The John Edwards Poverty Tour

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Linking the federal minimum wage to inflation and strengthening collective bargaining rights would be two steps toward the eventual elimination of poverty in America, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said Monday.

Edwards made New Orleans the starting point for his eight-state campaign tour to highlight poverty in America. Sunday evening he spoke in the Lower 9th Ward - a largely low-income neighborhood that is still suffering the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

On Monday morning he answered questions at a town hall event for ABC's "Good Morning America." The setting was the Cabildo, one of the two 18th century buildings flanking St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter's Jackson Square. As people began gathering for the event, homeless people slept on benches just around the corner from the cathedral.

Inside, Edwards said people living on the streets are only part of the poverty problem in America. "A huge portion of the people who live in poverty in this country work every day, work all the time," he said.

Edwards also addressed the Iraq war, saying a staged withdrawal of troops would tell the Iraqi people, "We've now reached the stage where you have to take responsibility for your own country."

While getting out of Iraq, Edwards said, the United States would have to beef up its presence in the region and would have to make plans to deal with possible complications from the withdrawal, including civil war or attempts at genocide. Those plans could include military buffer zones around Iraq and efforts to move people out of population centers.

Edwards has said the idea of his three-day tour, beginning in New Orleans Monday, is both to draw attention to the struggles people face in urban and rural communities and to show what's possible.

The tour will wind through eight states, with Edwards scheduled to be in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee on Monday.