US Catholic Faith in Real Life

How will Obama or Romney address the reality of poverty in America?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

This week, Census data released for 2011 has showed that for the poor in America, things are pretty much the same as they were in 2010. Unfortunately, this means that 15 percent of the population, or about 46 million people, are living below the federal poverty threshold, a statistically insignificant difference from the 15.1 percent in the same category in 2010.

The report also showed that the top 1 percent of wage earners saw a 6 percent increase in income, while at the same time, the bottom 80 percent of earners lost ground. Even though unemployment decreased slightly, the gap between rich and poor increased. Median household income remained at about $50,000, slightly lower than 2010. (However, both presidential candidates categorize ‘middle class’ households those earning up to $200-250,000.) The child poverty rate remained around 22 percent; the poverty rate for seniors was again just under 9 percent; and wide disparities still existed between the number of whites and non-whites experiencing poverty.

Earlier this summer the Circle of Protection, a coalition of more than 60 faith leaders from varying traditions including Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, invited the two presidential candidates to make video statements of their views on poverty. "We believe that this presidential campaign should include a clear focus on what each candidate proposes to do to provide help and opportunity for hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world," they wrote in letters to President Obama and Mitt Romney.

The video responses, as well as transcripts in English and Spanish, can be viewed here.

Said Obama: “My faith teaches me that poverty is a moral issue. The Bible calls on us to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, and I believe that as a public servant, I must do my part to answer that call.”

Said Romney: “Both here at home and around the world, good people of faith have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of the less fortunate, providing aid and comfort in places that were once without hope. These kind acts reveal the good heart of America. Coming to the aid of those in need is a critical mission.”

This language sounds all well and good, but the next president will have to enact real policies to deal with the reality that poverty that is affecting more than 46 million Americans. The campaign, argues the Boston Globe, which has focused largely on the middle class, has been much quieter on how the election will impact those struggling the most. (Though, outside groups such as the Nuns on the Bus tour have done their part to help raise awareness.)

The Circle of Protection, in their letters to the candidates, said: "Though we may disagree on other issues, we are united in our belief that God is especially concerned with the plight of poor and vulnerable people." Whoever wins the election will have seemingly endless critical issues to address for the nation. Hopefully the voices of 46 million Americans will not go unheard.