Law professor at the University of Georgetown’s Law Center Peter Edelman will speak about the prevalence of poverty in America in a lecture entitled “So Rich So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America” tomorrow at 8 p.m. in the McCune Conference Room of the Humanities and Social Sciences Building.

The talk, named after his book published in 2012 under the same title, will discuss income-level disparities in the United States. Co-sponsored by the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion and Public Life, the Department of History and the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy, the lecture is one of the first in the Critical Issues in America series’ program, “The Great Society at Fifty: Democracy in America, 1964/2014.”

Edelman specializes in poverty and constitutional law and has served as a lawyer, policymaker and activist. He was highly involved in representing America’s poor through his positions as Legislative Assistant for Senator Robert F. Kennedy from 1964 to 1968, Issues Director for Edward Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1980 and Special Assistant to Assistant Attorney General John Douglas for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Alice O’Connor, history professor at UCSB, praised Edelman for his insight into many social justice issues facing American society.

“He is one of the nation’s leading experts on poverty, civil rights and the law, which he comes to from a lifelong career of advocacy, research, university teaching and public service,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said she believes Edelman’s lecture will be eye-opening and informative for students to hear since poverty continues to affect a large section of the American population.

“The past several decades have seen declining wages for workers, a failure to invest in the kinds of public resources that will create opportunity and a huge increase in the amount of national wealth going to households and corporations already at the very top of the economic pyramid,” O’Connor said.

Such problems, O’Connor said, are the compounded result of different economic decisions made by U.S. policymakers.

“Those trends are the result of political choices we are making in the world’s most prosperous economy, which has resulted in diminished opportunities and the highest rates of poverty and inequality among advanced industrialized democracies worldwide,” O’Connor said.

The Critical Issues in America series features free lectures that are open to the public and funded by the College of Letters and Sciences. The series use an interdisciplinary approach to analyze different issues each year, and it includes classes, public lectures and campus or community activities.

O’Connor said the Critical Issues in America series can reach out to the community and potentially work toward alleviating the issue of poverty.

“The events we are planning have both national and local implications, and in many instances we will directly involve people from local community groups working on issues of poverty, voting rights, immigration reform and health care to participate on panels and as part of the discussion we are hoping to stimulate,” O’Connor said.

Third-year sociology major Brian Peterson said he thinks the series provides students with an opportunity to learn outside the classroom.

“It’s pretty awesome to know that the faculty here on campus is always coming up with innovative ways to make learning more engaging,” Peterson said. “We’re really lucky to have interesting speakers come from different parts of the country just to share their experiences and research with us.”

The series will continue to feature different talks throughout the year, including Sasha Abramsky’s lecture to come up in April. Abramsky, a freelance journalist, is the author of The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives and a writing instructor at UC Davis. He said a sudden, full-scale curing of poverty is not necessarily possible, but small changes can eventually make poverty much less prominent.

“There will never be something that completely eliminates poverty,” Abramsky said. “But what you can do is set in place a series of changes or a series of policies that make it far less common than it has become in America.”

According to Abramsky, the widespread presence of poverty in America is often ignored by the public.

“It is easier to ignore the scale of it because, as soon as you admit to it, then you have a moral challenge to fix it,” Abramsky said. “But if you don’t admit to it, that moral challenge doesn’t exist.”

In offering possible solutions to reducing poverty, Abramsky said he agrees with many of the strategies for eliminating poverty that Edelman outlined in So Rich So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America.

“You can invest much more time in making higher education more affordable,” Abramsky said. “You could change the tax codes so there’s more money for public infrastructure … You have to have a set of policy changes and economic changes that make the middle class stronger and the working class less poor.”



A version of this story appeared on page 4 of the Wednesday, November 20, 2013 issue of the Daily Nexus.