Obama Inauguration Speech Points to Job Creation As Means to End Poverty: Is He Right?


“For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.  We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.” – President Barack Obama

“Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.” – President Barack Obama

In President Obama’s inaugural speech, addressing poverty was a rolling theme. It was clear that the rising numbers of those living in poverty have not slipped past him, and that he believes addressing this poverty is key to moving our country forward. No matter where you stand politically, unless you are naïve, you cannot ignore the fact that we have a growing wealth disparity in this country. The question is how do we address it? Can we solve the problem of poverty by everyone making a monetary contribution? Simply making a donation to poverty organizations will not address the issue; instead investments in job creation and building economic security are the answers to addressing poverty.

There are two ways to think about addressing poverty. One is to reduce the impact of poverty and the other is addressing the root causes of poverty. Both are great concepts, but alone are not the answer to the problem. However, when done together we can begin to make inroads in the fight against poverty. Let’s take a look at an example of each concept.

There is a growing Pay It Forward movement happening in this country. The idea is to do good deeds for other, or spread your good fortune whether it is donating time and/or money or simply doing a good deed. One aspect of this campaign is one that is built around monetary donations. This particular concept, The Life You Can Save, is built around everyone donating at least 1% of their annual income to organizations that fight extreme poverty. However, when you look at the suggested organizations for donation, they are not focused on the root causes of poverty. Instead, they have a focus on reducing the impact on poverty. Giving money to fight disease or providing food to the hungry are noble causes. The organizations doing this work need support and it is worthwhile, but this work will not end poverty. After the disease is dealt with and the food has been eaten, people are still in poverty.

The Half in Ten Campaign is designed to address the root causes of poverty. Their core issues are creating jobs, strengthening families and promoting economic security. The goal of the campaign is to push for policy solutions that eliminate causes of poverty through pressuring policy makers. They believe that government investment is an important tool in addressing the issue of poverty and those solutions without government involvement are incomplete. Recognizing that government is not the end all be all when it comes to eliminating poverty, their jobs analysis calls for encouraging private sector job creation.

Both methods of addressing poverty are important and investments in them are needed. Simply making a donation to these causes will not eliminate poverty.

What is needed is for everyone to make an investment in being engaged. We all can pressure elected officials to make the proper investments, we can all put pressure on the private sector to create jobs and invest in our communities and we can all spend time helping those impacted by poverty. It will take more than money to create the kind of private-public partnerships that are needed to create jobs and build economic security. So donating money alone is not the answer, instead let us all roll up our sleeves and get to work!