For the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, the poverty rate is expected to reach 15.7%. Last year, analysts estimated 47 million people remained in poverty. Recent unemployment reports have hardly promised light at the end of the tunnel, but is there more to the problem than the frail economic situation?
Peter Edelman, Director of Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy, has suggested the problem may be deeper than just the current recession. Long-term transformations in the economy such as globalization, outsourcing, automation, and less unionization have driven median household income downward. “The problem is that the tidal wave of low-wage jobs is dragging us down and the wage problem is not going to go away anytime soon.”
Widespread low wages coupled with rising gas and energy costs, increasing cost of living, and regular inflation has proved a recipe for poverty, even for people with jobs. For discouraged workers no longer seeking employment, government compensation is beginning to run thin. And as we approach the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of the year, it appears the social safety net will continue to wither away as long as the GOP controls the House. Many agree that the budget must be balanced(myself included), but where spending cuts should be made will have a significant impact on the growing issue of poverty in America, and ultimately will decide the direction of the country moving forward.
So, as poverty grows, who should be more concerned about the elephant in the room -- Mitt Romney or President Obama?
Romney has run on a platform of proven business savvy and how that will prove useful in righting the massive ship that is the U.S. economy. Obama, meanwhile, hopes to reinvigorate the sense of hope that helped catapult him to victory in 2008. Obama, if re-elected, looks poised to make a lot more traditionally liberal decisions after being remarkably moderate in his current term.
For President Obama, it is definitely not a good thing to be attached to a time of high poverty. But as both candidates go back and forth about jobs, jobs, jobs, it may be time to step back and look at the bigger picture.
What is the true plan from these presidential candidates about the poverty problem? Simply “creating jobs” is not enough. Even during the boom of the 1990s, poverty never fell below 11.1%. Returning to Edelman’s primary reasons for the extended period of high poverty, some of Romney’s publicity for outsourcing while at Bain Capital could hit home to the folks that lost their jobs because someone overseas could do the same for less. However, many will likely have diminished hope that the current president can do anything about poverty after seeing it go up under his watch.
It will be interesting to see the next few months how each candidate decides to handle the prospect of this issue-if it even comes up at all. Polls say that most Americans would rather cut military spending than Medicare or Social Security. As long as America wishes to remain the world’s best military though, I doubt either Romney or Obama will run on this idea. As we approach the fiscal cliff and potential budget ceiling rematch this winter that could decide the fate of the impoverished, much will depend on who holds office. Meanwhile, 47 million Americans (and growing) anxiously await a plan.
Among the politicking, let us keep perspective of Aristotle’s words and what they mean about America’s future: “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”