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2012 National Conference: Opening Plenary Session

Why We Must End Massive Economic Inequality in America and Rescue Our Children from Epidemic Poverty, Unjust Budget Cuts and a Vanishing American Dream

Dr. King died in 1968 calling for a Poor People’s Campaign when there were 25.4 million poor Americans, including 11 million poor children. Today there are 46.2 million poor Americans, 20.5 million living in extreme poverty, and 16.4 million poor children, 7.4 million living in extreme poverty. Children under five are the poorest age group in rich America with one in four infants, toddlers and preschool children poor during the years of greatest brain development. Nearly 2 out of 3 poor children live in households in which at least one person works but cannot escape poverty and 12.7 million people in America are unemployed and 830,000 more have stopped looking for work because they believe there are no jobs available for them. The New York Times reported 1 in 50 Americans – 6 million – had no cash income in 2010 and depended solely on food stamps (SNAP) to keep the wolves of hunger from the door.

Although there are more poor White than Black or Hispanic children, Black, and Hispanic children are between six and nine times more likely than White children to live in areas of concentrated poverty, defined as neighborhoods in which 30 percent or more of the households are poor. Twenty-seven percent of all Black children and 45 percent of poor Black children live in such neighborhoods compared to three percent of all White children and 12 percent of poor White children.

Income and wealth inequality have grown hugely over recent decades threatening the very fabric of our democracy. Since 1979, the highest-income one percent of Americans saw their incomes grow 275 percent compared to 18 percent among the bottom 20 percent. The top one percent hold more net worth than the bottom 90 percent combined. Although the Bush tax cuts for the top one percent have cost the nation almost $750 billion in lost revenue since 2001, the staggeringly unjust Paul Ryan budget passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would give those earning more than $1 million a year an average of $265,000 in new tax cuts on top of the $129,000 they would receive from extending the Bush tax cuts – despite massive unemployment, economic uncertainty, growing child and family poverty and purported concerns about huge federal budget deficits. Extending the Bush tax cuts and enacting the Ryan budget would cost the nation $10 trillion in lost revenue over the next decade. Just one year of this irresponsible tax cut boondoggle for the very very rich—$1 trillion is greater than the entire military budget. One day of this lost money—$2.3 billion—could pay for Medicaid coverage for 940,000 children for a year; one hour of this money—$95 million—could pay for Early Head Start for almost 11,500 low-income children for a year; one minute—$1.6 million—could pay for SNAP/food benefits for 935 children for a year; and one second of this money—$26,400—is more than the average child care worker earns in a year. Yet our political leaders seek to cut these essential supports for children, our poorest group of Americans, to protect profligate tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.

In 2008, the 400 highest-income taxpayers earned as much as the combined tax revenue of 22 state governments with almost 42 million citizens. In 2011 the top 25 hedge fund managers made a combined total of $14.4 billion, with the top earner making $3.9 billion, or about $124 per second. Should they not be asked to pay their fair share of taxes? Not if Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, has his way. He has convinced 285 Members of Congress to pledge not to raise a single dollar in taxes from those who benefit most from unjust tax cuts and loopholes that have enriched the rich, ravaged the poor and middle class, and jeopardized our economy with a housing bubble created by bad mortgages that required massive bailouts of corporations “too big to fail” while millions of Americans lost their homes and pensions. The misery of growing numbers of the poor and middle class, including children, will increase if the irresponsible tax cuts continue; if proposed massive cuts in child and family nutrition, early childhood development, education, and other safety net programs are enacted; and if no investment is made in creating jobs for the unemployed. Cascading federal, state, county, and city budget cuts will continue to hurt millions of families and children unless citizens stand up and demand fairer tax and budget policies. The U.S.’ greatest deficit is not one of money but of values and priorities that leave millions of children without hope or a vision of a future worth striving for in our militarily and materially powerful but too spiritually poor nation. The U.S. military budget in FY 2012 (including Afghanistan and Iraq war supplementals) is $646.3 billion or $53.9 billion a month; $12.4 billion a week; $1.8 billion a day; $73.7 million an hour; $1.2 million a minute. U.S. taxpayers spend six times as much on the military as China and more than the next 34 nations combined after the U.S. and China at a time when millions of jobless, homeless and hungry Americans need defense from poverty and want within. Ponder the implications of these facts as our leaders prepare to vote on federal, state and local budgets this year, determine if better economic and moral choices are available.

This panel will guide you through our federal, state and local investment and budget choices, the implications of pending proposals, and steps we can take to protect children and the poor in the richest nation on earth.


  • Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO, PolicyLink; Vice Chair, CDF Board of Directors


  • David Ellwood, Ph.D., Dean, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
  • Robert Greenstein, President and Founder, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
  • The Hon. Steven Horsford, Majority Leader, Nevada State Senate
  • Heather McGhee, Vice President of Policy and Outreach, Demos
  • The Hon. Holly Mitchell, Assembly Member, California Assembly, 47th District, Chair of Budget Sub-Committee on Health and Human Services
  • The Hon. Mark Ridley-Thomas, Supervisor, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, 2nd District, former State Senator and Chair of California Black Caucus


Moderator Angela Glover Blackwell of PolicyLink led this panel of experts as they reminded the youth in attendance not to rely on the adults to advocate on their behalf. Income and wealth inequality threatens the future of the American Dream and all stake-holders have to join the mission to save America. During the session, Blackwell officially unveiled the “Be Careful What You Cut” campaign. This initiative is a reminder to provoke voters to mobilize, push our political leaders at the local, state and national levels to stop cutting programs that impact children and raise awareness to protect child investments. Learn more about it here, and own the experience of CDF’s 2012 National Conference – buy the DVD for your church or organization. Own this vital resource.

Angela Glover Blackwell is on the board of directors of the Children’s Defense Fund and is Founder and chief executive officer of PolicyLink, an organization that continues to drive its mission of advancing economic and social equity. Under Blackwell’s leadership, PolicyLink has become a leading voice in the movement to use public policy to improve access and opportunity for all low-income people and communities of color, particularly in the areas of health, housing, transportation, education, and infrastructure. Prior to founding PolicyLink, Blackwell served as Senior Vice President at the Rockefeller Foundation, where she oversaw the foundation’s Domestic and Cultural divisions. Blackwell is the co-author of the recently published Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future (W.W. Norton and Co., 2010), and contributed to Ending Poverty in America: How to Restore the American Dream (The New Press, 2007) and The Covenant with Black America (Third World Press, 2006). Blackwell studied at Howard University and the University of California at Berkeley.


Dr. David T. Ellwood is the Scott M. Black Professor of Political Economy and dean of the Harvard Kennedy School. America is changing, he says, but not for the better. “The future of the United States will depend on the workers that are being raised in those families today, and right now, we're in a terrible, terrible situation.” Our children are the future of this country, and we have to fight our future. Ellwood tells you how to take action and stop the Cradle to Prison Pipeline™ now. Get inspired by this excerpt – buy the DVD to learn more and fire up a plan of action for your community.

Dr. David T. Ellwood is the Scott M. Black Professor of Political Economy and has served as dean of the Harvard Kennedy School since 2004. In 1993, he was named assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) where he served as co-chair of President Clinton’s Working Group on Welfare Reform, Family Support and Independence. Ellwood’s work has been credited with significantly influencing public policy in the United States and abroad. His book Poor Support: Poverty in the American Family was selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the notable books of 1988 and by the Policy Studies Organization as the outstanding book of the year. Ellwood studied at Harvard University.


Robert Greenstein is founder, president and Executive Director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and an expert on fiscal policy, health policy, and Social Security. He’s an economy guru with with some of the best ideas to help save our children. “We are on an unsustainable course,” he says. “Ultimately, if we don't do anything, deficits year after year get to the point where it does slow the economy, increase poverty. We're going to have to take action.” And action is what it will take to save the future for our children. Visit our Take Action Online page to find out what you can do today. Learn more from our panel of experts and buy the DVD of CDF’s 2012 National Conference. Have viewings in your church or community group and make a plan to make things better.

Robert Greenstein is the founder, president and Executive Director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and is an expert on fiscal policy, health policy, and Social Security. Before starting the Center, he was administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service at the Department of Agriculture, where he directed the agency that operates the food stamp, school lunch, and other nutrition programs and helped design the Food Stamp Act of 1977. Greenstein was also appointed by President Clinton in 1994 to serve on the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform and headed the part of President Obama’s transition team that dealt with the federal budget. Greenstein studied at Harvard University.


For Senator Steven Horsford, elected to the Nevada State Senate in 2004 and Majority Leader in 2008, the struggle to put children first is very personal—listen to him and be inspired. His story is moving, his sense of mission is palpable and his words must be heard. Horsford is a soldier for children and the poor who will not be deterred or silenced. “We set our priorities, and there's still more work to go, but this issue of the Federal deficit and the shifting of those services to State and local governments is the challenge of our time. And when we care about education,” says Horsford, “when we care about health care for all people, when we care about making sure that young people have a good start, a strong start, then you have to care about how the budget gets decided in your – by your local city council and county commission, by your State legislatures, and definitely by our Congress.” Listen to him share the inspiration for his fight. Keep up with the Children’s Budget Watch. Be a part of the movement – you can make a difference today. Buy the DVD as a source of information and inspiration for your advocacy

Senator Steven Horsford was elected to the Nevada State Senate in 2004 and selected as Majority Leader in 2008. He is also chair of the Senate Finance Committee. He has served in four special sessions and four regular sessions of the Nevada Legislature. Horsford is the Democratic National Committeeman for Nevada and was intimately involved in securing Nevada’s role as the second-in-the-nation Presidential Caucus in 2008. During the 2008 presidential election, he served as co-chair of the Obama campaign in Nevada. He also serves on the Democratic National Convention’s Rules and Bylaws Committee and as vice-chair of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. He studied at the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


Heather C. McGhee, the vice president of Policy and Outreach of Demos, discusses the implication of billionaires pouring their money behind certain candidates and legislation while suppressing poor people’s right to vote. “Being able to write those checks that can make or break particularly not just at the presidential level but down ballot races, can make or break the decision of who gets elected,” says McGhee. “Protect your right to vote. Listen to McGhee and others – the DVD is on sale now.

Heather C. McGhee is the vice president of Policy and Outreach of Demos, a non-partisan policy center. She is a frequent writer, speaker, and media commentator on issues of democracy reform, economic opportunity, racial equity, and financial regulation. She is also a regular guest on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN. Her opinions, writing, and research have appeared in numerous outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. She is the co-author of a chapter on retirement insecurity in the book Inequality Matters: The Growing Economic Divide in America and its Poisonous Consequences (New Press, 2005). McGhee studied at Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley School of Law.


Assemblymember Holly J. Mitchell serves the 47th California Assembly District, chairs the Assembly’s budget sub-committee on Health and Human Services, and is a member of the Committees on Accountability and Administrative Review, Appropriations, Budget, Health, and Public Safety. She has her boots on the ground in the fight for our children and says, based on what she sees in California, the nation is in trouble. “Millions of low income working families and children are held hostage by four voting members of the State legislature. That's why I say, "As goes California, as goes the rest of the nation. We're all in trouble…” Listen to her discuss the assault against our children and the poor. Learn what’s happening in your state right now. Learn what other advocates are doing to take action today. Watch the CDF’s 2012 National Conference, available on DVD.

Assemblymember Holly J. Mitchell was elected in 2010 to serve the 47th California Assembly District, which includes the Los Angeles communities of the Crenshaw District, Baldwin Hills, Culver City, West Los Angeles, Palms, Cheviot Hills, Ladera Heights, and Little Ethiopia and portions of Koreatown, the Fairfax district, Beverly wood and South Los Angeles. She chairs the Assembly’s budget sub-committee on Health and Human Services, and is a member of the Committees on Accountability and Administrative Review, Appropriations, Budget, Health, and Public Safety. Mitchell studied at the University of California at Riverside.


The Hon. Mark Ridley-Thomas, widely regarded as the foremost advocate of neighborhood participation in government decision-making and founder of the Empowerment Congress fired up the crowded auditorium of 3,000 advocates. “Those of us who understand the mission of the Children’s Defense Fund ought not to abandon our obligations when we have positions of responsibility,” said the Hon. Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We must take action!” Advocate today. Join in the fight for our children – see the rousing speech that brought a whole new generation of freedom fighters to their feet at CDF’s 2012 National Conference. Buy the DVD now.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is the first African American man ever to serve on the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors. He is widely regarded as the foremost advocate of neighborhood participation in government decision-making. By virtue of his founding the Empowerment Congress, arguably the region’s most successful experiment in neighborhood-based civic engagement, he is considered the founder of the Neighborhood Council movement. He has represented nearly 2.3 million people of the Second District on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors since December 2008. During his first year in office, he shepherded through an agreement with the University of California to provide medical services at the new Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital, scheduled to open in late 2012. Ridley-Thomas is the first African American man ever to serve on the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors. He studied at Immaculate Heart College and the University of Southern California.