(CBS News) According to a new report out this past week, poverty in America has reached its highest level since 1965. That so many Americans remain poor is a source of concern for our contributor Tavis Smiley:
Throughout American history there have been proud moments of revolution that forced the elite to remove their blinders of greed, tyranny and domination.
America has, of course, made great strides for freedom in regard to all of its citizens. But now America has regressed, and poverty is the new slavery.
The blinders are once again firmly affixed, and the necessary checks and balances have disappeared, making way for policies that coddle the wealthy, while the persistent poor, the working poor and the "new poor" are ignored and rendered invisible.
The fact that one percent of the nation's richest individuals control 42 percent of the nation's wealth is, to me, a stunning revelation in the wake of a recession.
The 400 richest people in America, according to Forbes, have more than one trillion dollars' of wealth. They each average $3.5 billion of net worth.
And, no, this is not the politics of envy, but rather a cautionary tale about what happens to a country that drifts so far away from any notion of fundamental fairness for its citizenry, that we end up a nation of the rich - and the rest of us.
Poverty threatens our democracy, a democracy with a deficit dilemma that the poor are not responsible for, yet they pay the price.
There are nearly 150 million poor and near-poor people in America who are not responsible for the damage done by the Great Recession.
Nearly one-third of the American middle class - mostly families with children - have now fallen into poverty.
The magnitude of the Great Recession confirms that poverty is no longer a personal calamity; it is, rather, a societal crisis.
The time is now to once again reawaken American democracy. It is time for righteous indignation against the fleecing of America's poor, given the indifference toward the poor that has infected our social, political and economic discourse. In short, it's time to make poverty a priority.
Where there is no hope for the future, there is no power in the present.