latimes.com: Nader targets candidates on child poverty
WASHINGTON (Los Angeles Times) -- Ralph Nader made his first appearance as the Green Party's presidential nominee Monday surrounded by children at a Los Angeles housing project, where he blasted major party candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore for ignoring the growth in child poverty amid the booming economy.
"Bush and Gore talk incessantly about caring for children, but they're not following through with action," Nader said at the William Mead housing projects east of downtown Los Angeles.
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Nader said that greater spending on education, a higher minimum wage and expanded child care are needed to combat child poverty. He accused politicians of failing to use the benefits of a growing economy to invest in programs for children, spending it instead on "corporate welfare" such as corporate tax cuts and subsidies.
The result, Nader said, is that "even with sustained economic growth, the majority of
the population is slipping behind [financially]. This has never happened before in the history of this country." Nader said that, adjusted for inflation, California's minimum wage today is 26% below the 1968 level.
In California, Nader said, more than 25% of children are estimated to be living below the federal poverty line. That percentage is up from 15% in 1980, he said. Nationwide, child poverty is at 20%, higher than any other western industrialized nation, Nader said.
Nader criticized California for plummeting below the national average in education spending per child. "I used to think of California as in the vanguard," Nader said, referring to the state's high per-pupil spending in the 1970s. "Now its school spending is among the bottom 10. We need to increase school funding by more than the trivial amounts being talked about."
Demonstrating a willingness to look beyond ideological boundaries for ideas, Nader called for the revival of an idea backed by President Nixon, the "negative income tax."
Nixon had unsuccessfully proposed the measure, which would give a cash payment to families whose incomes fell below an established minimum.
Nader contrasted Nixon's vision for fighting poverty with what he sees as complacency among today's politicians. "Richard Nixon was a California Republican, but today's leaders are nowhere near his proposal," he said.
The presumed presidential nominees for the major parties, Republican Texas Gov. Bush and Democratic Vice President Gore, will not raise issues important to the poor because they are beholden to the same wealthy campaign contributors, Nader said.
"The only distinction between Bush and Gore is the velocity with which their knees hit the floor when big corporations knock on the door," he said.
Bush has not announced any plans to combat child poverty specifically, but several of his proposals aim to help children in low-income families, either by improving their schools or by offering tax cuts to their parents.
Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway accused Nader of obscuring "vast differences" between the vice president and Bush regarding their plans to help children from poor
and working-class families.
"Our health care proposal actually begins with providing health insurance for every
child in America," Hattaway said. "If [Nader] were a serious candidate, he'd research
our position before making baseless attacks."
Gore has proposed several other measures to improve the lives of poor children, Hattaway said, including spending billions on preschool and Head Start, a support program for low-income children that helps provide meals and child care.