Since the election of President Donald Trump, the Democratic Party has squandered a unique opportunity.
A recent Politico article carried the headline: “Moderate Democrats warn Pelosi of impeachment obsession.” A line from the article clarified that during a meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, “Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), pointed to alarming polling from the Democrats’ campaign arm, which showed that voters think the party is ‘prioritizing impeachment over other issues.’”
One of those issues – and it is an invisible issue until President Trump makes an off-the-cuff remark about it – is poverty among American citizens.
This issue is the reason I have not watched any of the Democratic debates. Not because I lack interest, but because I’ve come to expect nothing of substance from any of the candidates regarding this huge national problem.
My colleague Glen Macnow confirmed my low expectations during the evening of the third debate. Knowing of my deep concern regarding this ignored problem, he sent me an email: “Just watching the Dem debate and thought of you when I realized -- three hours tonight, three debates down, and the issue of poverty has not come up once.”
The Pew research report “The State of Philadelphians Living in Poverty, 2019,” illustrates the depth of the problem locally. “Poverty in Philadelphia is widespread,” it said, “with the highest concentrations found primarily in parts of North and West Philadelphia. In some areas, including much of North Philadelphia, the poverty rate is over 45 percent; in most of the city’s residential zip codes it is over 20 percent.”
In Philadelphia, the overall poverty rate is 26 percent. It hasn’t changed much since the Obama presidency. In short, 400,000 people in Philly are living in deep poverty, maintaining our dubious title of America’s poorest big city.
In Baltimore, the poverty rate is 24 percent. In Chicago it is 20.6 percent.
Why aren’t these candidates talking about solutions to this national epidemic? By ignoring the problem, they’re ignoring an enormous population of potential voters -- voters who believe, with some justification, that their plight has been forgotten and hence feel they shouldn’t bother exercising their right as American citizens.
Talk about climate change and the Democrats will listen. They’ll listen if anyone wants to discuss abortion rights, gay rights, immigration rights, healthcare rights and their right to keep trying to impeach the president.
What about the right of Americans to stop living generation after generation in poverty?
The Democrats could have demonstrated what the phrase “When they go low, we go high” actually means. They could have instituted a serious nationwide program of workforce development; programs to equip able-bodied unemployed, under-employed and unemployable with 21st Century job skills, and moved that poverty-stricken population into full-time, family-sustaining employment.
The poverty fighting effort in Philadelphia known as Shared Prosperity has had little impact. Ask some of our poorest residents if they’ve heard of the program and the response is, “What is that?” However City Council’s Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention will hold a public hearing on the issue on Thursday, October 10, 2019.
Poverty won’t be eradicated and certainly not significantly reduced by maintaining a poor population with government financial handouts. Poverty can’t be erased when public education in those poorest cities languishes from insufficient and unequal funding.
I point this out because the Democratic Party has ignored the suffering of Americans. They failed to give its poorest people hope. To be blunt; the Democrats have not given America’s poorest a reason to vote for them and in the process might hand themselves their worst nightmare.
A Trump second term.
Larry Miller is a Special Projects Manager in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia office.