EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece kicks off a campaign at the website TalkPoverty.org in which advocates and people struggling to make ends meet will ask 2016 presidential candidates about how they would significantly reduce poverty and inequality in this country. This campaign builds upon The Nation’s #TalkPoverty campaign, which sought to achieve a substantive conversation about poverty in the 2012 elections. We encourage you to ask questions of the candidates and join the conversation on Twitter using #talkpoverty.
Millions of American families are working multiple jobs to make ends meet but are still living paycheck to paycheck.
Millions more who are undocumented can’t plan for their futures because they fear la migra (the immigration police) will haul them and their loved ones away at any time.
And still others, who have served often excessive sentences for past transgressions struggle to find work when they are released from prison.
In total, about 106 million people live on the brink, fighting to overcome the barriers to success that keep them living in marginalized communities or in such chaos that financial stability is out of reach.
Yet what are the chances that their struggles will be addressed in any meaningful way during the first Republican presidential debate hosted by Fox News on Thursday?
What are the chances the Fox News moderators will ask candidates about their agenda to address the needs of neighborhoods facing high unemployment and low wages?
What is the likelihood that the candidates will be asked to outline plans to improve the lives of the working families who live in forgotten communities where there is little investment in infrastructure and jobs?
If the most recent presidential elections are any indication, the chances that these issues will be raised are slim to none. While there was plenty of rhetoric about the dwindling middle class, the last presidential election was noticeably devoid of any references to Americans living in poverty. In fact, The Nation reported that from 2008 to 2012, at least five consecutive presidential or vice presidential debates went without a single question about poverty.
This first debate of the 2016 election is an opportunity for the leading Republican candidates to go on the record about the issues that matter most to working families.
So in an effort to help the candidates and the Fox team find their way, here’s a roadmap. We asked four Americans struggling to make ends meet about what they want to hear on Thursday:
Rachael Collyer, 22, Cleveland Heights, Ohio:
Rachael graduated from The Ohio State University with a major in Spanish and English. She works as a bartender with a fluctuating income that on a good day nets up to $14 an hour and on soft days earns her the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
She also has almost $26,000 in student loan debt.
Rachael can’t afford her own apartment, so after she graduated, she moved back home with her parents in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. She’s a volunteer organizer now for the Ohio Student Association because mounting debt is holding too many students and their families back. The state has decreased its college grants to students, she says, even though more than half of all jobs in Ohio will require a college education by 2020. It is no wonder then that about 68% of Ohio’s college graduates have an average of $29,000 in debt.