President Obama and Mitt Romney debated a variety of domestic issues last night, but poverty wasn’t one of them.
Other than Romney’s closing remarks in which he briefly mentioned the one-in-six Americans living in poverty and Obama’s touting of his education reform, both candidates largely stayed away from the topic.
It’s surprising both candidates seemed to skirt around an issue that affects so many Americans. Currently, there are 42 million Americans living in poverty. Sixteen million of those Americans are under the age of 18.
The #TalkPoverty campaign was created in hopes of getting the presidential candidates to talk about how they would address childhood poverty their first 100 days in office. Although users had been tweeting the hashtag to last night’s moderator Jim Lehrer for weeks, it seems like their requests went unanswered. Instead, Lehrer pressed the candidates on tax policy, the role of government, and the economy. All of these things play a role in the discussion of poverty, but the candidates didn't draw the connection.
Even on the issue of health care, both candidates shied away from mentioning children, even though children stand to gain the most from the bill. Instead they argued over whether a Medicare advisory board appointed by the president has the power to make healthcare decisions for millions of Americans. To be honest, I still don’t even have an answer to that.
What I do know is that not nearly enough time was spent discussing the perils of children living in poverty. Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to do poor in school, which affects their adult employment and earnings. Poor children are also more likely to have less access to preventative health and early education services.
The effects of poverty are long lasting. Many children who are born into poverty also experience poverty as an adult. Because of this, there should be a greater effort made by the federal government to reduce the childhood poverty rate.
Last night President Obama mentioned that the federal government should create ladders of opportunity for all Americans. Those ladders don't have to come from the government, though. They could come from local businesses, from one’s parents, or from a quality education. What’s important is that those ladders exist. Unfortunately, for too many children, they don’t.