Poverty, Opportunity, and the 2012 Presidential Election

A recent forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, provided an in-depth discussion into the level of concern in the United States about poverty and opportunity, particularly concerning children.Spotlight on Poverty also looked at whether or not these issues will be factors in the upcoming presidential election. Overall, people believe strongly that equal opportunity for children of all races is very important; that not all children currently have full access to opportunity; and that presidential candidates’ views on poverty are very important. But, many think that neither the candidates nor the media are discussing poverty enough.

Interestingly, there were substantial numbers of Republicans who agreed with Democrats and Independents in several of the poll’s questions. (The corresponding national poll of likely voters undertaken at the end of last year highlighted several key points; all graphics are from this poll's report.) 

Most importantly, 88 percent of respondents said that “candidates’ positions on equal opportunity for children of all races are important in deciding their vote for President,” and 55 percent said that they were very important.  

Among Democrats, 70 percent agreed that candidates’ views in this area arevery important (and an additional 25 percent said they are somewhat important). Fifty-five percent of Independents said that candidates’ views arevery important (and an additional 28 percent said they are somewhat important).  Among Republicans, 44 percent agreed that candidates’ views in this area are very important (and 42 percent said they were somewhat important). Agreeing that they are very important were 85 percent of African Americans, 62 percent of Hispanics, and 51 percent of Whites.

But, despite the level of belief in equal opportunity for children, many voters do not believe that all children have full access to it as of yet. Over half of the respondents say that “children of different races tend to face unequal barriers to opportunity.” 

In this question, researchers pointed out significant differences in the breakdowns: “By party, 70 percent of Democratic voters said children face unequal barriers, compared to 50 percent of Independents, and only 38 percent of Republicans. By race, 50 percent of white voters said children face unequal barriers, compared to a solid majority (62 percent) of non-white voters who said so as well. Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of African American voters said children of different races face unequal barriers. Somewhat surprisingly, only 48 percent of Hispanic participants agreed.”

There was strong feedback from the public that candidates’ views on poverty matter in deciding on their vote for president. Almost nine in ten respondents said that this was very (45 percent) or somewhat (42 percent) important.

Within specific demographics, 61 percent of Democrats, 42 percent of Independents, and 33 percent of Republicans agreed that candidates’ views on poverty are very important. (Another 35 percent, 40 percent, and 51 percent, respectively, agreed that candidates' views are somewhat important). Agreeing that candidates' views are very important were 76 percent of African Americans, 57 percent of Hispanics and 39 percent of Whites. 

Despite the importance of this topic to voters, almost half of the respondents said that “they have not heard enough from presidential candidates about reducing poverty.” This includes four in ten Republicans, just under half of Independents, and six in ten Democrats. Half of both Whites and African Americans agree with this opinion, along with more than four in ten Hispanics.

When asked if the media has adequately covered poverty reduction during this campaign, half said no, while four in ten thought they had (10 percent didn’t know or didn’t answer). By party, six in ten Democrats said that the media hadn’t covered this issue enough, as did half of Independents and four in ten Republicans. By race, this opinion was expressed by about half of Whites and Hispanics, and by almost six in ten African Americans.

Childhood poverty can have severe, long-lasting results. The Urban Institute found the following

  • Sixty-three percent of children enter adulthood without experiencing poverty, but 10 percent of children are persistently poor, spending at least half their childhoods living in poverty.
  • Black children are roughly 2.5 times more likely than white children to ever experience poverty and 7 times more likely to be persistently poor.
  • Children who experience poverty tend to cycle into and out of poverty, and most persistently poor children spend intermittent years living above the poverty threshold.
  • Being poor at birth is a strong predictor of future poverty status. Thirty-one percent of white children and 69 percent of black children who are poor at birth go on to spend at least half their childhoods living in poverty.
  • Children who are born into poverty and spend multiple years living in poor families have worse adult outcomes than their counterparts in higher-income families.

A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation revealed that, “over the last decade there has been a significant decline in economic well-being for low income children and families. The official child poverty rate, which is a conservative measure of economic hardship, increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009, essentially returning to the same level as the early 1990s. This increase means that 2.4 million more children are living below the federal poverty line.” 

These statistics and others illustrate the ongoing need for presidential candidates, other politicians, the media, social service providers, and everyone else, to stay focused on this issue and work to alleviate poverty in the United States.

Tags: Poverty, 2012, Opportunity, Economy, obama, Elections Cycle (all tags)

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