Here’s a twist: in the second presidential debate, one candidate used the word “poverty” without saying anything about poverty; the other didn’t use the word at all but managed to speak a fair amount about it.
Make sense? Stay with me.
Governor Romney used this talking point: “There are 3 1/2 million more women living in poverty today than when the president took office”; and again, “I mentioned 3 1/2 million women more now in poverty than four years ago.” He also used what has become a staple of his campaign as a bludgeon against President Obama’s record: “There are more people in poverty—one out of six people [lives] in poverty.”
What he didn’t do was offer any notion as to how a Romney administration would create opportunities for low-income people—people who decidedly aren’t included in his binders. Except for maybe this—in response to a question about limiting the availability of assault weapons: “But gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone—that’s a great idea because if there’s a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically.”
Does he really think that parents—teen parents and single parents who know this struggle better than anyone—aren’t telling their children to wait to have babies? That they want better circumstances for them than they have had themselves?
He’s right that poverty rates go down for two-parent families. It’s also true that they go down for two-earner families: only 4 percent of households with more than one earner are in poverty, as compared to 24 percent of households with a single earner, according to a report last year from Half in Ten. Marriage isn’t the only route to two incomes (nor does marriage always result in two incomes). The Romney-Ryan ticket and the GOP might want to reconsider, for example, their opposition to investing in job training programs that can lead to good jobs for young people and a path to the middle class.
As for marriage, instead of simply telling people “get married,” Romney might also look at astronomical incarceration rates—especially for minority men in urban areas; low real wages at the bottom and their link to declining unionization; differences in public schools for the haves and have-nots; and racial discrimination in the job and housing markets. Attention to these macro issues would do a lot to increase hope and access to real economic opportunities, which is a great way to support strong families. Gosh, that’s a great idea, you might say.
Romney and the GOP might also consider meeting families—and single mother-headed families—where they are instead of where the GOP wishes they would be. That means investing in federal childcare assistance that currently reaches roughly one in seven families who qualify for it (tough to work when you don’t have a safe place for the kid); raising the minimum wage, which stagnates at $7.25 an hour and results in sub-poverty earnings of $15,080 for a year-round, full-time employee (in the 1960s and ’70s a worker with a full-time minimum-wage job could lift a family of three above the poverty line); reforming a cash assistance (TANF) program that reaches only 27 families for every 100 families with children in poverty, and often traps women in low-wage work rather than opening a path to a living wage; and working aggressively to close the gender pay gap.