Some 46 million people in the United States live in poverty, says professor-author Peter Edelman, and if the country hadn't made the strides it has in the last 50 years, there would be 40 million more people living in poverty.
"Social security, food stamps, tax credits, housing vouchers, Medicaid, we've done a lot," Edelman said Tuesday at the 2013 Poverty Summit at Capitol Plaza Hotel.
Edelman, a Georgetown law professor and author of "So Rich So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America," was the keynote speaker at the summit, organized by Missourians to End Poverty.
With the theme "Renewing the War on Poverty," the summit was a day-long event that included speakers and small-group discussions.
Missourians to End Poverty is a statewide coalition that discusses the issue of poverty and how to bring about change for the benefit of all communities.
The coalition has identified five pillars that impact all Missourians and that have a meaningful impact on poverty. The pillars include food, health, education, housing and energy, and economic and family security. The pillars also involve a policy platform.
Edelman said poverty was cut in half from 1959-73, when it met its all-time low.
"I thought we were headed in the right direction," Edelman said.
He said many factors contributed to the rise in people living in poverty, including changes in the economy, family structures, immigration, the quality of public education and the criminal justice system.
Concentrated poverty in inner city and urban areas, race and gender and the disparity between the upper and the lower classes were also factors.
"These are all why we have 46 million in poverty after all we have done," Edelman said.
In order to get more people above poverty, he said the United States needs a healthy and robust economy; good jobs; healthy communities; great public schools; and a safety net for the disabled, people between jobs and people not in the position to work.
Edelman said low-wage work is the single biggest problem regarding poverty in this country.
"Half of all jobs in the country pay less than $34,000 and a fourth of all jobs pay less than the poverty line for a family of four, which is $23,000," he said. "We want to get this on the front burner."
He said the country is not thinking strategically about jobs.
"We have jobs coming in health care, technology and other places," he said. "The best prep for that involves academic and career curriculum together. It involves a need for post-secondary education."
Edelman believes ending poverty is a civic challenge.
"If people don't get together in communities to build the system, it doesn't happen," he said. "There has to be local leadership, civic leadership and personal responsibility."