What's the best path out of poverty?

Thank you for the many articles and letters that have helped us all see better the situation and effects of the hurricane in the Mississippi River delta area. I was especially moved by Ari Kelman's Sept. 12 Opinion article, "America's underclass exposed." This article contains much I didn't know about New Orleans history and illuminates a topic needing more attention here in the US: poverty.

For me, Mr. Kelman's article touched the deep pain that is rising from the depths of the planet, environmentally and socially. My hope is that through uncovering and revealing the roots of this collective pain (colonization, gender and race oppression, and a lack of forethought repeated over generations), perhaps we can make our way toward the healing of the planet we call home.

In a way, I am grateful to the hurricane experience for stirring up a storm in our collective consciousness, and for shedding some light on the political and social issues that live out daily in that delta area and were largely ignored before now.
Angela Sevin
Oakland, Calif.

Lawrence Mishel is right to note, in David Francis's Sept. 12 column, "Let Katrina revive the war on poverty," that reducing poverty in the US is doable.

But we Americans will have to give up some of our cherished myths for that to become a reality, among them: the notion that fierce competition always produces a stronger society than do cooperation and sharing; that unregulated free markets always produce a higher standard of living than carefully regulated free markets do; and that sticks (forcing welfare recipients to look for work even when there is no work at a living wage to be had) are always more effective instruments of social change than carrots (welfare available for those who truly need it, including working-poor families).

All such beliefs are rooted in the equally false myth that those who are poor deserve at some very fundamental level to be so, and media reporting on the survival activities of various groups following hurricane Katrina betrayed how tightly woven into the national consciousness this mythology is.
Neil R. Hughes
Athens, Ga.

The horrifying images of poor people, largely African-American, struggling to survive in New Orleans has stimulated many responses. Columnist David Francis prescribes resumption of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. But after more than 40 years and $6.6 trillion of antipoverty spending, one can only wonder just how much more of our national treasure should be dedicated to so many failed programs.

Instead let's think outside the box and utilize ideas such as homesteading to give the poor something to own, and no-tax enterprise zones to encourage the private sector to help rebuild New Orleans.
Thomas P. Kemp
Laguna Beach, Calif.

Regarding John Hughes's Sept. 17 Opinion piece, "Katrina winds spread poverty awareness": I was born to a blue-collar worker who didn't graduate from high school and who never mentioned going to college. I served in the US Navy during Vietnam, saving money all the while, then graduated from college on the GI Bill, with no help from my parents. I worked during college, even saving money then. I worked at good grades, and I've worked for promotions and raises since.

What is wrong with working your way out of poverty? I'll help those who'll help themselves. Let those who won't just wallow in their self-made misery.
John Vos
Birmingham, Ala.

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