#TalkPoverty: Thirteen Questions for the First Presidential Debate

A few months ago, anticipating that the presidential campaigns would fail to focus in any substantive way on the record levels of poverty now plaguing the country, The Nation kicked off a campaign to push the candidates to think and talk about this issue.

"#TalkPoverty: Questions for Obama and Romney" profiles experts who have devoted their lives to fighting poverty, and gives them the opportunity to ask the presidential candidates the questions that they want answers to. Next, The Nation will hound the campaigns for responses.

To date, Peter Edelman, Mariana Chilton, Jessica Bartholow, Tim Casey, and Lisalyn Jacobs have offered 21 questions, which--if the candidates were to respond directly to them--would give voters a much deeper understanding of poverty in this country and the next president's vision for taking it on.

We will still have at least one more round of questions from families who know poverty firsthand. But, today, I've selected thirteen questions from our five experts that deserve immediate attention--starting with tomorrow's debate.

We encourage you to tweet this article to all of the presidential debate moderators: @NewsHour, @CrowleyCNN, and @BobSchiffer. During and after the debate, use #TalkPoverty to push your own questions about poverty and to weigh in on whether the candidates are taking this issue seriously enough.

We are thrilled that so many individuals and organizations have taken up the #TalkPoverty campaign--organizations like the Half In Ten coalition, and the Coalition on Human Needs, among many others. Now it's time to step up our game--keep pushing for a substantive conversation and action--through tomorrow's debate and beyond the Election Day.


1. Over twenty million people in America have with incomes below half the poverty line--less than about $9,000 for a family of three. That's up from 12.6 million in 2000. What will you do to address this growing problem?

2. 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?

3. One in five children in the United States struggle with hunger. As President, what would you do about our growing hunger crisis in America--especially for young children?

4. Poverty rates are 30 percent higher for women than men. What would you do to reduce the gender poverty gap?

6. Rural poverty persists as a blight for people across the country, from Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta and the Alabama Black Belt to the colonias of south Texas, and Indian reservations in many places. What will you do to help reduce the poverty in these places?

7. Investments in early childhood are key to children's prospects for productive lives. Yet federal assistance for childcare currently reaches only about one in seven of those who are eligible. What will you do to increase the availability of quality childcare to more low-income children?

8. Government statistics show that 106 million people with incomes below twice the poverty line--below about $46,000 for a family of four. This reflects the large number of low-wage jobs in the nation. What will you do to increase the income of these people who are struggling to make ends meet every month?

9. Food stamps (SNAP) enrolls 90 percent of eligible children but cash welfare (TANF) only 40 percent. What would you do to increase eligible children's enrollment rate in TANF?

10. 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?

11. Urban concentrated poverty has climbed again close to the high point it reached in 1990. What will you do to help improve the quality of life of people who are currently isolated in America's inner cities?

12. What will you do to ensure that those receiving TANF benefits--who are able to work--receive adequate training so that they are able to transition effectively and permanently into the workforce?

13. As you consider changes to the tax code, what types of tax credits do you envision creating, retaining or eliminating that focus on low-income families (e.g., earned income tax credit, child tax credit, low income housing tax credit, others?)

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