From a speech by William S. Woodside, chairman of the American Can Co., at a Greater Washington Research Center luncheon on June 17:

For the past few years, we have seen a poverty rate that has been almost impervious both to economic growth and to employment. There are some year-to-year shifts in the poverty level, but when today's data are compared with data from 10 years ago, we find a substantially larger group of people who are relatively unaffected by economic performance.

. . . If this continues we run the risk of becoming a society with a permanent and growing underclass, a society in which increasing numbers of people have no role and with which they feel no identity or connection, a society in which it will be increasingly difficult for democratic institutions and processes to function effectively.

In my opinion that's the issue that should be our No. 1 priority in this country.

. . . We will need to reaffirm the role of government in helping the poor and the dispossessed. We will need to put aside, once and for all, the notion that poverty, hunger and homelessness are problems for everyone but government. We will need to make clear once again to the American people that government is the one social institution in this country that is best able to help the poor and the dispossessed. . . .

The traditional business response during the past several years has been to develop public-private partnerships. . . . But . . . public-private partnerships will prove to be an inadequate vehicle upon which to depend.