Engagement with elected leaders by their constituents is a powerful accountability mechanism, and elections are a decisive expression of that function. In a year where poverty and inequality are at historic levels and the prospects for low-income families to improve their circumstances increasingly uncertain, how will these conditions influence both the rhetoric and policy proposals of those seeking elected office and the choices of voters? That was the question examined at half-day forum organized by Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity entitled The Politics of Economic Opportunity: Will Growing Poverty Affect Election 2012?
Already in the Presidential election race, we've seen the incumbent and the Republican contenders engage the language of poverty, inequality, and mobility, so it's clear that those themes are being used to connect to voters, but to whom and for what purpose is more murky. Whether or not the policy solutions being generated improve the current situations and future prospects for the people who are having the greatest difficulty getting ahead will be an important metric for identifying whether those ideas are substantive or political.
This distinction is at the heart of a short commentary I contributed after the event. In it, I discuss why understanding how current policy contributes to the constraints and opportunities people face are critical to improving outcomes. This should be obvious, but in the context of saving, something demonstrated to help low-income families be financially resilient and economically mobile, current policy subsidizes the savings of higher income earners and restricts the savings of lower income households. This is not an anti-poverty policy. Substantive anti-poverty policy invests in the tools that families have to be self-sufficient and removes barriers for them to do so. You can watch a video of my interview below and catch additional interviews with people you should find familiar here.
Rachel Black1 from Spotlight on Vimeo.