Analysis: The Politics of Poverty

New York City's poor could take offense at Mitt Romney's latest gaffe.

By Gabe Pressman
|  Thursday, Feb 2, 2012  |  Updated 4:28 PM EDT
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Analysis: The Politics of Poverty

AP

Mitt Romney says he’s not concerned about the very poor in America because they have a safety net, and that he is focusing his energies on the plight of the middle class. It would be understandable if some New Yorkers took offense at this latest gaffe in the Romney campaign.

For New York City has 1.6 million people living below the poverty line, as defined by the federal government. Presumably the views of a presidential contender can be important to them.

Joel Berg of the Coalition Against Hunger told me: “We are not a partisan organization but, speaking for myself, I’d say that I wish poor people could have the luxury of speaking out as frankly about Romney as he does about them.”

There’s been a large increase in poverty in America since 2008. One in seven Americans, about 1.8 million New Yorkers, is now on food stamps. Many people have been turned away from food pantries and soup kitchens, Berg says, because they simply have run out of food.

I asked Mary Brosnahan of the Coalition for the Homeless what she sees.

“We have a record number of homeless people in the shelters," she says. "It shows how completely out of touch Romney is. A sizeable group is struggling just to survive. He says we have a safety net to protect the poor. That net will be shattered if we don’t pay attention to the needs of the poor.”

Romney’s remarks touched off an uproar among Democrats and advocates for the poor and hungry.

But there’s another side to this story. The plight of the poor worsened on President Barack Obama’s watch. It would appear that, for letting down the poor, politicians of both parties deserve blame.

They could do themselves proud if they both fix the safety net and help the middle class. The two are not mutually exclusive.

In this political season, when candidates and surrogates assert their devotion to religion, the words of Scripture come to mind: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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