Spotlight Exclusives

A Crucial Election for America and Its Poor, by Tom Freedman and John Bridgeland

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We still don۪t know who will win tomorrow۪s presidential and congressional races, but there is a growing consensus among liberals, moderates, and conservatives thatno matter who winsthis may be the most important election in a generation. This is especially true for the poor and those at risk of becoming poor. Given the country۪s precarious financial state, the fundamental well-being of millions of Americansalong with their ability to pursue a better lifemay depend on the actions of our next president and congress. In an election taking place during a turbulent, dangerous time in our history, those who have the least have the most at stake. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />America۪s recent economic downturn has shed light on the struggles of impoverished Americans while threatening the basic financial security of millions more. Already, 37.3 million Americans live in poverty, with the poorest 10% earning an average of $5,800 a year. Prices of essential items like food have risen 6.2%, forcing poor and low-income Americans to spread scant resources even thinner and threatening to swell the ranks of those below the poverty line.


Along with increasing costs is a rapidly declining job market. 6.1% of Americans were unemployed in September, a significant increase from the 4.7% who were out of work at the same time last year, and this month saw the most layoffs since the economic downturn that followed 9/11. Americans who want work but have become discouraged and given up trying to find it have increased by 70%. Accounting for those who can find only low-paying, part-time work, more than 10% of the American workforce is unemployed or underemployed, a historic and disturbing level. Joblessness is only expected to worsen as repercussions of the Wall Street crisis are felt throughout the economy. And in times like these, the poor and those at risk of becoming poor suffer the most: those with little experience and low-skilled jobs are often the nation۪s most expendable employees; they are the first to be fired and the last to find new employment.


In an economy where so many Americans cannot afford a prolonged recession and desperately need long-term, fundamental economic solutions44% of employees are relying on their next paycheck to make ends meet, and 48% of American households posses under $5,000 in liquid assetsthe dangerous conditions surrounding this election threaten the basic financial security of millions. With rising prices, a desperate credit crunch, and an economy losing jobs fast, millions more Americans will find it harder and harder to pay basic bills, let alone pursue their dreams. The poor are in serious danger from the current financial crisis, and a staggering number of citizens are at risk of becoming impoverished.


There are real ideological differences between the candidates, and the choices that are made over the next four years will matter: what to do about taxes, spending, support for non-profits, health care, and job training are just a few crucially important decisions. But at root, the next president will be called to make a commitment to the poor and those struggling to make it. If the next president puts a focus on building opportunity for all, the key policy questions will be manageable. WeDemocrat and Republicanbelieve a powerful majority will support the president if he leads a new common-sense, effective effort making fighting poverty a top priority.


Our next government is facing a poverty crisis. It is an issue critical to the well-being of not only millions of individual citizens but to the prosperity and the character of our nation as a whole. November 4th is a crucial election, and whoever wins it will face tremendous challenges and great responsibilities.





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