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Gareth Edmundson Headshot

Poverty in America. The Silent Scandal of 6 November 2012

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46.2 million Americans live in poverty. This represents 15% of the population. Give or take a million, that's about the same population as Spain.

The biggest economy in the world, the global wealth creator that is the United States of America is effectively living with country the size of Spain of people who are below the poverty line, living on a household income of $23,021 for a family of four. Of the 46.2 million, six million live on nothing more than the basic benefit of food stamps which provides an income of $6,300 for a family of three. Bear that in mind next time you're in the supermarket trying to decide whether you should spend more on the cheeky Chablis over the basic Calpol for adults (pinot grigio). The Obama and Romney campaigns have spent $2.6 billion on their campaign. If that was given to the poorest 6 million, each one of them could have received a $450 gift to get them through the winter.

But by listening to Romney and Obama on the campaign trail these statistics never get an airing. I checked recent speeches that both of them have given in their final smash and grab for votes and the word poverty barely even gets a look-in. On 2 November, in Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin, Romney's stump speech didn't even mention poverty once. And Obama, campaigning in the same state on 1 November mentioned it just once in his 25 minute address to the people of Green Bay.

If you look at both candidates' websites you find lots on the economy, jobs and healthcare but, again, almost nothing about poverty. This is all while 46.2 million Americans continue to go about their daily lives, the majority in low paying jobs, trying to stay afloat. A silent scandal, their plight ignored.

So what is the answer? Well, firstly, we need to talk about it more. We need to be relentless in the pursuit of this issue until the figure of 46.2 million is burnt onto the retinas of every single politician in America. They need to feel the weight of guilt from the stories of individuals, families and children in their districts and states from California to New York. People power is old fashioned but it's never been more necessary than now.

Allied to that, America must shift the debate. An answer needs be found to the problem of the gap between rich and poor getting wider and wider. Wages have stagnated for lower paid jobs whilst the top 1% of earners has seen their salaries sky rocket. I'm not advocating a drastic communist style solution to reset this but I do think that America must win the tax battle, once and for all, to make sure that the breaks don't keep being handed out to the wealthiest in the nation.

On jobs, politicians need to change their rhetoric. It is longer acceptable for an economy to create low-paid jobs that only keep families trapped in a never ending poverty cycle.

On the question of ideology more generally, politicians need to understand their decisions have huge impacts on the most vulnerable. They should give up using the poor as their favourite plaything. Romney's running mate Paul Ryan is one of the worst offenders for this type of almost evangelical ideological posturing. He claims that by cutting programmes like education, welfare and healthcare will actually help poor people to get out of poverty. Garbage. An honest, fair and pragmatic debate on solutions is needed (I'll believe that when I see it).

Finally, in capitalist economies, so much more can be done to create a better moral consciousness where the principles of giving and philanthropy become embedded in society. Giving should become an ever present and not just a reaction or an outpouring after a crisis.

So, not much then. But to start, on 6 November, when you're drinking your Chablis watching the election coverage, spare a thought for the 46.2 million people in America for which 6 November will be just be another day in their battle to survive.