Professor Edelman Authors New Book on Poverty

May 29, 2012 —

Why is it so hard to end poverty in this country? And why has poverty in America grown steadily worse over the last decade? Is America headed in the wrong direction in this ongoing struggle?

A longtime champion in the fight against poverty, Georgetown University Law Center Professor Peter Edelman asks these difficult questions and more in his new book, So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America (The New Press, 2012).

"Bobby believed that, 'as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.' Much has changed in 45 years, but as Peter eloquently reminds us, far too many Americans remain trapped in the web of economic injustice. His compassionate and singular voice awakens our conscience and calls us to action," says Ethel Kennedy.

Author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich notes, "Peter Edelman brings blinding lucidity to a subject usually mired in prejudice and false preconceptions. Before we have one more discussion of how America can combat its persistent and growing levels of poverty, could everyone please read this book?"

"If there is one essential book on the great tragedy of poverty and inequality in America, this is it. Peter Edelman is masterful on the issue. With a real-world grasp of politics and the economy, Edelman makes a brilliantly compelling case for what can and must be done," writes former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.

Edelman explores why, despite the achievements of the New Deal, the Great Society and other social programs, there is still so much poverty in this country. He maintains that three largely unforeseen forces in the late 1960s, fundamental economic changes, a substantial increase in the number of single-parent families and the politics of race and gender, account for the course of American poverty over the past forty years.

Edelman believes that public policy, including President Obama’s stimulus legislation, has done a great deal to help poor people in this country. He contends that policy gains have outweighed policy losses; however, he contends these gains have been nullified by economic trends that have bestowed greater wealth on the wealthiest Americans, while sending an ever-increasing number of people into poverty, and in some cases, extreme poverty.

Edelman views the ascendancy of the wealthy as not only a political and economic issue, but also a moral one, and addresses the dichotomy between Americans’ generosity and volunteerism and the challenges of galvanizing support for public policy directed at reducing poverty. He warns that Americans are digging themselves in a deeper hole if middle-income voters continue to identify with those at the top instead of those at the bottom.

Edelman fears we are heading in the wrong direction and argues that bold public policy and civic action are critical if we are to make progress on poverty. He recommends a roll back of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and a more intense focus on those who live in deep poverty, especially the six million Americans who have no income other than food stamps. If these measures aren’t enacted, Edelman cautions against the inevitability that America will bounce back.

Edelman has an extensive public interest background and is an expert in poverty, welfare, juvenile justice and constitutional law. In 1982, he came to Georgetown Law, where he teaches constitutional law, federal legislation, public interest lawyering and social welfare law and policy. Edelman took leave from the Law Center during President Clinton’s first term to serve as counselor to Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and as assistant secretary for planning and evaluation.

Edelman served as director of the New York State Division of Youth and as vice president of the University of Massachusetts. He was a legislative assistant to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and issues director for Sen. Edward Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1980. He was also a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg and Judge Henry J. Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, and worked in the U.S. Justice Department as special assistant to Attorney General John Douglas.

He is the author of Searching for America’s Heart: RFK and the Renewal of Hope (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), and the co-author of Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men (Urban Institute Press, 2006). He has written numerous articles on poverty, constitutional law, children and youth, and has received numerous honors and awards for his work. His Atlantic Monthly article, "The Worst Thing That Bill Clinton Has Done," earned him the Harry Chapin Media Award in 1997. He was the recipient of the Wiley A. Branton Award from the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in 2000. In 2005, Edelman was honored with the William J. Brennan Jr. Award for his commitment to public service and equal justice. The Council for Court Excellence presented him the Justice Potter Stewart Award in 2011.

Edelman is currently chair of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission; board chair of the American Constitution Society and the Public Welfare Foundation; board president of the National Center for Youth Law; board president emeritus of the New Israel Fund; and board member of the Center for Law and Social Policy, Center for American Progress Action Fund and several other organizations. He has been a U.S. - Japan Leadership Program Fellow, as well as a J. Skelly Wright Memorial Fellow at Yale Law School.