Three months ago, anticipating that the media and presidential campaigns wouldn’t focus on the struggles of the poor and near poor in a substantive way, TheNation.com kicked off a new campaign: “#TalkPoverty: Questions for Obama and Romney.”
In an effort to push the issue of poverty into the mainstream political debate, I profiled and polled five experts who have devoted their lives to fighting poverty—and individuals who have lived in poverty—giving them the opportunity to ask the presidential candidates the questions that they want answers to.
A thriving #TalkPoverty community developed online, and the Half In Ten coalition—comprised of 200 national and local organizations across the country—ran an excellent spin-off campaign to pressure debate moderators to ask President Obama and Governor Romney about their plans to address child poverty. Despite this vibrant campaign—and the outsized focus of the debates on the domestic economy—the moderators never asked a single question about poverty.
At the outset of the #TalkPoverty effort, I promised to hound both campaigns for answers. In the end, it didn’t really require hounding as far as the Obama campaign was concerned—they agreed to respond when I first contacted them. The Romney campaign, on the other hand, initially expressed openness before sending an e-mail last Thursday: “We will not be participating. Thanks for the offer.” It seems that the Romney campaign prefers to continue its strategy of speaking about “the poor” without saying anything of substance about antipoverty policies, or speaking in a manner completely untethered from reality, or outright lying.
I promised both campaigns that we would run the answers without any interpretation, simply let their responses speak for themselves. Here are the answers from the Obama campaign:
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1. In 2011, 20.4 million people in America were living on incomes below half the federal poverty line—less than about $9,000 for a family of three—including over 15 million women and children. That’s up from 12.6 million people in 2000. What will you do to address this growing problem?
President Obama took office in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, threatening the security of families across the country. He took immediate action to address the crisis through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Today, we know that the Recovery Act kept nearly 7 million people out of poverty in 2010, including 2.5 million children. It cut taxes for 95 percent of workers, gave a significant tax cut to low-income families with children, and supported crucial unemployment insurance for those who were hit hardest. The Recovery Act also strengthened Medicaid during the worst of the recession and helped ensure that millions of families had food security to weather the downturn. These steps provided a lifeline for millions of Americans working their way to self-sufficiency who just needed tools to get back on their feet, stay in school, and rejoin the workforce. Though there is still more work to be done, we have seen 31 straight months of private sector job growth and a total of 5.2 million jobs created.