|Cory Booker and me: 2 Jersey boys |
talk Springsteen and politics.
"We are setting traps for our children that cost us all in the long run," Booker, who represents the state of New Jersey says. "As my father used to say 'it might be better to have been born in 1936 than it is to be born now'. We are falling backward. The question is not what the right answer is - but why are we not pursuing it?"
Booker was the keynote speaker today at a seminar on Inequality Begins at Birth: Child Poverty in America, sponsored by the Century Foundation's Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative, the Roosevelt Institute, and the America Pediatric Association.
As you would expect from the topic, Booker addressed the problems of the young poor, especially those he witnessed firsthand during his time as Mayor of Newark living by choice in public housing.
"New Jersey is still one of the most segregated states in the nation," Booker said. "70 percent of my (Newark) children are like my Dad, poor and being raised by a single mom. My father benefitted from a conspiracy of love. He had people there to make sure he did not fail. But today, we don't have the level of activity and engagement to break the cycle".
Booker said that early education must be improved and college must be made more affordable. "You can't be a leader in the economy if you are a laggard in education," the senator said.
But some of his harshest criticisms were directed at the American criminal justice system and a failed War on Drugs that has devastated communities across the country.
"We have 4% of the world's population and 25% of its prisoners. Americans do not have a higher proclivity for criminal behavior than anywhere else. There are more blacks now under criminal supervision (prison, probation, parole, etc.) than all the slaves in 1850. Think about that," Booker said. "People are being sucked into the criminal justice system."
It is evident that the American justice system is racially biased, Booker pointed out. To dramatize that claim, he compared the treatment of a black youth in Camden (NJ) and a college student at Stanford University, the college where Booker received his college degree. "They're not raiding any fraternities at Stanford. And blacks and whites in America have no different rates of drug use,"Booker said.
The senator also pointed out that once released from incarceration, many people are forced to "go back into that underground economy" because they are banned from, or can't find, employment. He cited a statistic that 84% of the murder victims in Newark had been arrested 10 or more times in their lives.
"We need to empower people to be productive," Booker said. "Poor costs more. The amount we have to pay on the back end instead of investing in the front end is staggering. We are not acting in a fiscally prudent way."
As an example of such action, Booker pointed out that the same Congress that cut food stamps increased financial incentives to sugar manufacturers. "That means it's cheaper to get a Twinkie in Trenton than it is to get an apple."
Booker claimed reversing these situations "is the call of our country."
"Everywhere in this nation is sacred soil. There are no toss-away communities. There are no toss-away people," he said.
That daunting task will take "sacrifice, struggle, and work" the senator noted. "Change is never made in an instant. It takes timeless, indefatigable people to stay in the fight."