In a speech linking policies supported by Hillary Clinton to economic hardships of U.S. children, families, and workers, Bernie Sanders on Wednesday laid out his anti-poverty agenda in Columbia, South Carolina.
Noting that the U.S. "today has the highest poverty rate of nearly any major country on earth because almost all of the new wealth and income is going to the people on top," Sanders lambasted the 1996 welfare reform bill signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.
"What welfare reform did in my view was to go after some of the weakest and most vulnerable people in this country," Sanders said, before highlighting Hillary Clinton's support (pdf) for the legislation as First Lady.
"During that period, I spoke out against so-called 'welfare reform' because I thought it was scapegoating people who were helpless, people who were very, very vulnerable," he continued. "Secretary Clinton at that time had a very different position on welfare reform. She strongly supported it and worked hard to round up votes for its passage."
In her 2003 book, Clinton said of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that she "agreed that [Bill Clinton] should sign it and worked hard to round up votes for its passage."
This is very crucial point. Bernie aint blaming her for somethint Bill did. Hillary was a vocal supporter of this policy.
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) February 24, 2016
Echoing remarks he's made in recent days, Sanders charged that welfare reform in fact increased extreme poverty in the U.S.
As the Washington Post pointed out, "Sanders's decision to highlight the 1996 law comes just days after he vowed that he would more aggressively highlight policy differences with Clinton...In recent days, Sanders has also highlighted differences in trade policy and campaign finance practices."
To address this scourge, Sanders called for the federal minimum wage to be lifted from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour; proposed a youth jobs program to create 1 million jobs for young Americans; and urged support for a $1 trillion, five-year push to put 13 million Americans to work in good-paying jobs rebuilding roads, bridges and railways.
"What we are going to do in this country if I have anything to say about it is to say if somebody works 40 hours a week, that person is not going to live in poverty," said the U.S. senator from Vermont. "Today the minimum wage of $7.25 is nothing less than a starvation wage."
While Sanders introduced legislation in July 2015 to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, Clinton has expressed skepticism that a push for $15 would make it far on Capitol Hill and suggested that $12 would be more likely to succeed.
On Wednesday, Sanders also advocated for a Medicare-for-all, single-payer healthcare system to help reduce poverty.
The location of his speech was significant. Not only does South Carolina hold its Democratic primary in less than a week, but the state's childhood poverty rate overall—27 percent, including 138,000 black children and 34,000 Hispanic children—is greater than the national figure.
In September, Sanders joined federal workers rallying in Washington, D.C. for better wages and treatment. He said at the time: "In my view, when we talk about morality and when we talk about justice we have to understand that there is no justice when so few have so much, while so many have so little."