The Badger Herald: Obama must start prioritizing poverty

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By Aaron Loudenslager
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 1:00 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, November 13, 2012 1:12:40 a.m.

President Barack Obama was re-elected with a resounding victory over former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., in which he earned a total of 332 Electoral College votes. This victory demonstrates the American people have rejected the laissez-faire economic policies Romney advocated for during his 2012 presidential campaign. It is a mandate for the president to continue his emphasis on progressive economic policies that help ordinary Americans.

Both the Obama and Romney campaigns talked constantly about the “middle class,” but they rarely mentioned the specific problems of those in poverty and neglected to explain specifically how they would combat poverty in the U.S. It is time Obama launches a new war on poverty to eradicate poverty in this country.

Obama enacted many progressive economic policies during his first term as president. Some of these include the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Act. These policies are a good start, but there is much more that can and needs to be done.

Certain members of the Republican Party have asserted Obama is a radical socialist who has dedicated himself to making sure job creators are burdened by government regulations and intervention. However, empirical evidence proves the exact opposite.

The Guardian reports that according to analysts at WealthInsight, 1.1 million new millionaires were added to the U.S. population under the Obama administration. This is approximately 1,000 new millionaires added per day. Furthermore, according to the Tax Policy Center, 7,000 American millionaires paid no federal income tax in 2011. Millionaires and job creators haven’t been overburdened under the Obama administration — they have flourished economically.

Not only have individual millionaires thrived financially during Obama’s first term, but corporations have benefited also. Even before Obama was elected, a study conducted by the Government Accountability Office showed that between 1998 and 2005, two-thirds of American corporations paid no federal income tax. Although the federal corporate tax rate is 35 percent, according to Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the average tax rate of 280 Fortune 500 companies between 2008 and 2010 was only 18.5 percent. Additionally, 30 Fortune 500 companies owed less than zero in federal income taxes.

The two companies with the highest negative income tax rates were General Electric and Pepco Holdings. Pepco earned $882 million in profits between 2008 and 2010, but it had a negative tax rate of 57.6 percent, while G.E. earned $10.5 billion in profits during the same time period and had a negative tax rate of 45.3 percent. It should be clear from these undisputable facts that Obama’s economic policies have not hurt the wealthy in the U.S. If anything, Obama’s economic policies have coddled the wealthiest individuals and corporations in this country.

During Romney’s presidential campaign, he said to a CNN reporter, “You can focus on the very poor. That’s not my focus.” Although Obama has enacted policies that help the middle class and the poor, he has not made a specific demand to Congress to make helping the poor a top priority. He pledged in 2008 that the federal minimum wage would increase to $9.50 by 2011. But this has not happened yet, even though Obama had a super-majority in Congress from the start of his presidency, and now he has to deal with a divided Congress once again.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., R-Ill., introduced legislation in June that would raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour within 60 days of its being signed into law. According to Ralph Nader, $10.57 an hour is the amount needed just to keep up with the minimum wage from 1968, adjusted for inflation. But the legislation has yet to pass, which isn’t surprising given election season just ended.

According to the Census Bureau, there were approximately 46 million Americans living in poverty during 2011. In Obama’s second term as president, it is imperative he demand Congress pass minimum wage legislation. Obama must not only protect the current social safety net against budget slashing congressional Republicans; he must expand it and make it more efficient. There must be more funding for homeless shelters, education, Medicare and Medicaid.

I know it will be difficult, but I think Obama is up for the challenge.