Congressional Black Caucusby Representative G. K. Butterfield
Posted on 2014-01-08
BUTTERFIELD. I thank the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lee)
for yielding and also for her passion and her extraordinary work on the
issue of poverty and related causes.
Mr. Speaker, 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson made a very bold pronouncement. He declared a national war on poverty. President Johnson helped pave the way for so many low-income families, and I am proud today to recognize his immeasurable contributions to the battle against poverty.
I understand that President Johnson's daughter is still on Capitol Hill. She visited with the Congressional Black Caucus today, and I just wanted to publicly thank her and thank the Johnson family for their contributions to America.
Just last year, we commemorated the 50th anniversaries of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King's historic speech, imploring all Americans to aspire towards a society of equality and acceptance. Dr. King's speech illustrated the racial realities faced by people of color since before even the Civil War.
In 1964, President Johnson delivered a historic State of the Union Address right in this Chamber that exposed the tough racial inequalities present in the 1960s. He gave voice to the poor by contrasting the stark economic differences between the wealthy and the poor, and inspired a series of transformative laws, including the Civil Rights Act and the Economic Opportunity Act. Those laws, Mr. Speaker, established the first Federal framework to combat the racial and economic and educational and even employment inequities that were pervasive in our society. The landmark legislation enacted during the Johnson administration built upon the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the New Deal, and the civil rights movement.
The work began by President Johnson more than a half a century ago continues today with no less urgency. While national poverty metrics have improved since the war on poverty began, income inequality is still a major problem today, and pockets of persistent poverty remain all across our country. In my congressional district, one in four people that I represent, including 36 percent of our children, live at or below the poverty level.
Income inequality in America is getting worse. I want to say that again for emphasis: income inequality in America is getting worse, not better. And the gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen. The poverty rate now is the highest it has been since 1994; and in some parts of my district, median household incomes have dropped-- have dropped since the year 2000.
This is a fitting week to recognize the anniversary of the war on poverty, as the Senate considers extending the emergency unemployment insurance for 3 months or more. More than 170,000 unemployed North Carolinians are considered long-term unemployed and have been searching for work for more than 26 weeks.
Last year, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory dealt a devastating blow to the long-term unemployed by reducing State unemployment benefits, which caused the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program to dissolve in our State. The Governor made this decision knowing its harmful impacts, making North Carolina the only State in the country to end emergency jobless benefits for its citizens. That decision forfeited $780 million in urgently needed Federal benefits for long-term unemployed North Carolinians and cost our State $1.5 billion in economic activity.
We must stand up against those like Governor McCrory who seek to disenfranchise the less fortunate by continuing President Johnson's work, by extending the emergency unemployment insurance and other critical programs that help families through difficult times. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to those who are most in need. We are not that type of country.