Ignoring America's Poor

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Ignoring America's Poor

With 46 million people living in poverty, why are the presidential candidates so quiet on issues affecting the poor?

Despite persistent poverty across the US, President Barack Obama, and his republican challenger, Mitt Romney, rarely mention the country's most vulnerable. Why are the poor being ignored?

And while the economy will be the main focus of the first presidential debate on Wednesday, so far, the country's poor have been left out of the conversation.

That is despite the more than 46 million people who now live below the poverty line. And tens of millions more are at risk, as median incomes continue to decline.

The US Census Bureau has set the poverty threshold for a four-person household at about $23,000. The median household income is just over $50,000. Its latest figures show that in 2011 46.2 million people, or 15 per cent, live in poverty.

Nearly half of them live in 'extreme poverty' with an income below 50 per cent of the poverty threshold.

Last year the Census Bureau estimated that an additional 51 million people are near the poverty line, with incomes less than 50 per cent above the threshold.

The UN says the child poverty rate is the second highest in the developed world, following Romania with 21.9 per cent of the nation's children under 18 living in poverty.

Minorities are also disproportionately impacted, with 27.6 per cent of African Americans and 25.3 per cent of Hispanics living in poverty.

In contrast, only 9.8 per cent of non-Hispanic whites live in poverty.

Obama has made very few mentions of poverty during his address at the DNC, and when he did, he incorporated conservative rhetoric often employed against the poor: "We know that churches and charities can often make more of a difference than a poverty programme alone. We don’t want handouts for people who refuse to help themselves, and we certainly don’t want bailouts for banks that break the rules."

And it seems there are votes up for grabs if either of the two main parties chooses to address the poverty agenda. According to Gallup: 50 per cent percent of those below the poverty threshold are Independents, 32 per cent are Democrats and 15 per cent are Republicans.

With those startling figures in mind we ask: Are US politicians ignoring the plight of the country's disadvantaged?

Inside Story US 2012, with Shihab Rattansi, speaks to guests: Cheri Honkala, the vice presidential nominee for the Green Party; Marcy Wheeler, an investigative blogger, who runs the website emptywheel.net; and Austin Nichols, a senior researcher for the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

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