Spotlight Exclusives

Will the Next President Do Something About Poverty?

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One of the popular buzzwords of modern political punditry is “momentum.” The notion is that once a candidate starts attracting a certain level of support, the energy becomes self-fulfilling, building to become ever stronger.

One question advocates concerned with the problems of low-income people should ask themselves is: are we reaching a point where there might be some momentum in the fight against poverty?

In a study we released last week, several of us including John Bridgeland and his team at Civic Enterprises, demonstrated that the issue of poverty is coming up more and more in political campaigns. Comparing 2003 and 2007, it۪s a dramatic 145% increase. News from states and campaign events also show the topic is getting more attention. And think tanks and non-profits are offering up a series of thoughtful policy options for the next president.

Moreover, the current economic slump so far has focused attention on struggling homeowners and Wall Street woes. It۪s likely at some point media and political leaders will recognize that among the folks hardest hit by bad economic times are the poor and near poor. Those who have the least means to cope, the ones who need smart policies to keep opportunity available to them, haven۪t yet been the focus of attention. If there is any justice, that will happen and add to the argument that the next president deal with this issue.

Both John Bridgeland and I have worked in campaigns, and then in subsequent administrations. There۪s no doubt that once a topic starts becoming part of the campaign and media dialogue, the next Administration۪s team takes it more seriously as part of the transition planning.

So the answer to the question “is there momentum yet on the issue of poverty?” is “Yes.” That۪s the good news.

The important next question is whether it is enough to force the issue onto the next Administration and Congress۪ agenda. That verdict obviously won۪t be known until next year but the answer from this vantage point is we seem to be getting close to that point.

Candidates are getting on the record, the problem of poverty is more in the public eye, and possible policy solutions are being offered by a variety of sources from local, state, and national opinion leaders. That’s also good news. Primaries matter. But the general election will be the proof. Key moments to watch: does the issue come up in debates, do the candidates deal with it in their speeches, do advocates continue to press the issue at forums and in releases? That’s an important qualifier.

But it looks like, from this perspective, if the people who care about this issue keep it up there is a decent chance of some federal action in the next year.

In the coming weeks, I۪ll be interested to see my colleague from across the aisle۪s point of view.

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