Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards urges to fight poverty across America

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards called on supporters packed into a charity thrift store to help start a citizens' movement to fight poverty across America.

"It would be a wonderful thing if the president of the United States could solve all these problems alone. It is not the truth. It is a fantasy," Edwards said. "If we want to bring about the bold change that can end poverty in this country, we need a movement."

Stopping at a thrift store run by the Memphis Metropolitan Interfaith Association, Edwards offered few specifics on fighting poverty but said demands for change must come from ordinary Americans.

"You think about where movements started in this country. The civil rights movement didn't start in the Oval Office in Washington, D.C.," he said. "You know where the civil rights movement started. It started in communities just like this."

Edwards began his day in New Orleans and finished it in Tennessee after stops in Mississippi and Arkansas. The tour, his campaign said, was focused on bringing attention to the plight of the poor, including the working poor.

"Nobody in the United States of America should work full-time and still live in poverty, nobody," he told a cheering crowd of about 300 listeners.

Earlier in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, Edwards called for raising the minimum wage and increasing financial incentives to businesses locating in impoverished communities.

At the rally at the New Zion Community Center, Edwards called for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $9.50 (EUR 6.89) an hour. A new law is already scheduled to boost the minimum wage from $5.15 (EUR 3.74) an hour to $7.25 (EUR 5.26) an hour over two years, with the first increase of 70 cents to take effect this month.

"We can do something about this by raising the minimum wage, by having paid sick leave, and by having universal health care. That would change everything," Edwards said.

The appearance was part of Edwards' eight-state campaign tour focused on alleviating poverty.

Earlier, poultry plant employees in Canton, Mississippi, told Edwards they are not receiving full wages and cannot support their families on their paychecks.

Edwards said there was a perception in this country that many who live in poverty are "just ne'er-do-wells or they don't want to work," but the workers' stories show that is not the case.

"They have a hard time paying their bills and supporting their families because, No. 1, their pay is low. No. 2, they don't have the kind of benefits you would hope they'd have, and No. 3, they're actually being cheated out of what they are entitled to and being forced to work in incredibly dangerous conditions," Edwards said.

Edwards, who formally kicked off his race for the Democratic nomination in New Orleans in December, returned to the city Sunday for a tour of the Lower 9th Ward, a low-income area that was among the worst-hit by Katrina. On Monday, he took questions at a meeting in the French Quarter then toured Kingsley House, a charitable agency that provides education programs and other services for children in need.

At each appearance he lamented the city's slow recovery - its population remains down by around 40 percent and vast areas have yet to recover from post-storm blight. He said one of the federal government's priorities should be finding out why billions allocated for storm relief have not reached local governments and storm victims. And he said President George W. Bush should exercise more leadership in getting the problems solved.

The Bush administration says it has allocated over $110 billion (EUR 79.82 billion) to Gulf Coast hurricane recovery but local officials and storm victims say they have yet to see much of the money for needed infrastructure repairs.

Local officials have blamed state and federal bureaucracy for tying up federal funds but state and federal officials say they are trying to be responsible with taxpayer money and make sure it is properly spent.