Another Day in Paradise?: Humanity, Charity and the Urban Poor
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In 1989, when Phil Collins released the hit single “Another Day in Paradise” to raise awareness of homelessness, the poverty rate had just fallen from its previous high six years before. Today, according to the US Census Bureau, poverty in the United States is once again on the rise, with nearly one in six Americans living below the poverty line.

Poverty is a human problem, not simply an economic one, and it demands a human response. With the focus on assistance coming from government programs and policies, compassion is often absent in the debate over how to help the poor. The deeper issues of poverty need to be addressed, starting at the local level. How should we as individuals respond to the problem of poverty in our communities? What role should institutions play in helping the poor?

Lawrence M. Mead, author of the forthcoming AEI book From Prophecy to Charity: How to Help the Poor, and Ismael Hernandez, founder of the Freedom and Virtue Institute, will address these questions as they relate to urban poverty. Following their remarks, Max Finberg of the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Chris LaTondresse of Recovering Evangelical will join them for a lively panel discussion. Appetizers and refreshments will be served.
5:45 PM

6:00 PM

6:15 PM
LAWRENCE M. MEAD, New York University and AEI

6:30 PM
ISMAEL HERNANDEZ, Freedom and Virtue Institute

Panel Discussion
6:45 PM
MAX FINBERG, USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
CHRIS LATONDRESSE, Recovering Evangelical
LAWRENCE M. MEAD, New York University and AEI
ISMAEL HERNANDEZ, Freedom and Virtue Institute

7:30 PM
Question and Answer

8:00 PM
Event Summary

WASHINGTON, SEPTEMBER 28, 2011— The moral and economic issues surrounding how to best fight poverty took center stage at the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday evening as a panel of prominent thought leaders discussed “Humanity, Charity and the Urban Poor.” Panelists agreed that private charities, churches and communities play a vital role in the fight against poverty; however, they disagreed on the extent to which the government should be involved. Lawrence M. Mead, professor of politics and public policy at New York University, argued that purely voluntary charitable efforts fail to adequately address the poverty problem and called for welfare reform that provides incentives for the poor to help themselves. Ismael Hernandez, founder of the Freedom and Virtue Institute, said government should take a small role and be pushed to the side. He argued that current government entitlement programs are demoralizing and encouraged a focus on the dignity of each human. Chris LaTondresse, founder and CEO of Recovering Evangelical, agreed with Mead that private charity is not enough; however, he emphasized that greed in American society significantly contributes to the problem. Max Finberg, director of the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, argued that the best way to alleviate poverty is to focus on bridging the gap between the government and charitable organizations. Citing their faith and moral convictions as the basis for their proposed policy solutions, the four panelists also took part in a lively question-and-answer period to discuss this timely and urgent issue.


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Lawrence M. Mead is a professor of politics and public policy at New York University and a visiting scholar at AEI. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard University, Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin and a visiting fellow at Princeton and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Mr. Mead is an expert on the problems of poverty and welfare in the United States. Among academics, he was the principal exponent of work requirements in welfare, the approach that now dominates national policy. He is also a leading scholar of the politics and implementation of welfare reform and work programs for men. He is the author of seven books and more than 100 other publications. Government Matters (Princeton University Press, 2004), his study of welfare reform in Wisconsin, was a co-winner of the 2005 Louis Brownlow Book Award, given by the National Academy of Public Administration. He recently published Expanding Work Programs for Poor Men (May 2011) and From Prophecy to Charity: How to Help the Poor (forthcoming) with AEI Press.

Ismael Hernandez is the founder and executive director of the Freedom and Virtue Institute, located in Fort Myers, Fla. He grew up in Puerto Rico, the son of a committed Marxist and a founding member of the Socialist party. After studying political science at the University of Puerto Rico, he attended graduate school in the United States and later became the executive director of the African Caribbean American Catholic Center in the Catholic Diocese of Venice. His work eventually led him to create the institute for the purpose of mobilizing people to learn and defending the values of self-reliance and individual freedom he has come to embrace.

Max Finberg is director of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The center's mission is to build partnerships between the USDA and faith-based and neighborhood organizations to better serve individuals, families and communities. Previously, he was the first director of the Alliance to End Hunger, a nonprofit organization that engages diverse institutions in building the public will to end hunger, both in the United States and worldwide.

Chris LaTondresse is the founder and CEO of Recovering Evangelical, an online news and opinion portal backed by a national movement of next-generation Christians. Raised in the former Soviet Union as the son of American missionary parents, Mr. LaTondresse spent his young adult years serving at summer bible camps and suburban mega-churches and working in politics for a Democratic member of Congress and for the Republican governor of Minnesota.

Eric Teetsel
is program manager of Values & Capitalism, an AEI initiative to engage college students in a conversation about the coherence of free enterprise and Christian faith. Before coming to AEI, he served in the student life departments at Azusa Pacific University and Colorado Christian University.

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