Highlighting Poverty in the 2012 Election

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, politicians from both sides of the fence have prioritized the middle class, and the political conventions were no exception. According to a data map from our partner The New York Times, Democrats uttered the phrase "middle class" 47 times for every 25,000 words spoken, while Republicans said it seven times for every 25,000 words. The similar phrase "small business" was also popular: Republicans said it 27 times for every 25,000 words, Democrats, 14 times. 

Compared to those phrases, politicians from both parties barely mentioned the words "poor" and "poverty," even though the recent recession and economic downtown has left one in six Americans living below the poverty line. 

Politicians have largely ignored poverty in 2012, but Cornel West and Tavis Smiley are hitting the road to expose the problems facing the American poor in this election year.

Cornel West is a professor at Union Theological Seminary, and co-host, with Tavis Smiley, of "Smiley and West," from Takeaway co-producer Public Radio International. The first stop on "The Poverty Tour 2.0: A Call to Conscience" is Cleveland, Ohio. 


Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Comments [6]

unkerjay from Puget Sound, WA

Would like to add this excellent segment from local radio: KUOW - Weekday, Friday, Sept. 20, 2012:

Hedrick Smith:

"Hedrick Smith Asks 'Who Stole The American Dream?' Veteran journalist Hedrick Smith argues that systematic political and economic decisions over the past 40 years have dismantled the American Dream and transferred huge amounts of wealth to the rich."


"Hedrick Smith speaks at Town Hall Seattle tonight at 7:30 p.m."

The Seattle Town Hall, which often provides online video of it's guest speakers at:


He talks about the origin of the 401K, the OTHER "Powell doctrine".

A concerted effort over the last 30 years to whittle economic (political) power away from the middle class and unions.

Whether or not you agree, it might be worth a listen. Feel free to share any alternative perspectives:


Here's a C-Span video of Hedrick Smith on his book:


Worth a listen.

Sep. 21 2012 02:35 PM
Deep Space

Voting Is A Choice Between A Pink Dildo & A Purple Dildo

Sep. 13 2012 09:19 AM
unkerjay from Puget Sound, WA

Thank you for this, as, like Tavis and Cornel, I believe this is an issue that is largely off the radar.

I'd be curious as to in what ways America has changed between 1980 (when Reagan was president) and 2010 (the most current census). According to Wiki:

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Census

1980: 226,545,805

2010: 308,745,538

the population has grown by some 82 million from then to now.

I would think 82 million people need food, shelter, clothing, employment, decent life standards. They are in some part a part of our educational system it's costs and demands from grade school through college.

I would be curious as to how their demographics have broken down over the years by race / ethnicity - incomes, health, health care costs, health care outcomes, educational levels, etc compared from then to now and against each other.

What did it take for a family of four in 1980 to meet basic needs? What does it take now? What was the average income? What was the cost of living then compared to now? (Adjusted for inflation)

How has the breakdown of what we spend money on changed from then to now at the national, family, individual levels? across racial / ethnic lines?

What was our economic policy then compared to now? What has been proposed / promised / implemented between then and now and how well has it worked out?

Let's separate fact from fiction over the years here across a myriad of factors. Unless we do, no matter how frank the discussion, we may never adequately address the issues of the poor and poverty in America, anymore than we are likely to address the issues of race / ethnicity, or immigration, crime, unemployment.

I would add, if you don't have enough food to eat, a roof over your head, decent clothes to wear, your attitude regarding that is one thing, the fact that you are poor is quite another.

"Be happy." helps. So does a decent living wage, a system that works with you and for you rather than against you (not always, but, far too often), decent clothes to wear in summer and especially in winter (in the colder parts of the country), having a roof over your head and decent food in your stomach helps as much if not more.

I tend to be mindful of the hierarchy of needs (Maslow's) that reminds us as someone once said, "Before you talk to me of changing the world. Put food in my stomach and a roof over my head."

Sep. 13 2012 04:05 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Poverty is a state of mind. I live in gentrifying Bed Stuy... The poor people have big parties in Von King park with music and dancing...They are not looking at themselves as being poor and they shouldn't.

Poor in New York is different. Your not poor if you have culture and laughs and I think West and Smiley need always to address this aspect of the issue.

I like partying with the poor people. I look at the wealthier people moving into the neighborhood and they never smile and they don't look like they are having any fun. Who is poor in this situation?

Sep. 12 2012 11:34 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Smiley and West are doing a good important job that nobody wants to hear about, even the poor people who could benefit from their arguments against poverty.

I think poor people like to consider themselves The Middle Class... I know I do... I have reached a poverty level since I had to close my store and reconfigure what I have to do to survive...Still, I can't really cope with calling myself poor.
I like to think of myself as almost middle class...Just like one day I might not be a millionaire but I will be a thousandaire again...

I also live in a New York bubble where poor means eating burritos out instead of a fancier French bistro and paying two grand a month for rent.

So, I believe when Obama is talking about the Middle Class, I never feel that he isn't talking about me...But maybe I'm deluding myself and maybe the people who follow Romney and the 1 percent feel : that one day they will be the 1 percent.

I'm gonna follow Smiley and West closer...even though it sucks being poor and I don't want to deal with it.

Sep. 12 2012 10:25 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It seems to me that if the economy collapses over the debt, the poor will be greatly hurt.

Sep. 12 2012 09:28 AM

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