanding challenge it was, one fraught with frustration and infrequent rewards but one that taught him firsthand the plight of America’s inner cities and the resilience of residents.

Working with a tiny network of community activists and volunteers from South Side churches who were attempting to help residents improve conditions--and, often, simply cope--in deteriorating neighborhoods plagued by sky-high unemployment & crime; where city services were slow at best; where parks were left untended & schools under-funded; where sometimes it seemed only those who couldn’t afford to leave stayed; Obama did the same thing he would do when he later ran for office: he knocked on doors and attended neighborhood meetings.

In 2007, when Obama announced for the presidency, he alluded to his years as a community organizer when he said, “I learned that meaningful change always begins at the grassroots.”

Source: Hopes and Dreams, by Steve Dougherty, p. 64-66 , Feb 15, 2007

Black churches minister to social needs out of necessity

It was in search of some practical application of [my mother’s religious] values that I accepted work after college as a community organizer for a group of churches in Chicago that were trying to cope with joblessness, drugs, and hopelessness in their midst. My work with the pastors and laypeople there deepened my resolve to lead a public life.

I was drawn to the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change. Out of necessity, the black church had to minister to the whole person. Out of necessity, the black church rarely had the luxury of separating individual salvation from collective salvation .It had to serve as the center of the community’s political, economic, and social as well as spiritual life; it understood in an intimate way the biblical call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and challenge powers and principalities. I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary; rather, it was an active, palpable agent in the world.

Source: The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama, p.206-7 , Oct 1, 2006

Welfare recipients know how to succeed but need help

Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don’t want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or the Pentagon. Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. They know those things.
Source: Keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention , Jul 29, 2004

Belief that "I am my brother's keeper" makes America work

Obama's huge popularity stems from the perception that his values, priorities, approach and personality are widely understood and distributed. For example, he emphasized this sense of shared values in the 2004 Democratic Convention speech: "Alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga. A believe that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief--I am my brother's keeper. I am my sister's keeper--that makes this country work."
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p.197 , Jul 1, 2004

$100M increase in IL Earned Income Tax Credit

A PROVEN RECORD: As a State Senator, Barack Obama has spent his career fighting for Illinois’ working families.
Source: Press Release, “Creating Jobs in America” , Jun 21, 2004

Inner city problems are the painful truths

South Side Chicago had never fully recovered from this racial upheaval. The stores and banks had left with their white customers, causing main thoroughfares to decompose. City services had declined. The boarded-up homes, the decaying storefronts, the aging church rolls, kids from unknown families who swaggered down the streets - loud congregations of teenage boys, teenage girls feeding potato chips to crying toddlers, the discarded wrappers tumbling down the block - all of it whispered painful truths
Source: Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama, p.144 , Aug 1, 1996

Exorcise the ghostly figure that haunts black dreams

If the language, the humor, the stories of ordinary people were the stuff out of which families, communities, economies would have to be built, then I couldn’t separate that strength from the hurt and distortions that lingered around us. And it was the implications of that fact, I realized, that had most disturbed me. The stories that I had been hearing from the leadership, all the records of courage and sacrifice and overcoming of great odds, hadn’t simply arisen from struggles with pestilence or drought, or mere poverty. They had arisen out of a very particular experience with hate. That hate hadn’t gone away; it formed a counter-narrative buried deep within each person and at the center of which stood white people-some cruel, some ignorant, sometimes a single face, sometimes just a faceless image of a system claiming power over our lives. I had to ask myself whether the bonds of community could be restored without collectively exorcising that ghostly figure that haunted black dreams.
Source: Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama, p.179 , Aug 1, 1996

Develop a strategy to eliminate extreme global poverty.

Obama sponsored developing a strategy to eliminate extreme global poverty

A BILL to require the President to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to further the United States foreign policy objective of promoting the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people worldwide, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day.

    Congress makes the following findings:
  1. More than 1 billion people worldwide live on less than $1 per day, and another 1.6 billion people struggle to survive on less than $2 per day.
  2. At the UN Millennium Summit in 2000, the US joined more than 180 other countries in committing to work toward goals to improve life for the world's poorest people by 2015.
  3. The year 2007 marks the mid-point to the Millennium Development Goals deadline of 2015.
  4. The UN Millennium Development Goals include the goal of reducing by 1/2 the proportion of people that live on less than $1 per day, & cutting in half the proportion of people suffering from hunger and unable to access safe drinking water and sanitation.
DECLARATION OF POLICY: It is the policy of the United States to promote the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the proportion of people worldwide, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day.

REQUIREMENT TO DEVELOP COMPREHENSIVE STRATEGY: The US Government shall develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to further the US foreign policy objective of promoting the reduction of global poverty, the elimination of extreme global poverty, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by 1/2 the proportion of people worldwide who live on less than $1 per day. The strategy shall include specific and measurable goals, efforts to be undertaken, benchmarks, and timetables to achieve the objectives.

Source: Global Poverty Act (S.2433/H.R.1302) 2007-S2433 on Dec 7, 2007

Other candidates on Welfare & Poverty: Barack Obama on other issues:
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Page last updated: Sep 19, 2014