The issues of poverty and race took center stage at the 39 th Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) this week.
The 42-member CBC and thousands of guests converged on Washington, D.C., for a four-day debate about legislative and policy issues impacting the African-American community.
Organizers focused on a newly released U.S. Census Bureau report that showed 39.8 million people living in poverty in 2008, 2.5 million more than 2007. One in four African-Americans were found to be living below the poverty level, with a disproportionate amount continuing to suffer from low wages and no health insurance.
The overall poverty level is the highest since 1997. The report shows children have been especially hard hit, with 6.3 million considered poor, 750,000 more than 2007. Researchers say the situation will only get worse this year as more and more people become unemployed.
Speakers during Wednesday’s opening session included Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
“As we strengthen our economy for all Americans, we must pay particular attention to those who have been facing long-term economic hardship,” said Pelosi promising President Obama’s policies on job growth, education and health care will help alleviate the pain.
“You are bearing the burden of this recession,” said Solis, the first Hispanic to take the helm as Labor Secretary. “In communities like mine, we saw signs of this happening three years ago… When I came into the Department of Labor there was a sigh of relief that someone understood what it meant to stand up for working-class people, poor people and people of color. Our premise is to make sure we cast the net out as far as we can and leave no community behind.”