According to the latest census data, nearly 50% of all Americans (150 million people) are living in poverty or can be considered low-income (see Democracy Now). 38% of all African-American children and 35% of Latino children are currently living in poverty. This is a marked increase from the 1970s, when poverty rates were below 15%.
|Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Despite this appalling statistic, the presidential candidates rarely, if ever, mention the words poverty or poor, with the notable exception of Mitt Romney’s declaration that he is “not concerned about the very poor.”
Romney’s remarks should have come as no surprise to anyone. The rich do not become rich through compassion. More significantly, they benefit from the persistence of poverty as it helps keep wages low and workers desperate, making it easier for them to squeeze more profits out of their workers.
Nevertheless, the blunder did support his detractors’ claims that he is out of touch with Main Street, so he made a lame attempt to defend himself by adding that there was a safety net for the poor, which is a gross exaggeration, and certainly not a justification for not caring. The safety net has been severely eroded over the past several decades with welfare “reform” and budget cuts. Yet even if there was a robust safety net, the poor would still be poor relative to the affluent. Even if homelessness ceased to exist and everyone had sufficient food, the majority of us would still be poor relative to the rich. They would continue to amass wealth by paying us less than the value of our labor. They would continue to maintain political and social hegemony. They would continue to control our working and living conditions. They would hold onto their yachts and mansions and summer homes, while we would still have to struggle to pay our rents and mortgages.
He also tried to imply that it wasn’t callousness on his part, but a campaign strategy to focus on the middle class, which is the same reason that Obama and most other political candidates in recent memory refrain from using the terms poverty and poor. On the one hand, the poor do not vote in large numbers and thus candidates can safely ignore them without any political cost. On the other hand, the ranks of the poor have been growing rapidly because so many formally middle class people have lost their jobs, pensions, investments and homes. Many are anxious about their own financial vulnerability. Thus, by ignoring or discounting poverty, candidates hope to make everyone who isn’t rich believe they are middle class, thus keeping the chronically poor, as well as the formally middle class nouveaux poor, optimistic about the future under their presidential candidate.