Taking on Class and Race – The Candidates on Poverty

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

Ask yourselves: what is your candidate going to do with the rising class gap in America? How do they propose to fix the problems (housing, retirement problems, education, wages) that contribute to the ever widening class divide?

Pathways Magazine, a Stanford University based publication dedicated to exploring poverty, inequality, and social policy, recently provided takes from the three major democratic front runners on their plans to alleviate poverty in America. (Hat tip to the Education and Class blog.)

While I encourage everyone to take the time to read the full publication (all 34 pages), I have provided a summary of the candidates’ stances below.

I have bolded the items that caught my interest in each plan. Please keep in mind that this is a quickie “Cliff’s Notes” style version of the candidates’ main points. Please refer to the magazine for the actual text.

John Edwards – “Building One America”
(p. 9 – 10; PDF p. 11-12)

1. Building a “working society” – one that emphasizes the inherent value of work
2. Create 1 million Stepping Stone jobs
3. Raise the minimum raise to $9.50 by 2012
4. Support the unionization of labor
5. Proposes a dollar for dollar savings match on individual savings accounts (called Get Ahead Accounts) – the match is capped at $500 a year.
6. Add 1 Million more housing vouchers of the next five years
7. Cutting back on HUD based initiatives and reducing HUD’s role in managing communities

8. Create more affordable housing initiatives
9. Add a contract to all housing vouchers to encourage recipients to work towards financial independence
10. Creating Second Chance Schools – the purpose is to provide education for those who have dropped out but want to come back to high school.
11. Create the “Great Promise” initiative – Early education targeting 4 year olds
12. College For Everyone – the 1st year of state college is free, as long as students will work part time and promise to stay out of trouble
13. Cut the marriage penalty for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
14. Expand the EITC to include low income single earners


Hillary Clinton – “Pragmatic Solutions for Reducing Poverty and Inequality”
(p. 11-13; PDF 13-15)

1. Creating the Youth Opportunity Agenda
2. Invest in home visitation programs to help first time parents prepare and care for children.
3. Provide $10 billion in Universal pre-K (expanding Head Start and Early Headstart)
4. Over five years, double federal support for mentoring and early intervention programs – targeting 1 million students
5. Invest $100 million in a new public/private internship program for youth in high school and college
6. Create a $3,500 tuition tax credit
7. Increase the Pell Grant Maximum (and include an annual adjustment)
8. Provide $500 million to community colleges and $250 million to state colleges to strengthen retention programs
9. Expand the EITC
10. Create 5 million “green collar” jobs by investing in clean energy and efficiency
11. Tie increases in congressional salaries to increases for the minimum wage.
12. American Health Choices Plan – refundable tax credits for premiums, ensuring that insurance companies cannot deny individuals coverage for pre-existing conditions; expanding COBRA to make sure leaving a job or switching jobs will continue coverage1
13. Create a 1 billion dollar fund to provide federal support to housing trust funds established by state/county/municipal governments
14. Planned crackdowns on unscrupulous brokers, mortgage lending abuses; avoiding foreclosures
15. New America Retirement Account – dollar for dollar matching refundable tax credit for the first $1000 saved up to a family income of $60,000 and a 50% match for the 1st $1,000 saved by those making between $60K and $100K.

Barack Obama – “Tackling Poverty and Inequality in America”
(p. 14-16; PDF p. 16-18)

1. Replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone model and create Promise Neighborhoods in 20 cities across the country. (Sites will be selected by the government – cities and private entities will be required to pay 50% of costs to ensure involvement)
2. Expand early childhood education, federal grants and school loans
3. Sponsor Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Legislation - providing financial support to fathers who pay their child support, cracking down on fathers who don’t; initiatives to stop the cycle of domestic violence that takes a toll on families
4. Expand the Nurse Family Partnership program which offers home visits to low income expectant mothers
5. Double funding for the Federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program that helps low income individuals get to their jobs and day care services
6. Add $1 billion in funding for innovative transitional jobs and career pathway programs over five years
7. Triple the EITC for full time workers who make minimum wage; increase EITC benefits for families with three or more children; expand EITC benefits for childless workers
8. Create a universal healthcare plan which mandates child coverage and provides adults with an optional, low cost high quality plan
9. Fund $250 million per year to create a national network of public-private business incubators (to assist with start up advice and costs)
10. Earmark more SBA funds to minority businesses; direct more venture capital funding to untapped communities
11. Closing the digital divide; increasing internet access in urban/rural areas
12. Affordable housing trust fund to add 112,000 new affordable units in mixed income neighborhoods.
13. Roll back cuts to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) which provides housing assistance to inner cities
14. Sponsor Stop Fraud Legislation to create a definition of mortgage fraud, strengthen lender penalties, and mandate mortgage companies to provide accurate info about options to reveal the true cost of the mortgage

Latoya’s Take

Some items of note:

1. Hillary Clinton is the only candidate who referenced race specifically in her piece. She framed the issue in black and white and her solutions are oriented toward closing the black/white achievement gap.

2. John Edwards plan is interesting to me. He knocks one huge problem on the head that the other candidates did not mention: HUD. One of my first office jobs was working on a litigation that involved HUD fraud. I was shocked to learn how much corruption and fraud goes down at HUD on a yearly basis. My boss at the time had told me “The government doesn’t create neighborhoods – it creates slums.” The more I learned, the more I came to agree. So to see a candidate willing to hold HUD accountable and get them out of managing neighborhoods gives me a lot of hope.

3. Barack Obama is the candidate who, to me, spoke directly to low-income issues that impact people of color. No other candidate mentioned domestic violence as an issue – but it is a huge one, that creates emotional, psychological, and financial problems for families. He is sponsoring pro-family legislation. He wants to increase internet access to areas that need it the most. One of the hardest things for low-income families is getting to the areas they need to be. It is difficult to spend hours per day in a long commute, or to lose valuable work time because one cannot find a childcare center close enough for you to drop off your kids and pick them up on time. Barack Obama is the candidate who is most likely to impact the day to day lives of Americans, from what I can see.

4. Rebecca Blank provided critical analysis of the candidates’ stances in her article “How to Wage the Next War on Poverty.” She notes that the magazine focused on Edwards, Clinton, and Obama as they were the only “candidates who submitted poverty plans to the Center.” According to Blank, “The Republicans give far less attention to policies to aid the poor, though Senator John McCain has stated support for a number of anti-poverty efforts.” She also notes that Republican candidate Ron Paul would “eliminate all antipoverty efforts at the federal level and abolish the Department of Health and Human Services.” Blank concludes that Obama’s policy proposal focuses the most on helping disadvantaged communities, Clinton’s is the best at helping low-wage and unemployed workers, and Edwards is the best in reference to the proposed savings initiatives.

She also makes an important note: “If you’re a Republican, there’s really only one candidate who expresses consistent concern with these issues. That’s John McCain. For the other Republicans, poor Americans appear to be out of sight, out of mind, and off the agenda.”

Telling.