Poverty and Politics

Yesterday, GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney explained his reasons for seeking the Presidency and said that he is running for the middle class and that he is, “not concerned about the very poor.” His excuse was that, “we have a safety net there. If it needs a repair, I’ll fix it.” He even went further when pressed that his statement sounded odd, that “it’s not good being poor.” Many social work clients would agree that poverty is not only “not good” but the biggest barrier to success in their lives, and an incredibly complex and difficult one to overcome.

The problem of poverty is deeper than any sound bite can portray. The U.S. Census Bureau stated in 2011 that just over 46 million Americans (15.1 percent) of the population lived below the poverty line ($11,000 for an individual and $22,300 for a family of four). This is the highest figure captured since the Census Bureau starting publishing this data. More than one in five children was living below the poverty line in 2010. Furthermore, poverty tends to be concentrated in “poverty areas” or census tracts with poverty rates of 20 percent or more, such as Mississippi where the poverty rate is 46 percent. The Campaign for American Progress notes that the unemployment rate is still approximately 8.5 percent nationwide, the income inequality gap continues to widen, and poverty continues to rise, particularly among people of color. Debt is high and expenses are insurmountable for many. While employer provided health benefits disappear, Mr. Romney has made it clear that in contrast with his policies in Massachusetts, he would seek to overturn the Affordable Care Act. This picture does not paint a secure social safety net. The Democratic National Committee responded in a statement that not only is Mr. Romney not concerned about struggling Americans but that his policies are also off base and that, “his tax plan provides a modest tax cut, about $167, for middle class families but provides about $146,000 for families making more than $1 million.”

The NASW  Code of Ethics states that the primary mission of social work is to, “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular emphasis to the needs of empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty.” The NASW policy statement on economic inequality goes on to say that, “no single solutions can “cure” poverty—poverty must be combated on a number of levels. People living in poverty often need increased access to affordable childcare, low-income housing options, mental health treatment, and education and employment opportunities.” Poverty is a foundational problem behind many of society’s ills and NASW is firmly committed to supporting policies, services, and programs that are inherently fair and allow people to live up to their full potential. Social workers have a rich history of working directly with people who are living in or are at risk of living in poverty, organizing communities to abate poverty, and advocating at local, state, and federal levels for fair policies that result in equitable treatment for everyone in America.

Social workers are the professionals who are primarily responsible for the social safety net that Mr. Romney referenced, however we can only hold it together when given the proper resources and support that are necessary to do our jobs.  The Center for American Progress notes that, “economic pain for American families remains significant with relatively high unemployment, persistent long-term unemployment, lingering household wealth losses, and crushing debt burdens.” CAP goes on to state that the “current economic recovery would be weaker and delayed had policymakers not taken steps in the past few years to invest in infrastructure and help the most vulnerable.” NASW hopes that Mr. Romney takes note.


  1. It’s a shame that people of middle class and upper middle class get most affected by the taxes and the government’s policies.

    Whereas the super rich gets more rich and poor gets poorer.

    It’s an irony of life but what can anyone do about it.

  2. Thanks, Ron, for your thoughtful comments and willingness to dialogue! This type of respectful exchange of ideas is what makes our country so great!

    Blessings to you, Ron, and everyone in our profession who work so hard to improve the lives of those we serve.

  3. Beth said: “A true “social secure safety net” will be to cut taxes for everyone, including the so-called “rich” and corporations. This will drive the cost of goods downward and provide more jobs” Congratulations on your success. Regarding your solution I see your reasoning, but it’s already been done and it didn’t work. Those who got tax cuts didn’t reinvest them, and so your economic theory does not apply in practice. The housing market showed us the true character of those who control the majority of wealth in this culture. If anything is egregious, it’s the way the those who will never escape living from pay to pay are continuously exploited by those who lust for more and more, and no matter how much they acquire, will never have enough. It’s a disease and we’re all victims …. including those who made a mere $1,000,000 annual profit last year. Romney’s solution may seem on face value to be a valid solution, but the only truly valid solution is the one that, in the words of Mary Richmond, “doesn’t go on mechanically helping people out of a ditch …. but rather seeks ….. to find out what ought to be done to get rid of the ditch”.

  4. Your malignment of a Presidential candidate, based on a sound bite, is egregious. A true “social secure safety net” will be to cut taxes for everyone, including the so-called “rich” and corporations. This will drive the cost of goods downward and provide more jobs.

    Let’s do some math:

    I own a successful business that has gone from $100,000 annual profit to $1,000,000 annual profit. Based on net profits, I can hire employees at a rate that includes salary, while I pay FICA tax, Medicare tax, Unemployment tax, Corporate tax, and 80% of health care premiums. On top of that I pay tax on my own income, self-employment tax, property tax and my own health benefits.

    To provide a “social safety net” in your world, I would be taxed at a significantly higher rate because my business is successful. I wouldn’t be able to hire more workers, even if I didn’t take an increase in salary, because the government forces me to provide a “safety net” for people I COULD have hired.

    Also, I will be unable to donate more to charities (voluntarily) because the government robbed me of those funds.

    You do the math…..I think Mr. Romney’s position provides more for the poor and disenfranchised than the Democrat model.

    BTW, did you know Latter Day Saints Charities provide a significant source of care for the poor in this country? I’m not Mormon, but do appreciate their help with my clients.

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