'Tour of the Poor' Has a Double-Edged Message

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After six and a half years of economic boom times, Bill Clinton is out visiting what are apparently the last poor people in America -- living in places like Kentuckyís Appalachia, Mississippiís Delta, East St. Louis, Ill., and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The President is feeling their pain, offering tax breaks and shining the presidential light of publicity on their withered communities. Heís also feeling his oats. After all, if it takes only four days to visit the people the boom missed, Clinton must have done a heck of a job until now. "This is an excellent opportunity for Clinton to do two things at once," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "First, continue to be activist at this late stage of his term, and second, take the opportunity to remind everyone how successful his economic policies have been thus far."

Will it now? White House aides were tickled on Tuesday when Bank of America pledged $600 million in new loans and investments to what Clinton is calling Americaís "new markets." Businesses will get tax credits for setting up shop in depressed areas, and the administration wants to remind them that these places are full of eager workers at a time when labor in America is at a premium (there's that economic boom again). What remains is the question of training. Americaís move away from unskilled labor and manufacturing to value-added production has been the main reason for the boom -- and itís also how these areas got depressed in the first place. Can lagging regions change their ways and catch up? After all, points out White House Communications Director Ann Lewis, "when youíre talking about former coal miners, youíre talking about people who arenít afraid of hard work."