By Lenny McAllister
The “detached Republican” and the “people’s president” combined to mention the word “poor” less than five times during the first presidential debate despite our hard economic times. Is this a political symptom of a civic value we all share?
The numbers say it. The talking points from many advocates shout it – sometimes in politically-coded and insulting ways.
Poverty is growing in America.
The amount of Americans on some form of government assistance – be it food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare, or other forms of government aid – is budget-busting and economically-troubling. The number of people employed in positions that match their work talents is dauntingly low. Working-class poverty is rapidly becoming “the new black” that more Americans are forced to fashion this economic season.
Too bad candidates have not spoken to it enough during this general election season.
Perhaps it is because pollsters have informed campaigns which way the poor are most likely to vote. Regardless, the failure of candidates such as Governor Romney and President Obama to articulate the need to move more Americans from the perils of poverty into the hope of self-perpetuating prosperity during debates such as Wednesday night’s event was troubling.
Perhaps more troubling is our collective response to this void to date.
We have to ask ourselves: are we really addressing the elephant in the room – that more Americans (and tragically, more people of color) are descending below the poverty level and taking the hopes of future generations with them? Are we willing to push the issue of poverty, especially considering the growing level of impoverishment in the United States?
Black Americans are more apt to be behind our countrymen on the economic, education, and employment curves. We are more inclined to be on the precipice of poverty with the delay of a paycheck or the loss of a job. As it stands, Black middle class wealth is being decimated during the Great Recession. The American Dream of advancement is rapidly becoming a nightmare that includes institutional and generational poverty. With that trend comes the yoke of poverty: lessened educational achievements, decreased access to good-paying jobs, and heightened odds of poor health and crime-impacted lives. Despite all this, most candidates – and much of the rest of America – are not speaking enough about one of fasting-growing segments of the American population.
Much of this is politics. Candidates focus primarily on persuadable voters in the hopes to swing elections with rousing rhetoric and campaign promises. The growing American poor – often those without the campaign dollars to contribute to campaigns and the electoral weight to move swing districts throughout gerrymandered electoral maps – are not the focus of attention in campaign ads and high-profile speeches. Yet, many of the popular talking points about budgetary cuts impact them at a high level. Through all of it, do we really see the humanity of the American poor in the poll numbers, talking points, and the flowing speeches? Even if we do see them, are we engaging them (including many of those that we call family, co-workers, and neighbors) in a tangible fashion to reverse the trend?
As Americans, we have a choice that has much more to do with who we are as a people than it does with who we are as voters. As conservatives, the principles of smaller government and lower bureaucratic spending must be met vigorously with the mantra of “smaller government, bigger people” that prompts a genuine, consistent, and effective interaction between conservative leaders and the growing American poor. This effort must regularly and inspiringly articulate its plans to infuse self-perpetuating prosperity into the everyday lives of more Americans.
As progressives, the rhetoric about doing more for the poor must be more than merely fighting for the procurement of another extension of unemployment benefits or other low-paying benefits. “Economic equality” must mean that progressives are less worried about taxing the very rich at a higher rate than they are with bringing more American families into higher tax brackets as quickly as possible.
As African Americans, we have a higher historical obligation to address the issue of American poverty and the particular aftermath it has reeked on our communities. Failures we experience in education, business growth, civic and political power, and crime control have their roots in poverty. Private investment to eradicate poverty and its symptomatic consequences must become a greater priority to those within our communities with the means to do so. Public investment of tax dollars must be more efficient, yield more direct results, and become devoid of the political cronyism and corruption that have stymied progress for those in need. Political leadership must be bold and flexible enough to advocate for the poor effectively while fending off the senses of alienation or demagoguery that may flare up due to their actions.
Whether we immediately force our political candidates to invest more time and attention into these problems or whether we invest more personal resources and efforts ourselves, the time is now to actively seize the growing problem of poverty by the horns – before it chokes the life out of our communities at an irreversible rate.
LENNY MCALLISTER is an internationally-recognized political commentator and public speaker featured on several national and international outlet including BET’s “Don’t Sleep! Hosted by TJ Holmes”, Current TV’s “The Young Turks”, CNN, and Sirius-XM Radio. His new book, “Spoken Thoughts of an Amalgamated Advocate in Today’s America” is now available electronically on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.com . Catch Lenny’s “The McAllister Minute” regularly on The American Urban Radio Network.