Despite a heavy focus by the presidential campaigns on social safety net programs and “entitlementsm” there’s been very little focus on what poverty in this country really looks like, let alone any serious suggestions as to how to address the economic and political structures that make climbing out of poverty increasingly impossible.
As Tim Casey and Lisalyn Jacobs at The Nation report, to do so would require a radical shift in both rhetoric and policy. To begin with, we’d have to recognize that poverty is in many ways a women’s issue and that our current system for administering assistance is exacerbating this problem. Instead of a nationally mandated minimum benefit level for cash assistance — what we traditionally consider ‘welfare’ — states have the discretion to set those levels, which means 50 different systems for setting temporary cash assistance.
The United States also lacks any kind of real subsidized childcare compared to other industrialized nations. With more women than men in low-wage jobs, a patchwork of state cash assistance for those most in need, and little-to-no childcare support for mothers who need to work, it becomes clearer how the system is stacked to keep women in poverty, especially single mothers.
With these structural challenges visible, it becomes even more apparent how inadequate both Republicans and Democrats have been in addressing systemic poverty in this country. The Republican answer has been to demonize single mothers while working to make their situation more desperate by way of cuts to food stamps, Medicaid and family planning services. The Democrats have only been able to play defense and have largely failed at offering any sweeping policy changes, absent health care reform and immigration reform, that could begin to chip away at these challenges.
The authors of The Nation piece pose some general, but pointed questions to both Mitt Romney and President Obama they’d like to see answered in the debate, such as:
1) Poverty rates are 30 percent higher for women than men. What would you do to reduce the gender poverty gap?
2) Despite their above average employment rates compared to single mothers in other high income countries, single mothers in the US have higher poverty rates. What would you do to reduce poverty for single mothers and their children?
3) One-fifth of US children are poor. Do you agree that national policy should assure an above-poverty income to all children whose parents are willing to work?
What questions for addressing poverty in this country do you have for the candidates? What policy changes would you like to see in place to change these dynamics and have the United States emerge as a leader in the fight against poverty?
Photo from martinak15 via flickr.