At the height of the longest economic boom in the nation's history, there are 34.5 million people living below the official poverty line--$16,660 for a family of four.

The seeming contradiction of poverty amid prosperity has propelled the Call to Renewal, a 5-year-old alliance including liberal Protestants, conservative evangelicals, Roman Catholics and African-American church leaders.

Convened by the Rev. Jim Wallis, an evangelical minister in Washington, the coalition is staging a two-month series of "town meetings" in 20 cities around the country, running through May. It is also forming local "roundtables" that aim to bring candidates for public office before church audiences to explain their positions on poverty and the poor.

On Feb. 16, more than 50 leaders of the Call to Renewal gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to sign a "Covenant to Overcome Poverty." They pledged to make poverty a "Sunday morning issue."

The first goal of the 10-year campaign is a "poverty tithe," a commitment by congregations to spend at least 10 percent of their budgets on anti-poverty programs and to increase that percentage over time. Also stressed are mentoring and after-school programs in the inner cities and other faith-based efforts centered on young people including gang members.

In addition, the covenant sets out broad public goals such as a "living family income for all who responsibly work."

While saying they have "no detailed blueprint" for overcoming poverty, the church leaders highlight a mix of possible solutions including a raise in the minimum wage and an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which supplements poverty-level wages through the federal tax system.

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