Even with the candidates unable to give to a straight answer during Thursday’s vice-presidential debate, one point was made crystal clear—the candidates are wealthy, and Corporate America.For approximately 90 minutes while a lot of words were exchanged, they didn’t include poverty, homeless, urban, underclass, or minority. Those words and who they represent were never mentioned once by either of the candidates. However, the phrase middle class was mentioned 13 times, wealthy 6 times, and Corporate America and Main Street 4 times. For the record, the word poor was mentioned once, only not relationship to nation’s economic crisis. The word poor made its way into the conversation when Governor Sarah Palin responded to debate moderator Gwen Ifill’s question of which is the greater threat, a nuclear Pakistan, unstable Pakistan, nuclear Iran?Palin responded, “—and an issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naiveté and goes beyond poor judgment.”Add to that, maverick was mentioned 15 times and Wall Street and the state of Alaska were mentioned 12 times each.According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2007, 37.3 million people in America were in poverty, up from 36.5 million in 2006. In terms of race, the percentage of Blacks living in poverty was 24.5 percent, Hispanics 21.5 percent, Asians 10.2 percent, and non-Hispanic whites average poverty level was 8.2 percent.In 2007, the family poverty rate and the number of families in poverty were 9.8 percent and 7.6 million. Married-couple families had a poverty rate of 4.9 percent (2.8 million), compared with 28.3 percent (4.1 million) for female-householder, no-husband-present families.Among states and the District of Columbia, poverty rates ranged from 7.1 percent for New Hampshire to 20.6 percent for Mississippi. The only state where the poverty rate increased was Michigan where Detroit had the highest poverty rate at 33.8 percent.So why is this important?Ever since Senator John Edwards left the presidential race, there has been little mention of America’s poor—it’s all about America’s middle class and the vice-presidential debate was no different. In reality-why would it be? At the end of the day, when you add up the numbers, those living in poverty are more apt to look like me and you. And even though Senator Barack Obama is admittedly African-American, he knows like McCain knows, that the people who are currently engaged in the political process and are more likely to come out and vote in November, aren’t those living in the projects, cardboard boxes, homeless shelters, or on bus park benches.Why?Because if America’s underclass were more engaged in the political process that would change the entire landscape of this race-not to mention give Democrats the upper hand seeing as how this demographic would more than likely vote Democratic. It would also mean that the candidates would no longer have the luxury of just focusing on America’s middle class and wealthy, but would actually have to address issues like the rise in homelessness or risk losing votes. The middle class-for all they may be going through-aren’t homeless…yet. How do I know? Because America’s middle class wasn’t watching the debate from a homeless shelter or on the street through the window of an electronics store. They weren’t sitting on the stoop of a building, straining their ears to hear the candidates. No. Middle class America held debate watch parties or gathered their friends and families around the boob tube in the comfort of their homes-homes where the mortgage may be in default, but a home nonetheless.The candidates love to use the phrase “saving America’s middle class.” And for the record, I’m with that. We don’t need anymore families slipping into poverty. But what the candidates need to recognize and show that they recognize is that when we fall from grace-that coveted middle class into poverty-we’re still here and we matter. No matter if we have faith in the system or not. Even if we don’t exercise our right to vote. We matter. The men, women, and children living on Skid Row in Los Angeles, matter. The man sleeping in the doorway of the church across the street from my house as I write this, he matters too.America’s poverty is not invisible-even if the candidates repeatedly ignore it. Mostof us see it on a daily basis from the comfort of our cars heading to and from work. Even if those living in poverty are too distracted to hold the candidates responsible for addressing their issues, we, America’s middle class, have a responsibility to step in and do it for them.Hello there, can I call you Joe and Sarah? My name is Jasmyne Cannick and I am a 30-year-old, Black female who is registered Democrat (for now) living in Los Angeles. I just wanted to let you know that you overlooked about 37 million people in your debate tonight. How do you plan to fix that?
At 30, Jasmyne Cannick is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. A regular contributor to NPRs News and Notes, she was chosen as one Essence Magazines 25 Women Shaping the World. A former Congressional press secretary, Jasmyne currently works as a political consultant. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com or www.myspace.com/jasmynecannick.