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CNN Dialogues explores ways out of poverty

By Nenad Tadic | Emory Report | April 19, 2012

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A community forum explores what needs to be done to achieve economic and social equity in America.

"Today's Other America: Living in Poverty" was the topic of the fifth CNN Dialogues—a community forum devoted to exploring major thematic issues—at Georgia State University's Rialto Center for the Arts on April 18. Moderated by CNNMoney anchor Poppy Harlow, the discussion centered on the question, "What needs to be done to achieve economic and social equity in America?"

Panelists included Donna Beegle, president and founder of Communication Across Barriers, a consulting firm; Henry Cisneros, former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development; Renee Glover, CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority; Michael Rich, associate professor of political science at Emory; and Robert L. Woodson Sr., president and founder of Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

Beegle shared that she was born into generational poverty and lived in it for nearly 30 years.

Our country teaches us that we are the cause of our own poverty, she said.

"Being broke" is true poverty, Beegle said, and that's not always talked about in the media or in politics.

The panelists discussed education as a way out of poverty. But Cisneros mentioned that education falls short in the fields of technology and engineering.

The American job market has shifted substantially over the past 50 years, he explained. And jobs like the ones offered today require high education levels.

"We know what works," said Glover, who executed complete removal of Atlanta's public housing structures. Atlanta is the only city in the country to have replaced all projects with mixed housing communities.

Glover said we need to care more about the issue of social and economic inequality, because if we don't "we will lose the global war."

We should listen to the impoverished and formulate ideas, said Woodson.

And there should be more small business formation in Hispanic and African American neighborhoods, Woodson said. He mentioned that the number of small businesses created is a good indicator of the economy's progress.

Each night, 500,000 people have no place to sleep in American cities. "What kind of people are we to allow that to exist?" asked Cisneros.

Harlow wrapped up the panel by citing a recent World Economic Forum study that showed social inequality was the biggest risk to America's future, more so than terrorism.

Rich answered that only a national commitment and political will to eradicating poverty could solve such a risk.

The panel was followed by a question-and-answer session. By using the Twitter hashtag "#CNNDialogues," audience members were able to tweet their reaction to the night's discussion.

Made possible by CNN, Emory's James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study for Race and Difference and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, CNN Dialogues' next forum this fall will focus on the millennial generation.