The Crisis the Presidential Candidates Refuse to Talk About: Poverty

America has a serious problem that neither major presidential candidate wants to talk about or acknowledge. It’s called poverty and it is getting worse.

Yet neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump wants to mention the issue. Instead they ignore it and sling mud as the crisis grows worse and worse. Consider these frightening statistics that have been conspicuously absent from the campaign trail:

  • Around 45.4 million Americans; or one in seven, rely on Food Stamps for nourishment, Bloomberg reported. That number is still 15.4 million more than in 2007 when around 30 million Americans were receiving Food Stamps.[1]

 

  • Around one in seven Americans gets at least some of his or her groceries from a food bank, the non-profit Feeding America reported. That means 46 million Americans are turning to charity to keep the fridge full.

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  • Around 48.1 million Americans live in a household that is food insecure, Feeding America reported. That means the family has trouble putting food on the table.[2]

 

  • Around 13.7 million American teens and preteens (those aged 10 to 17) live in households affected by food insecurity, the Urban Institute reported.

 

  • Another four million teenagers live in homes that are marginally food insecure.

 

  • About 2.9 million teens and preteens live in homes that are very food insecure.[3]

 

  • Most of the teens who participated in focus groups held by the Urban Institute said they were aware of friends or classmates who were going hungry.

The situation is now so bad that some teenagers surveyed by the Urban Institute reported that they resorted to prostitution in order to get money to buy food. Others reported stealing, or deliberately getting arrested because they knew they would be fed in jail.

Some teens also admitted that they deliberately got bad grades in order to get sent to summer school just for the hot lunch. A few teens admitted that they or somebody knew had joined a gang simply to get money for food.

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Things will get worse in the years ahead as technological unemployment heats up. One company; Walmart (NYSE: WMT) is planning to eliminate 7,000 back office positions in its stores. Those jobs will be replaced by cash counting machines and digital invoicing.

Many more people will join those Walmart workers on the unemployment rolls and in the line at the food bank in the years ahead. The World Economic Forum estimates that around 7.1 million jobs worldwide will disappear as a result of technological progress by 2020.

 Why Aren’t the Presidential Candidates talking about Poverty?

This anecdotal evidence indicates that poverty is getting worse in America but the presidential candidates refuse to talk about it. Indeed they are actively avoiding just like almost every other candidate running for office today. One has to ask why?

A major reason is that poverty does fit in with America’s national image or the patriotic tapestry of a wonderful nation some of the candidates are trying to paint. Another is that it hurts many people’s self-image. Few of us want to admit it exists in our communities.

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A related psychological hang up is the sense of powerlessness poverty creates in its victims and those around them. Americans hate to admit they are poor; and worse that there is often little their communities can do about the problem, beyond handing out even more charity.

Then of course there is economic failure; Democrats don’t want to admit 25 years of Clintonesque free trade and laze faire has failed to create prosperity. Republicans are afraid to face the reality that capitalism might not be working. Neither side wants to raise the possibility that technological progress; one of America’s proudest achievements, might be impoverishing a large percentage of its citizenry.

How Fear of Welfare Makes Poverty Worse

Finally, acknowledging poverty will force candidates to confront the possibility of having to propose potentially controversial or expensive remedies. These might include increased welfare programs, or more radical measures like basic income.

Welfare has never been popular in America, so most politicians avoid the topic or voice their opposition. Some very successful politicians including Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan made careers of attacking welfare.

Beyond that welfare or basic would require more government spending and possibly increased taxation. No politician wants to go there because that is the kind of talk that costs one an election.

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Fear of having to deal with welfare makes politicians afraid to talk about poverty or deal with it. Progressives fear raising the issue because they understand that welfare costs votes. Conservatives only want to talk about cutting welfare spending which is politically popular. Neither side wants to discuss the underlying issue which is poverty because they would have to deal with it.

Yet we will have to face poverty and do something about it real soon. If we do not, violence, riots and possibly class warfare will sweep our land. Hopefully our political leaders will develop the courage to face the issue of poverty before our cities burn. Although some of them; like Charlotte and Milwaukee, already are.

[1] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-03/food-stamps-still-feed-one-in-seven-americans-despite-recovery

[2] http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/hunger-and-poverty/hunger-and-poverty-fact-sheet.html?gclid=CIji1uinlM8CFQdufgod83MPrQ

[3] http://www.urban.org/research/publication/impossible-choices-teens-and-food-insecurity-america