Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=102781
Story Retrieval Date: 5/25/2013 5:30:17 AM CST
• Tax policy – Barack Obama’s tax policy would not impose new taxes on families making less than $250,000, his campaign has said.
• Expand the EITC – Obama plans to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to families with three children or more. This credit is applied to taxes for low-income, working families – it reduces the amount a person owes on their taxes or gives them a refund.
• Increasing the minimum wage – The minimum wage will rise to $7.25 an hour by 2009, but Obama plans to increase the minimum to $9.50 an hour by 2011 and index it to inflation.
• Health care – Obama’s goal of offering health care to all Americans would be accomplished through a combination of programs, the campaign says. The National Health Insurance Exchange would help people purchase a private plan or enroll in the new public plan. Obama would place a mandate on employers, requiring them to contribute to the cost of their employees health coverage.
• Reducing poverty – The Obama campaign Web site lists “poverty” as one of the candidate’s main issues. Under this tab, Obama lays out several plans to reduce poverty in urban areas, including creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund and increasing funding for existing programs such as the Community Development Block Grant.
• Tax policy – According to Sen. McCain’s Web site, his tax plan would reduce taxes for all Americans and create a simpler tax system.
• Health care – McCain’s health care plan would provide a tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to be used to purchase health insurance.
• Reducing poverty – McCain’s website does not list poverty in its field of issues. However the site does include a McCain statement on poverty issued last April 4. In this statement, McCain said he would make the eradication of poverty a top priority in his administration.
WASHINGTON – While “Joe the plumber” and his middle class buddies have been the center of debate in this presidential campaign, more than 37 million of the nation’s neediest people have been practically ignored.
This lack of attention may be nothing new for the poorest citizens of America, but with an economic crisis at hand, those following the fall campaign might expect this vulnerable subset of the population to get a little more play in the discussion.
Advocacy agencies like the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington say they are disappointed with the lack of attention from both presidential candidates, especially in the debates.
“During economic downturns it’s poor families and poor people that suffer the most, because they have the least amount of financial cushion.” Catherine Crato an economist with the nonprofit organization said.
Experts claim the lack of focus on poverty is a result of the balancing act political candidates must do when appealing for votes.
“I think people have decided – politicians have decided – that it’s sort of unpopular or uncool to talk about the working class,” David Brady a professor of sociology at Duke University said. “So they always refer to everyone as the middle class, which is kind of silly.”
Long-time Democratic political consultant, Robert Shrum begs to differ.
Shrum doesn’t defend Republicans. But he doesn’t accept the premise that Democrats have not been talking about the epidemic of poverty in the U.S.
According to Shrum, during the Democratic primaries earlier this year the candidates did, in fact, address how the poverty rate rose during the Bush administration.
And Shrum said Obama has carried this message and the need to help the poor throughout his general election campaign.
“I mean this year if you care about poor people and what happens to poor people then you’re clearly going to vote for Obama – whose programs address their concerns in really big ways,” Shrum said.
Historically, the Democratic Party has been considered more sympathetic when it comes to poverty issues, and this campaign doesn’t seem very different from the past.
That much is evident from a brief perusal of both candidates’ Web sites – Obama lists “poverty” under his issues tab, while McCain hardly mentions anything about poverty or even needy people on his site.
But you can’t blame McCain for not trying. Early in his campaign he took a week-long tour of poverty-stricken communities, visiting places like New Orleans; Selma, Ala., and Inez, Ky.
Since that tour, however, McCain has apparently switched his focus to the middle class – where he will be most likely to pick up votes.
“Their [the Republican’s] constituency is not among poor people,” said Michael Tanner of the CATO Institute, a Libertarian-leaning think-tank in Washington. “They try to talk about it a little bit in order to reach out to moderate voters who care about poverty initiatives, but it’s not something they spend a lot of time on.”
For Obama and his fellow Democrats focusing on the poor -- 12.5 percent of the population in 2007 – can be a double-edged sword.
“Certainly the poor are a fairly reliable Democratic constituency,” Tanner said. “On the other hand, for a Democrat to talk too much about poverty sounds like talking about welfare – which is not popular with the middle class voters that he’s [Obama] trying to court.”
Shrum said in his political experience he has never advised a candidate to shy away from the topic of poverty. But he went on to say it’s often better to focus on issues that affect both the poor and the middle class – issues like health care, education and housing.
Lumping the poor and middle-class together makes sense, Shrum said, especially in the present economic conditions. Those who are losing their homes may not be living in poverty, but are at risk to be pushed into it.
“That doesn’t mean you talk about them [the poor] exclusively,” Shrum said. “It doesn’t mean you play into the game that some of the Republicans would like to play, which is turning this into a poor versus middle class kind of choice. You want to bring the poor and middle class together.”
Advocates for the poor would most likely disagree with Shrum, simply because the middle class encompasses such a wide income range. The problems confronting someone living below the poverty threshold – which means making around $21,000 a year for a family of four – are quite different than the issues facing a family with an income of around $75,000.
Duke’s David Brady has done extensive research on poverty in the U.S., and maintains that much of the political campaign discussion of poverty is rhetorical. This presidential campaign hasn’t proven to be much different, according to Brady.
But looking at many of Obama’s policies and programs, Brady says his positions are more beneficial for those in poverty and the lower-middle class.
“One of the biggest jokes of this campaign is all this talk of ‘Joe the plumber,’” Brady said. “What is obvious is how ridiculous McCain’s policies are for someone that’s actually in ‘Joe the plumber’s situation.”