Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both attempted to lay claim to the “fighter for the middle class” mantle throughout their campaigns for the presidency, and both have received hefty donations from the nation’s wealthiest.
One group they have forgotten — or, more perniciously, ignored — is America’s poor, argues Benyamin Appelbaum in the New York Times.
In the midst of a slow-growth economy and soaring income and wealth inequality, America’s declining middle class — analyzed in a crucial study by the Pew Research Center, released late last year — has been one of the major topics of debate among all presidential candidates, from Clinton to Trump to Bernie Sanders.
But this focus on the middle class has not come with equal focus on those attempting to survive in the lowest income brackets — those stuck in low-wage jobs, those unable to find employment, and those beset by disabilities and illnesses, made ever more difficult in a wealthy country infamous for its lack of universal health care.
In their speeches on economic matters, however, Clinton and Trump have largely avoided these profound and immensely consequential topics.
“Mrs. Clinton, who spoke about her economic plans on Thursday near Detroit, is campaigning as an advocate for middle-class families whose fortunes have flagged. She has said much less about helping the millions of Americans who yearn to reach the middle class,” Appelbaum notes.
Donald Trump offered much of the same: An appeal to the struggling middle class, but not much discussion of the most vulnerable.
“Both promise to help Americans find jobs,” Appelbaum writes, but “neither has said much about helping people while they are not working.”
Hillary Clinton’s economic agenda “would most likely have a broader impact,” Appelbaum argues, noting that Clinton supports raising the minimum wage and expanding social services, while Donald Trump has advocated large tax cuts — which would primarily benefit the wealthy — and has suggested that wages in the United States are too high.
Neither candidate, though, has given those living in poverty and deep poverty the national attention they so desperately need, a fact that contributes to the widespread sentiment that political discourse is largely dictated by the needs and interests of the affluent.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both, in different ways, dealt with criticism that they are avatars of the growing gulf between the rich and everyone else throughout their careers. For decades, Clinton has been on the defensive about her close ties to Wall Street, and, of course about the Clinton Foundation; Trump, while positioning himself as an anti-establishment candidate, has nonetheless stocked his economic advisory team with financial industry big shots, and his campaign finance operations are run by hedge fund CEO and former Goldman Sachs employee Steve Mnuchin.
And while the 2016 presidential race has been unique in many ways, Clinton and Trump have both stuck to the script in terms of speaking largely to the middle, avoiding those on the margins.
In an interview with Appelbaum, economist Jerad Bernstein alludes to a fact that Bernie Sanders highlighted during his campaign: That poor people turnout in small numbers on election day, relative to the more affluent sectors of the population. This fact could, at least in part, account for the little attention they receive on the national stage.
“It’s not at all unusual for people running for president not to talk about poverty because the poor are not necessarily the swing voters you’re trying to pick off,” Bernstein said.
So, the fact that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have paid little attention to the poor may not be surprising, it is, nonetheless, “striking,” particularly given the fact that the problems the poor face are getting worse.
Addressing just one measure, Applebaum writes the following.
“There is not a single state where a full-time worker earning the minimum wage can rent a market-rate one-bedroom apartment for 30 percent or less of their income, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. And more than 11 million households spend more than half of their income on rent.”
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