The Huffington Post: Can We Talk? America's New Majority Has Some Questions

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(Original Post)

Preeti Vissa

Community Reinvestment Director, The Greenlining Institute

Posted: 10/19/2012 1:00 pm

Presidential campaigns can make an aware voter want to tear their hair out. So much of what we see and hear -- in this week's debate as well as in TV ads -- seems to be nothing but poll-tested sound bites on a narrow range of issues, while the media too often focus on the horse race rather than what really matters.

While I don't live in a swing state and thus have been spared the barrage of 30-second attack ads that have been bombarding the suffering citizens of Ohio, Florida and other battlegrounds, I'm frustrated. As a woman of color working for an organization that works to give full opportunities to the communities of color that represent America's emerging majority, I hear very few of my concerns being addressed.

One of the things we try to do at The Greenlining Institute is ask questions that others are too polite to ask and that some would prefer not to answer. In that spirit, we've put together a few questions for President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. You can read the full set of questions here. Here are a few of them:

Poverty: According to recently released data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 28 percent of all children in America live in poverty, and that poverty is not equally distributed. Fourteen percent of whites in America live in poverty compared to an estimated 36 percent of blacks, 35 percent of Hispanics and 23 percent of people from other racial backgrounds. If elected, what strategies will you pursue to reduce child poverty and decrease racial disparities in poverty rates?

Racial Wealth Gap: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median net worth of white families in 2010 was $110,729, compared to $69,590 for Asian families, $7,424 for Latinos and $4,955 for black families. What will you do to reduce this racial wealth gap?

Put another way, those numbers tell us that for every dollar a white family owns, the median Asian family has just over 63 cents, the median Latino family has about seven cents and the median black family has less than a nickel. Seriously, does anyone think this is sustainable in a country where people of color already represent most new births and will be the majority overall in about 40 years? Why is no one talking about this? And please, don't tell me that a rising tide raises all boats. Even in boom times, this racial wealth gap has remained shockingly constant.

Homeownership: Several pilot programs have demonstrated the success of sustainable homeownership for families with modest incomes, enabling them to build wealth and financial stability, but no one is presently pursuing such efforts on a meaningful scale. Do you believe homeownership should only be for the wealthy? If not, how do you propose to expand responsible, sustainable homeownership opportunities for working class Americans?

Taxes Paid in America by Corporations: According to a recent study conducted by Citizens for Tax Justice, nearly 300 of America's most profitable corporations paid an 18.5 percent tax rate on average. This is barely more than half of the official 35 percent corporate tax rate, and is often achieved through use of offshore tax shelters. Do you view this as a problem? If so, how will you make sure that corporations pay their fair share of taxes?

Greenlining's own research has found that use of offshore tax shelters by major tech companies like Apple continues to increase. At a time when draconian cost-cutting measures ranging from cuts to college financial aid to privatizing Medicare have been suggested, how on earth can we keep allowing some of the world's wealthiest companies to keep doing this?

Criminal Justice: U.S. government surveys show that blacks and Latinos use illicit drugs at the same or lower rates than whites, yet blacks and Latinos are disproportionately likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses. Do you believe our current 'war on drugs' is effective? If so, how will you ensure that drug laws are applied fairly to all groups?

That last question, I should mention, is not just a criminal justice issue. Having a criminal record -- and sometimes specifically a drug offense -- can close off all sorts of opportunities, from college financial aid to certain types of jobs and professions. Given the disproportionate arrest rates by race, this may be a significant and unrecognized contributor to the racial wealth gap I discussed above.

Shouldn't Romney and Obama be talking about these things? And if they don't want to, shouldn't the press be asking them to?