WASHINGTON – Poverty has been a homeless issue along the road to the presidency,until now.
Presidential candidates are proposing strategies to close the divide between the two Americas.
“A lot of people say this is a courageous issue because it isn't a big issue. That is wrong. Poverty has been a backburner politically,not because it doesn't evoke public response,but because the public doesn't believe there is anything the government can do,” said Charles Karelis,philosophy professor at George Washington University and author of “Why the Economics of the Well-off Can't Help the Poor.”
In the past,poverty has struggled among candidates because of its inability to win elections,said former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber,chief executive officer of Clark and Weinstock,a lobbying firm.
“Poverty has a hard time finding a political constituency because voting participation by poor people is lower among the public. Poor people aren't big campaign contributors,” Weber said.
After former senator John Edwards,D-N.C.,ended his race for the presidency on Jan. 30,few articles have been written on poverty. A majority of articles were written in the summer of 2007,according to a search of the Nexis database.
John McCain,the likely Republican nominee,preaches “the promise of American prosperity” through a plan to keep taxes low,which he said will promote economic growth and help people with low-incomes.
His ideas include repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax,which would save the average middle-class family $2,700; keeping taxes on dividends and capital gains low to promote investing,and banning Internet and cell phone taxes. Increasing global trade will benefit entrepreneurs and innovators and produce jobs,McCain says.
Karelis said McCain's economic theories mimic John F. Kennedy's idea that a rising tide floats all boats,which he said is a traditionally conservative view.
But McCain has been criticized for his lack of direct poverty initiatives. McCain rarely mention's poverty on his Web site,said Sharon Parrott,director of welfare reform at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,a policy group that analyzes the impact of budget decisions on poor people.
“McCain has two major thrusts in his domestic agenda – cutting taxes and spending. But in terms of poverty,there isn't a lot there. I think he believes tax cuts will increase growth and help with poverty,but I don't think the evidence is there,” Parrott said.
Raising the Earned Income Tax Credit,a tax credit for low-income workers,has been suggested by Democratic contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They would allow higher-income families to claim the credit,with Clinton proposing tripling the tax credit for single workers. According to her Web site,this would provide an average tax cut of $750 for 4 million people.
Clinton plans to offer $1,000 in investing incentives to encourage low-income people to build wealth.
She would also create 5 million “green collar” jobs,to teach at-risk youths,veterans and displaced workers how to install and maintain energy efficiency and renewable energy technology. Other programs listed on her Web site would generate jobs through a Green Building Fund that would donate $1 billion annually to states and create 100,000 new jobs to improve energy efficiency in public buildings. A program to weatherize 20 million low-income homes would reduce heating bills and create 2,000 new jobs.
Clinton would help a million children out of poverty each year and take 300,000 families off of welfare by forcing financially capable fathers to pay child support and ensure the money goes to the child. She said her jobs programs would help struggling fathers through job training and work counseling.
Obama plans to increase the number of people who are eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit and reduce the marriage penalty,which taxes some married couples at a higher rate than if each partner filed as a single person.
He also plans to tap into alternative energy to create a “green jobs corps” made up of disadvantaged youth.
According to his Web site,Obama would commit to spend $1 billion over five years for transitional job and career programs.
Obama has proposed a Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act to fund responsible fatherhood programs,address domestic violence and sponsor activities to “sustain healthy relationships and marriages” and limit reductions in welfare payments if both parents work.
With that and grants for programs to educate young people about the consequences of early parenthood,the bill aims to remove penalties on married families and “break the cycle of early parenthood.”
Grants would be given to states to fund transitional job programs. It would also require states to give full child support to the families.
Weber said conservatives adhere to a low-tax regimen to alleviate the burden for people in low-tax brackets because they believe less government involvement helps the economy maintain its highest growth rate.
But he said lowering taxes alone won't help people rise to the middle class.
“We clearly know that if the economy is not growing,we are going to be moving backwards on poverty,” Weber said.
Tax cuts favoring the wealthy will not help the climb of the poor,said Parrott,and would widen inequality. She said the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts have not prompted economic growth.
“A strategy of saying we are going to keep cutting taxes and hope we grow our way out of the poverty problem has been tried and failed repeatedly,” Parrott said.
Candidates need to develop more opportunities for people to save money Weber said. “We want to turn poor,low-income wage earners into wealth creators.”
Michael Tanner,a senior fellow at the Cato Institute,a libertarian public policy research foundation,criticizes some of the candidates' policies,which he said are aimed at the middle class.
Because the results of saving and investing are not immediate,politicians shy away from this avenue,Weber said.
Green jobs and technology have the potential to create new jobs,though it may take a while,Weber said.
Parrott said reducing carbon emissions will cause the price of carbon to rise making it profitable for companies to invest in new technologies and create new jobs including some for workers in outdated industries,such as coal plants.
Karelis said just one out of 40 low-income people works a full-time job and said more full-time jobs would reduce the number of poor people. That,and absent fathers are the main causes of child poverty,said Robert Rector,senior research fellow in domestic policy studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
About 17.4 percent,or 12.8 million,children under age 18 live in poverty,according to a 2006 Census Bureau report. That's a higher rate than for any other age group. Children are 35.2 percent of the people in poverty,the report says.
“If we want to have a stronger family,we need to find a way for fathers to come back and be in the home. If we did that,we would have huge reductions in poverty,” Rector said.
Rector said when Obama and Clinton mention fathers,they are referring to child support,not fathers coming into the home – preferably as husbands – which he said is essential to decreasing poverty,dropout rates,drug use and a future on welfare for children.
Parrott said she has a “healthy dose” of skepticism about the government's ability to determine when it is best for people to be married.
“If we could wave a magic wand and have every child grow up in a healthy married family that would be better,but we don't know how to do that,” Parrott said.
Parrott said with more children living in single-parent homes,Obama and Clinton are realistic about this generation's demographics. Parrott said she does encourage policies that remind would-be fathers that they will be “on the hook” for raising the child through child support payments.