Candidates address poverty, food crisis, in wake of rising food costs
April 30, 2008
With food prices rising and economic troubles dominating the U.S. presidential race, White House candidates are focusing attention on the issue of poverty.
Republican John McCain spent last week touring “forgotten places in America” to highlight his commitment to helping the poor.
Sen. Hillary Clinton promised earlier this month to create a “poverty czar” as president while Illinois Sen. Barack Obama called last weekend for rich nations to increase their food aid dramatically.
There are an estimated 36.5 million poor people in the United States, one of the richest countries in the world. The Institute for Research on Poverty, citing census data from 2006, says that is 12.3 percent of the U.S. population.
Though all three candidates have drawn attention to the issues, they disagree along traditional party lines.
McCain argues that cutting taxes and reducing wasteful government spending could free funds for training programs for the unemployed. He has proposed a program for better Internet connections for poor people in small towns.
Obama and Clinton, on the other hand, have laid out programs that include raising the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011 from $7.25 in 2009, investing in early childhood education and boosting affordable housing.
University of Virginia historian Guian McKee said despite McCain’s trip, the Democrats’ proposals were harder hitting, especially in the area of job creation.
“The connection between fighting poverty and creating jobs is something that has been ignored for way too long by both Republicans and Democrats,” said McKee, who is affiliated with the university’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.
Environmentalists often link climate change and poverty prevention and all three candidates have made proposals to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and create “green jobs.”
Asked about the growing worldwide food crisis on Sunday, Obama stressed the impact of climate change on food supplies.
“We’ve got to examine long-term how do we make sure that our food supplies keep pace with a growing population,” he told reporters. “Part of that, I think, is global warming.”
The candidates’ policy proposals, both domestic and international, have drawn praise from activists.
“Senators McCain and Clinton have both made strong commitments to fight and ultimately eradicate malaria while Senator Obama’s overall platform to fight poverty is the most comprehensive,” said Kimberly Cadena, of the anti-poverty group ONE Campaign.
The Democrats welcome such endorsements but what they really want is votes, especially from supporters of former presidential rival John Edwards, who made poverty the signature issue of his campaign.
Clinton and Obama are campaigning in his home state of North Carolina this week ahead of the May 6 primary election. Edwards has not endorsed either candidate.