Monday, October 16, 2006

Poverty and the 2006 Elections

Politicians and priorities

Has anyone noticed that Katrina is hardly mentioned by this year’s candidates. Even fewer raise the issue of poverty. Polls show it is not a major concern of the electorate. Why?

First, poverty is invisible to most affluent Americans. Income segregation has become almost as insidious as racial segregation. Most don’t know any of the working poor (that is as people rather than service providers). It is easy to delude ourselves and believe poverty can be overcome by anyone who really wants to do it. I was talking last week to a friend who lost her job with devastating economic consequences. She admitted that she had never realized just how hard it is to climb out of a hole.

Second, the poor don’t vote in large numbers. A major reason is that struggling to make ends meet takes up rather much of one’s time. Also many don’t realize that being political invisible has a huge impact on one’s ability to advance. We need more education efforts and a willingness of those who do vote to become a voice for "the least of these."

Third, the poor don’t make political contributions or hire lobbyists. Unfortunately, more and more in recent years, governmental favors are up for sale. If you can’t buy them, you are far less likely to get benefits.

When I was still a college professor, my students had a hard time understanding how our ancestors could tolerate slavery. I ask them what they believe people 100 years from now will condemn us for doing. I hope it will be just as incomprehensible that we failed to provide basic health care, a living wage, and adequate educational opportunities to those who needed them the most.

It would be different if the US didn’t have the resources to combat poverty here and abroad.

The money is there. Where is the will?


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