A Question for November

This month both of the major political parties will nominate their candidate for president of the United States. If all goes as indicated, we will have our first woman nominee and our first candidate of the modern era to have never held public office or completed significant military service prior to running.

This is not a commentary on the quality of candidates or how we got here as a country. Nor do I want to offer an opinion of either nominee in my capacity as executive director of Alliance for Strong Families and Communities member Episcopal Community Services (ECS) in Philadelphia. Rather, I want both of the candidates to answer a straightforward, uncomfortable question: Are they prepared to deal with the issue of poverty and all of the associated issues, regardless of how politically unattractive and charged the real issues are in this country? I really don’t care about email servers and walls with Mexico.

In 1960, poverty in America was roughly 15 percent of population. Today, billions of dollars later, it remains at 15 percent. Though arguably the wealthiest nation on earth with the strongest military in the world and the best and brightest educational system in the world, in 56 years, we have only maintained that 15 percent. In real terms, the number of people living in poverty has soared. One could argue that the funds we spend maintain the status quo. They save lives, but in reality, they do little to change lives.

If left unchecked, poverty will consume us as a society. At ECS, we believe that poverty is impacted, and an individual’s life is changed with what many of us take for granted: housing, education, employment, wellness, a level financial field, and the associated equal access to opportunity.

My question to the candidates is this: What is going to change? Are we going to continue to spend billions to maintain individuals and families in poverty, or after 56 years, are we going to consider a different approach? An approach based on data-driven innovation, partnership rather than competition between agencies and the government, realistic budgets, and the linkage between best practices and public policy with respect to employment.

Are we prepared to have some uncomfortable conversations about race, diversity, and equal access to opportunity? I am not calling for income redistribution, far from it. Rather, taking the billions we spend and taking a different approach that not only maintain lives, but gives individuals the opportunity to reach their full potential. We need to think about radical change and we need leadership willing to take the risk to start the conversation and do more than talk.

How about a bipartisan issue that matters? We can’t talk about “one America” without listening to all Americans. I will vote for a leader that is willing to have the uncomfortable conversations and lead. The current status is simply unacceptable and unsustainable. Nov. 8 is not that far away. How about we all ask what is going to change and hold our leadership accountable?

About the author: Dave Griffith has been executive director of Episcopal Community Services (ECS) in Philadelphia since May 2013.

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