In conjunction with the Lenfest “Every Voice, Every Vote” initiative, The Philadelphia Hall Monitor has undertaken a project aimed at addressing what we believe is the most pressing issue in this election-poverty. We fully understand the severity of the city’s violence issue, but we see violence as a product of poverty. While solutions to the city’s violence problem are valuable and needed, they have been discussed throughout this campaign season. Hall Monitor feels poverty has been overlooked.
With 400,000 Philadelphians living in poverty, (200,000 of which are living in deep poverty), this issue must be addressed in full measure by the incoming administration and city council. Anything less would be an abdication of responsibility and a moral failing.
But where to begin? If this were an easy problem to tackle it would have already happened. If there were a certain path to prosperity, each candidate would offer the same answer in the series of interviews that follows. None of these things, however, are true. The plans offered by the candidates are as varied as the candidates themselves. While there is some agreement (Fix the schools! Provide job training! Grow small businesses!), there are myriad paths proposed to reach these lofty goals.
Before we look to the future, we have to see how we got here. Philadelphia’s poverty issue did not occur recently-it’s been decades in the making. The loss of industry created a hole in the city’s economic base which was never replaced. Combined with systemic racism by way of economic practices such as red-lining, entire neighborhoods were left with little wealth to transfer to the next generation, creating the elements we now see manifested as inter-generational poverty.
There is no easy answer to our poverty epidemic. It is borne of historical decisions we have made as a society and still exists due to our unwillingness to admit the economic systems we’ve come to accept as a matter of course are unsuited to the principles of equality and inclusion. However, without an appetite for major systemic change on the national level, local elected officials are all the more responsible for instituting the wholesale shift required to begin to turn the tide of neglect and outright racism we have seen in Philadelphia for decades.
Forums as they have been constructed during this election season are not sufficient to provide the depth needed to discuss poverty fully; longer conversations and detailed analysis are needed.
That is what we hoped to do here. We began each interview with the same question: “How will your administration reduce poverty in the city?” We pitched the interviews to the candidates as “one-question interviews (with follow-ups).” The responses we received will help illuminate the path the impending Democratic nominee will take if elected to office.
This is not the end of our project, however. We intend to follow the race to it’s conclusion in November. The Democratic nominee will face the first substantive Republican challenge in decades and, while the Democratic nominee will certainly be the overwhelming favorite to win election in November, this race will provide more competition than in previous years.
Post-primary, Hall Monitor will keep track of the candidate’s promises regarding poverty. We will spend our time looking at ways other municipalities have attacked poverty, and will prepare for the fall with a new feature: the Poverty Action Tracker. We will use this new tool to record the next mayor’s campaign pledges, and we will gauge them throughout their term. We will do the same with City Council. It is crucial that we hold our elected officials to account, particularly when it comes to the issue of our time.
Before we begin with the candidates, we conducted a series of interviews with experts and local Philadelphians to get a sense of the poverty issue here in the city-particularly as it pertains to voting. As we heard from Professor Jeffrey Carroll of Chestnut Hill College, the political nature of poverty is cyclical; impoverished areas have lower voter turnout; because of this, politicians do not campaign in impoverished areas; therefore, once elected, politicians feel no sense of urgency to respond to the needs of their neediest constituents.
We also spoke with Bishop Dwayne Roster, executive director of POWER Interfaith, to hear about the challenges advocacy groups face in mobilizing voters from impoverished areas to realize their political power.
Consumer Reporter Lance Haver conducted a series of interviews with Philadelphians in areas Hall Monitor identified as the most impoverished.
Our reporters sit through hours of city council meetings, dig through piles of documents, and ask tough questions other media overlook. Because we’re committed to addressing Philadelphia’s poverty crisis — and challenging those who sustain it. If you think this work is important too, please support our journalism.
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