A lot of important issues were discussed during the first presidential debate. President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney were eager to discuss the middle and upper class, but neither spoke about the poor. Moderator Jim Lehrer did not ask a single question about poverty in America. Both parties seem to have completely written off this ever-growing population.
Fifteen percent of Americans are living below the poverty line. The latest Census figures show that 17 states saw an increase in poverty rates from 2010 to 2011. The Center for American Progress found that while profits and productivity increased from 2001 to 2007, so did poverty. During the past three years, the poverty rate hasn’t improved and middle-class income has declined.
Those are some embarrassing numbers for the wealthiest nation in the world, and yet both people who’d like the job to lead it have yet to give the topic the attention it deserves. While stories on the debt and the deficit have made up 18 percent of the election stories from January through June, coverage of poverty from January through June comprised no more than 3 percent.
It doesn’t help that many conservatives are still in denial over the issue. The Heritage Foundation even came out with a report recently questioning the federal definition of being poor, saying many of those classified as poor aren’t actually impoverished. The report also claimed that many enjoy various amenities such as refrigerators, microwaves, and televisions. But it leaves out the fact that many of these amenities are gifts, second-hand purchases, or just rented. And it fails to acknowledge the fact that the more affordable food they are eating are not healthy.
There’s still a few weeks left in this election. I hope the candidates can find time to discuss the very important issue of poverty. Until then, the Center for Community Change will continue to build the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to have a significant impact in improving their communities and the policies and institutions that affect their lives.