Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Where Are the Poor?

As we move closer to next month's election, I have been struck by the fact that there has been little mention in the campaign of the needs of those among us who are poor. We have heard a great deal about the difficulties of the middle class during the Great Recession, but we have heard little about those in our country who are poor and getting poorer.

It makes sense for campaigns to focus there attention on middle class Americans, still a larger part of the population than the poor, but is it right? If government makes things better for middle class Americans, will the benefits trickle down? Families struggling to pay the mortgage certainly could use help, but what about the families that need a decent place to live and can only dream about one day having a mortgage?

For years I had the following quote from President Roosevelt tacked on the bulletin board in my office.
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
Since the Great Depression, we have made the kind of progress of which FDR spoke. There are fewer older Americans living in poverty, chiefly because of Social Security and Medicare. Poor children are more likely to be healthy, chiefly because of Medicaid and nutritional programs like WIC and Food Stamps. Poor families have better access to adequate housing because of programs like Section 8. But our work isn't done and in the wake of the Great Recession the very programs that have helped us make this progress are being threatened with budget cuts.

What is particularly sad about the proposals to make cuts in the funding of these programs is that they are short-sighted. Money spent on early child health care and nutrition saves us money in the future. These expenditures are investments which have been shown to provide good returns. Like the infrastructure investments that we need to make, these investments in poor children and their families are investments in the kind of America that we want.

When I vote next month, I will vote hoping that the people we elect will continue to make these important investments, investments in a better future for all Americans.

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