Poverty a 'Moral Issue' In 2006 Elections, Author Says

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

Washington, D.C. (CNSNews.com) - The author of several books chronicling poverty in America on Tuesday said the gap between rich and poor is a "moral issue" that will help advance the "progressive" movement.

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the bestselling "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" and its follow-up "Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream," made her prediction at the annual Take Back America conference in Washington, D.C.

Criticizing conservatives who argue that poverty is a natural result of capitalism or that it is caused by immoral behavior, Ehrenreich said "it's caused by a shortage of money."

"There is a war going on," she said, "and I don't just mean the shameful and increasingly sickening abuse of our American military force in Iraq. I mean a class war in the United States."

Wages are being held down, as consumer prices rise and the Bush administration pursues its policy of tax cuts, Ehrenreich complained. Those tax cuts, she added, are financed in part by "cuts in Medicaid and other programs for the poor."

Ehrenreich criticized what she called the division "between the gated communities on one end and the tenements and trailer parks on the other end." She encouraged the liberal activists attending the conference to have passion for "the common good."

The common good also has Biblical backing, Ehrenreich said. "There is no mention of stem cells in the Bible," she said, referring to the religious opposition to embryonic stem cell research. "There are hundreds and hundreds of mentions of the obligation of every community toward its poor and its oppressed people."

She encouraged the audience to make poverty a moral issue in the same way that conservatives made homosexual marriage a moral issue in the 2004 election. "We want more people to be motivated by that passion for advancing the common good."

Ehrenreich received critical acclaim for her 2001 book "Nickel and Dimed," in which she chronicled her adventures as an "undercover" low wage worker. She worked as a maid, a waitress, a nursing home assistant and a Wal-Mart salesperson to discover how difficult it is to live comfortably on a near minimum-wage salary. "Bait and Switch," released in 2004, applies the same model to the American middle-class.

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