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Questions on poverty for McCain and Obama

ASK THIS | October 27, 2008

Joel Berg wants the press to focus on a subject we don’t hear much about. With so many bailouts taking place, do the candidates have anything in mind for the needy?

By Joel Berg

Questions for both candidates:
According to USDA, in 2006, 35.5 million Americans suffered from “food insecurity,” meaning they couldn’t afford an adequate supply of food. Do you think that number is too high? If so, what would be an acceptable number of food insecure Americans? If you think the current number is too high, what steps, precisely, would you take to reduce it, and how, specifically, would you pay for those steps?

Q. Between 2001 and 2006, according to USDA, the number of Americans who faced the most severe form of food insecurity – what USDA now calls “very low food insecurity” (and used to call “hunger’) – rose by 39 percent.  Why do you think the number of hungry Americans rose so dramatically during the Bush Administration? What specific government actions, if any, did you take to make the increase less severe? What specific actions, if any, did your opponent take that fueled that increase? What precise steps would you take to reverse that trend and how, specifically, would you pay for those steps?

Q. How do you square your pledges to fight hunger and poverty with your pledges to cut taxes and reduce the deficit?

Q. In the first years after welfare reform, from 1996-2000, when jobs were plentiful, the number of Americans in poverty decreased substantially. But between 2001 and 2007, the number of Americans in poverty increased by 5.7 million, to 37.27 million. In 2007, eighteen percent of all American children lived in poverty. In 2007, the number of people in severe poverty – earning less than $8,000 a year for a family of three – was 15.6 million, the highest point since the U.S. began tracking that statistic in 1975. Yet welfare roles continued to decline during that time, continuing to remove both adults and children from the rolls. Only about 10% of Americans in poverty now receive welfare. In addition, food insecurity and hunger have risen since 2001, according to USDA, and homelessness has risen in most big cities, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Do you believe that deficiencies in welfare reform are one of the reasons that hunger, homelessness, overall poverty, and severe poverty are increasing? If not, how can you be so sure? If you do believe that problems with welfare reform might be to blame, how, specifically, would you fix such deficiencies, and how would you pay for such fixes?

Q. Between 1960 and 1968, the number of Americas in poverty was slashed by 29%, from 39.6 million to 25.3 million. Do you think the War of Poverty was a significant success, a mild success, made no significant difference, was mostly a failure, or was entirely a failure? Why? How will your own anti-poverty efforts be similar or different than the efforts during the 1960’s?

Q. During the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, poverty decreased by 14.4 million people. During the Nixon and Ford Administrations, it increased by 414,000 Americans.  During the Carter Administration, poverty increased by 4.2 million people. During the Reagan and George H. Bush Administrations, it increased by 8.8 million people. During the Clinton Administration, it decreased by 6.4 million people. In the first six years of the George W. Bush Administration, poverty increased by 5.7 million Americans. Thus, every time Republicans have held the White House, poverty has increased, and every time Democrats have held the White (with the exception of Carter), poverty has gone down. All told since 1960 (the first year the federal government collected official poverty data), when Democrats controlled the White House there was a net decrease in poverty of 16.6 million Americans, but when the Republicans controlled the White House, there was a net 14.9 person increase in poverty. Is it fair to say that Democratic Presidents are more effective that Republican Presidents in fighting poverty? If yes, why? If not, why not?

Questions for McCain:
During this campaign, you have toured high-poverty areas and said you would “make the eradication of poverty a top priority of the McCain Administration.” Please name specific steps you have taken in the past to reduce domestic poverty and describe their effectiveness. Can you name a person on your Senate or campaign staff who has a proven track record in reducing poverty? Why have you yet to propose an actual anti-poverty plan? Why isn’t “poverty” one of the 12 “issues” listed on your campaign Web site? Given your claim that you would slash corporate and personal taxes, as well as slash domestic spending, how would you meet your pledge to eradicate domestic poverty?

Q. In what you billed as an anti-poverty speech in Inez, Kentucky, on April 23 of this year, you said: “Government has a role to play in helping people who through no fault of their own are having a hard time. But government can't create good and lasting jobs outside of government. It can't pay lost wages. It can't dig coal from the earth. It can't buy you a house or send all your kids to college. It can't do your work for you.” Given that you have been on a government payroll for nearly your entire adult life – and further given that you have received government-run or government-funded education, health care, transportation, and housing nearly your entire life – and further given that you believe that the U.S. government has the ability to reduce terrorism and increase democracy world-wide, why are you so opposed to a significant federal government role in fighting domestic poverty or aiding our economy?

Questions for Obama:
Given that your mother briefly received Food Stamp benefits, does that make you less likely or more like to want to increase funding for the Food Stamp Program? Why?

Q. During your 2008 Democratic Convention speech, you said you would “go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less – because we cannot meet 21st-century challenges with a 20th-century bureaucracy.” Currently, the federal government runs more than 10 different domestic nutrition assistance/anti-hunger programs, with overlapping  populations and purposes, duplicative administrative structures, and conflicting enrollment criteria and application processes. Would you could consider, as I and others have proposed, combining all these programs into one program, and by doing so  reduce bureacracy, streamline applications, and use all or some of the money saved to increase benefit sizes?

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