As we noted on Thursday, the issue of poverty was conspicuously missing from the first presidential candidates’ debate. While the term “middle class” was traded more than thirty times between Obama and Romney, neither candidate made any substantive claims about poverty. In a debate dominated by the topic of the economy, Obama couldn’t bring himself to say the words “poor” or “poverty” one time. “Middle class,” meanwhile, remains the term that is supposed to blanket everyone living in the United States—despite their income or wealth.
Not surprisingly, the poor are given little voice in this election. Unemployment numbers remain just that: numbers that obscure the reality of those living people surviving without income. At a time when median white household wealth is at more than $110,000, and median black household wealth is less than $5,000, the term middle class also blurs the racial distinctions of money.
Nevada, meanwhile, remains a swing state that will be key in helping to decide the election—but the poor may be losing their collective voice as voters there, too. Although the 1993 National Voter Registration Act obliges public service agencies to provide voter registration forms for their clients, a federal lawsuit alleged that Nevada failed to do so, thereby not allowing an opportunity for the state’s poor to register to vote.
Meet our Nevada-based community journalist, Kate Sedinger. She’s currently working on a Masters in social work at the University of Nevada, Reno, and interns at Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. In today’s dispatch, she explains why the poor in particular must be given the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the electoral process.
Nevada Public Assistance Agencies Blunder in Registering Poor Voters
In a country where so many cling so tightly to the idea of the American Dream, classism remains one of the least acknowledged forms of discrimination. We want to believe success is contingent on hard work alone because that allows us to believe that monetary wealth is in our future, rather than acknowledge that unless we were born into wealth or we’re white, middle-class and educated, it likely isn’t. We want to believe that someday we’ll have no worries, life will be easy: we’ll be able to retire, to send our children to college without debt and to be lauded by society as proof that the American Dream can be a reality.
We all work hard. We put in the hours. We trade our time for a place to live and food to eat. We live with integrity. We set aside other priorities such as family, self-care and hobbies for work, believing success is inevitable, as if success follows hard work as B follows A. We are committed to believing, even in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, that everyone can succeed in this country because we don’t have the structural blocks of other countries where wealth is determined by birth. We are all born equal, right?
The flip side of the myth of the American Dream is that those who don’t make it—those who, heaven forbid, use public assistance—just aren’t trying hard enough. This belief serves as a blanket of false security, allowing the belief that poverty is due to personal deficiencies rather than structural inequalities. By allowing us to believe if we just do the work, we’re safe.