Marking the 40th anniversary of the assassination of his father, Martin Luther King III has an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution proposing a cabinet-level officer “whose responsibility will be to make a measurable impact on eradicating poverty.” King explains further that,
A poverty cabinet member is necessary today more than ever. Our next president will be taking over a government that faces virtually the exact same poverty rate my father found so appalling back in 1968. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the current poverty rate is just over 12 percent, as it was in 1968, while the number of people living in poverty has grown from 25 million to more than 36 million, including 12 million children. Even worse, a family of four with two children and an annual income of $21,027 is not even considered poor by our government’s reporting standards. Many people have become immune to these statistics, but we cannot wait for another Katrina to truly grasp that America is awash in poverty.
The work of the cabinet officer must transcend the ceremonial. His or her principal focus must be highlighting successful programs working at the local level, developing new, more accurate measurements for poverty, and setting benchmarks for success by which the administration will be judged.
It’s an interesting idea, and one which has reportedly elicited some interest from the three leading presidential candidates. We’ve got cabinet secretaries for Treasury, Commerce, Labor and other departments that address economic concerns, but mostly from a business perspective. But a cabinet secretary charged with focusing exclusively on reducing poverty could be a significant step toward making government more responsive to human needs than corporate concerns.
When King’s father was assassinated, he was organizing the Poor Peoples’ Campaign, a national coalition to advocate for impoverished Americans of all races. Democrats who want to honor Dr. King in a meaningful way would do well to give his son’s suggestion serious consideration.