Finally, Presidential Candidates Are Talking About Poverty

NPP Pressroom

The Nation
Greg Kaufmann

Monday marked a major step forward for pushing a conversation about poverty into presidential politics. The Poor People’s Campaign held a historic forum featuring nine Democratic presidential candidates who gathered to explicitly discuss the issue. Attendees included Vice President Joe Biden and Senators Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. (Invitations were sent to the Republican National Committee and Donald Trump. but neither replied.)


There were other important advances from the perspective of the Poor People’s Campaign. They have a central goal of changing the narrative on poverty—“because if you’re not in the narrative, you’re never going to be in the policy,” Reverend Barber said. To that end they were able to impress upon the candidates and viewers that the official measure of 40 million people in poverty doesn’t even begin to capture who is poor in this country. Instead, using the more accurate supplemental-poverty measure, we see that 140 million people—more than 43 percent of the population—are poor or low-wealth, meaning one emergency away from poverty. That figure includes 9 million children, 74 million women, 26 million black people, 38 million Latinx people, 8 million Asian people, 2.14 million Native and Indigenous people, and 66 million white people. It’s consistent with findings that about 40 percent of the country can’t afford an unexpected $400 expense.

I would have liked to see Reverends Barber and Theoharis challenge the candidates a little more directly on the findings of the campaign’s “moral budget” that was released just prior to the forum. It shows how the campaign’s demands—the things politicians often deem unaffordable, like public support for food, housing, health care, college, and income security for all—could be paid for. For example, beyond ending wars overseas, what cuts to our $716 billion military budget (more than the next seven countries combined) would the candidates be willing to support? Tomorrow, a House Budget Committee hearing will take a deeper dive into that budget and hopefully it, too, will become part of the presidential conversation.

But for those of us who have been covering poverty and for advocates—and especially poor people—who have been waiting on the issue to get some traction in the presidential campaigns, yesterday was an important and hopeful day. It took a national campaign led by poor people in 41 states to make it happen, but frankly, that’s how it should be. Because when voters speak, politicians are forced to listen. And if poor people start coming together and voting together, well, in Washington parlance—that’s a game changer.

Read the whole article here.