Too often, when a politician takes center stage, poverty doesn’t. During the 2016 election, none of the 26 presidential debates focused on poverty. In fact, it’s been more than 30 years since presidential candidates were asked how they would address child poverty on a debate stage. An entire generation of children has grown up in poverty while our leaders have remained silent.
In a nation with more than 12.8 million children in poverty, we cannot continue to ignore, deny, or skirt around the issue. Nearly 4 in 10 children in America spend at least a year in poverty before their 18th birthday. More than 1 in 10 children spend at least half their childhoods in poverty. Poverty is too present in our children’s lives to remain absent from our political discourse.
As 2020 approaches and candidates articulate bold visions for America’s future, we must ensure child poverty is part of the conversation. We cannot settle for euphemisms like financial insecurity or inequality. We cannot allow debates to be framed exclusively in terms of the economy or the middle class. We must demand our leaders talk explicitly about poverty—preventable, costly and immoral deprivation in the richest nation on earth. Until those in power feel obligated to name the problem, they will not feel obligated to confront, legitimize or solve it.
That’s why representatives from CDF and advocates from across the nation joined the Poor People’s Moral Action Congress for a presidential forum on poverty last month. Organized by Rev. Dr. William James Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, the forum brought together nine 2020 presidential candidates to share their plans to address poverty and hear directly from poor children and families. Many candidates voiced support for some of CDF’s proposed policies to lift 5.5 million children out of poverty now, including a $15 minimum wage, expansions to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and increases in child care subsidies. And every candidate committed to pushing for a presidential debate focused entirely on poverty. As Greg Kauffman wrote in The Nation, the forum “marked a major step forward for pushing a conversation about poverty into presidential politics.”
Now, it’s up to us to continue the conversation and hold these candidates accountable. Let’s keep our leaders talking about what matters most: ensuring every child has the opportunity to thrive and every parent has a job that pays enough to support their family. CDF is calling for a presidential debate question on child poverty and we need you to sign your name in support. Together, we can change the narrative and ignite a movement to end child poverty now!