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How Clinton And Trump Plan To Address The Issue Of Poverty


There's been a lot of style over substance in this presidential campaign at the expense of issues that affect millions of Americans. One of those is poverty. Throughout the campaign, NPR has been examining what the candidates are saying they would do if elected, as part of a series we call What's The Issue. NPR's Pam Fessler joined me to discuss how candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are proposing to bring more Americans out of poverty. Good morning.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: When we talk, Pam, about what the next president will face when it comes to poverty, first of all, why don't you give us some statistics?

FESSLER: Well, Renee, last month, we got some very good news from the Census Bureau. They reported that the poverty rate fell last year to 13.5 percent. That's one of the biggest one-year drops in years. Median household incomes went up by more than they have in decades, and low-income families saw the most gains. The bad news is that these incomes are still lower and poverty's still higher than it was before the recession.

More than 43 million Americans still live in poverty. And a record 11 million households now pay more than half of their income on rent, which is a huge drain for low-income families. There are also some significant racial disparities. While the poverty rate for non-Hispanic whites is 9 percent, for blacks it's 24 percent.

MONTAGNE: Well, break down for us then what the two candidates are proposing to help the poor. Start with Donald Trump.

FESSLER: Well, his main proposal is pretty much summed up in something that he says a lot on the campaign trail.


DONALD TRUMP: There simple but very beautiful words - are you ready? Jobs, jobs, jobs.

FESSLER: And, Renee, there is very widespread consensus that jobs are the best way to get people out of poverty. Trump says he wants to do this by cutting taxes and government regulations and renegotiating trade deals to bring back more jobs to the U.S. But it's not clear whether or not he's going to succeed and whether the jobs that are created are going to be the kinds of jobs that poor people can fill. A big problem is a lack of education and job skills for some people.

MONTAGNE: So if it's not just the jobs, it's being able to do the jobs, what is Trump proposing about that?

FESSLER: Well, we have very few specifics from him on this except that he wants more school choice. Usually when he talks about poverty, Trump talks about it in the context of African-Americans living in cities, as he did in this speech in Florida a couple of weeks ago.


TRUMP: You look at African-American youth with unemployment rates in the 50s. And I say to people, the poverty is at numbers that you wouldn't believe. And I say, what do you have to lose? I'll fix it.

FESSLER: And, Renee, actually, the unemployment rate for young African-Americans is actually about half the level that Trump says. It's still high, though, and it's not really clear what he would do to fix things. And, of course, poverty goes way beyond this group of Americans. One area where he does have some specifics is on childcare, which can be a big burden for those people who are trying to get out of poverty. He's called for a new tax plan to help defray childcare costs. This proposal would only help those who have jobs, not the millions of poor Americans who don't work.

MONTAGNE: All right, turn to Hillary Clinton. She always has detailed proposals. I know she's got some for this issue.

FESSLER: That's right, and she's also talked about the issue a lot more than Trump has. Anti-Poverty groups asked all the candidates during the primaries to submit videos with their anti-poverty plans, and everyone did so, except Trump. And here's what Hillary Clinton said.


HILLARY CLINTON: You know, I believe talent is universal, but opportunity is not. We need to make sure children from all zip codes and backgrounds have a shot at a brighter future. We can do so by investing in education at every level, beginning with preschool.

FESSLER: And that's one of her main proposals. She wants to double spending for Early Head Start and provide universal preschool for 4-year-olds. She's also called for increased subsidies so no family has to pay more than 10 percent of their income on childcare although she's offered few specifics on this. She's proposed doubling the child tax credit to $2000 and expanding it to help more low income families. She'd also increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour and invest tens of billions of dollars in poor communities, including for housing and job training.

MONTAGNE: A pretty ambitious agenda - also quite a costly one. How would she pay for all of this?

FESSLER: Well, Clinton says that she would increase taxes on the wealthy. Now, Trump doesn't specifically say how he'd pay for his plans, except that he'd cut government waste and grow the economy.

MONTAGNE: So how have these proposals been received?

FESSLER: Well, predictably, most anti-poverty advocates like Clinton's ideas. They're a continuation of a lot of what we're already doing, although some wish she was more ambitious. With Trump, there's so few specifics it's hard to assess. Some Republicans are upset that he hasn't addressed plans by speaker Paul Ryan and others to reshape safety-net programs and give more control back to the states. Overall, anti-poverty groups are disturbed that the issue hasn't received more attention. Of course, one reason is that poor people don't vote as much as other people do.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Pam Fessler with us as part of our series What's The issue. Thanks very much.

FESSLER: Thanks, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.

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