When is the White House Meeting With Low-Income Americans?

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We’re proud to collaborate with The Nation in sharing insightful journalism related to income inequality in America. The following is an excerpt from Nation contributor Greg Kaufmann’s “This Week in Poverty” column.

Throughout these budget talks, the Obama Administration has projected an image that it is open to good ideas from anyone, and interested in the prosperity of everyone.

JP Morgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, left, and Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein leave the White House in Washington, Friday, March 27, 2009, following a meeting between chief executives and President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

JP Morgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, left, and Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein leave the White House in Washington in 2009 following a meeting between chief executives and President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

So Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein had his day at the White House along with thirteen other corporate heads. The same is true for a group of small business owners as well as some labor leaders and progressive groups. And certainly President Obama has surrounded himself with middle class families throughout these fiscal negotiations.

But there is an omission from the president’s rounds — one that is all the more glaring since this group of people is arguably more vulnerable than anyone to any final budget decisions: low-income Americans who are struggling to climb up from the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

When is their White House meeting? Where is their place at the table?

Surely, this Administration wants to send a message that this White House is open to all Americans. More importantly, it no doubt recognizes that lower-income Americans are working just as hard at their jobs, trying just as hard to create opportunities for their children and wanting just as much to improve their communities, as are Americans who have more resources.

It is one thing for the president to meet with advocates — and I have the greatest respect for antipoverty advocates and believe in the depth of their knowledge and the ideas they have to offer. But giving lower-income people the opportunity to tell their own stories — in their own words — can lead to insights and ideas that aren’t necessarily reached through secondhand accounts and rarely permeate the inside-the-beltway bubble.

As we move into the next phase of fiscal talks, vital programs like Social Security, Medicaid, housing, Head Start, child care, energy assistance and nutrition aid for pregnant women and children will all be debated. This is the moment for the president to demonstrate that he is reaching out to all Americans, not just those with political clout.

President Obama and America should be hearing directly, for example, from restaurant workersjanitors and home care workers who are working full-time but still need food stamps or Medicaid.

From single mothers who are working one or two jobs but can’t find decent, affordable childcare or a pathway out of poverty.

From people who have found stability and new opportunities through a housing voucher, or turned their lives around through a job training program.

From parents and children who gain new opportunities through Head Start and families who recover from domestic violence through transitional programs.

Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, notes that Republican “attacks that disparage or demonize programs for low-income and vulnerable Americans may escalate in the weeks ahead” in an effort to justify deep cuts. I’m sure those attacks won’t be limited to the programs, but will also target the people who participate in them.

One way to break through the stereotypes, the demonization, the noise, is by simply giving people the opportunity to tell their own stories — and by the president making it clear that he won’t stand idly by as people are slandered during a budget debate.

Some will say that a White House meeting with low-income Americans won’t have any effect on a final deal, and they might be right. Or maybe it would have a ripple effect that is impossible to anticipate.

Either way, people having a place at the table matters — especially for people who are regularly treated as less than by the media, their employers and politicians.

President Obama has a real opportunity to demonstrate to the country and to Congress that in his vision for America, everyone has a voice, and everyone is worth fighting for.

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  • vicki

    Good question. I hope President Obama picks up on this and does meet with the neediest people in our country.

  • Art

    Right on, Greg.

  • http://www.facebook.com/curtis.lester.33 Curtis Lester

    We should all demand it.

  • Cheryl Austin

    Right on. Could you give your readers a phone number or e-mail address for contacting the President and urging him to do this? Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/JoslynStevens Joslyn Stevens

    A meeting w/Obama would go in one ear and out the other because he knows who he works for. We will never make real progress on poverty until we start electing progressive independents like Bernie Sanders and overwhelmingly join movements like Occupy Wall Street. http://www.joslynstevens.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/elle.j.kim Elle Eldridge

    Is the occupy wall street movement totally dead in the water? Must be.

  • Myra

    Contact the White House and tell him to do this! http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

  • Sue

    Why isn’t there a petition for this? I’d sign it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.quackenbush J-Bird Van Quackenbosch

    Take action: http://wh.gov/PdWu

  • ruby love

    Where are the old women? – women eating dog food and $1 hamburgers, voiceless old women stuck in abusive government institutions – wouldn’t it be “fun” to save a place for them at Obama’s table of CEO’s; bet they’d tell us a lot about life as an invisible American

  • Anonymous

    This is exactly right. Privilege makes one unaware, despite the very best intentions. The only solution is the listen carefully to people who are directly affected – without a mediator.

  • http://profiles.google.com/dhfabian DH Fabian

    How long will it take to acknowledge that not everyone can work, and we don’t have jobs for all who need them? Those who become seriously ill/disabled can apply for Social Security disability — a long, difficult process (after submitting an application, it’s one to three years before a qualified applicant receives the first disability check). There are occasional mentions of the working poor, albeit with no suggestion of solutions. Today, we have liberals who celebrate Bill Clinton, so there is no discussion about the consequences of his welfare “reform”. As a result of Clinton’s policies, infant mortality rates among our poor have been rising while the life expectancy of our poor has actually fallen below that of some Third World countries. Our welfare “reform” kills, and all we hear about is the unhappiness of the middle class — the very people who chose the politics we’ve had for the past 30+ years!

  • Anonymous

    Though I agree with the argument of this article, we have to admit that this president is somewhat engaged with the poor in this nation. How many times have we heard him reference reading a letter from an American suffering the scars of the financially privileged and this president has sat down with the average American throughout the campaign. I don’t say this is enough, but the reality is our BIGGEST PROBLEMS are IN DC and Wall street, and if the American people want something from him ASK FOR IT. WRITE LETTERS, he reads them. God knows he doesn’t have to go far; they are right outside the WH doors.

  • precipitation

    I don’t know if it is wise to start listening to poor people. Once poor people begin to beleive that their own opinions matter, you could easily end up with a revolution on your hands. The best plan of action that those in power have for making sure they stay in power is continuing to increase apathy amongst the downtrodden. I think that this is the lesson we can take from white slave owners about how to stay in power when you are surrounded and outnumbered by slaves. As long as they are convinced they are insignificant, they will willingly submit to slavery.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nj.hill.7 Nj Hill

    So true, not only did he implement welfare “reform” to buy peace from the Repugs. He also sold out American workers with NAFTA. Because of NAFTA more people are out of work and because of welfare “reform” many can’t get the needed services to survive this recession. During his reign the term “least restrictive environment” came to mean that thousands of mentally ill were turned out of institutions and funding for aftercare, out patient programs and home visits dried up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nj.hill.7 Nj Hill


  • http://www.facebook.com/nj.hill.7 Nj Hill


  • The Messenger

    Interesting words of advice from Paul Krugman, but, I’m not convinced he really understands how much damage his friend Larry Gordon, or Clinton, or, Goldman’s, Blankfein have caused to the countries economy or the working class. Blankfein wants entitlement to be curbed, he thinks it’s hurting Corporate profits, while at the same time he thinks it’s OK for Goldman and him to receive a government money so he and his pals can keep making millions and there N.Y., penthouses? Further they all want world trade to continue which has destroyed our job market. Good for Corporate, but a total fabrication, that free, unrestricted trade would be good for american workers? These guys are talking out of both sides of their mouths. And they supported Obama, who continues to let them have their way, including giving billions in bonus’s to their cronies while we go broke. Do you seriously think Obama will opt out? Maybe in his third term he can repay them even more as they continue to lie about Free trade and Globalism.

  • Byard Pidgeon

    Not to defend Clinton (either of them!), but the “release” of the mentally ill was a Reagan program, begun in CA while he was Governor and continued through his terms as POTUS.

  • Byard Pidgeon

    Poor people at the White House will be a photo op, and not a very good one unless Obama has some intensive training in demonstrating empathy, then will be briefly noted by media and a few in Congress, and forgotten as quickly as possible.

  • Ed Pearson

    After about 17 years of holding fair hearings in New York City and writing numerous memos to the administrative staff of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance in Albany, with no results, it is clear that most bureaucrats fail to understand how to treat low income persons with the appropriate dignity that they deserve. Clinton failed to take that into account when he enacted the back-to- work legislation in the late 1990s.

  • http://connect.freedomworks.org/node/45216 BruceMajors4DC

    Obama is afraid to meet with them. His cabinet is now all white men. When he goes on Hispanic TV channels they actually ask him about Fast and Furious. When he took questions from a black woman at a town hall she asked him when the economy is going to get better.

    He won’t be doing this unless the audience is cherry picked.

  • gjanjones@hotmail.com

    I totally agree the White House has got to include the struggling citizens. There is a petitionthat was pointed out on the Tavis Smiley-hosted “War on Poverty” forum a couple of nights ago. – go to aworldwithoutpoverty.com and SIGN THE PETITION TO GET THE WHITE HOUSE TO SPEAK UP AND OPENLY INVITE THE POOR TO WASINGTON FOR DISCUSSIONS ON WHAT THE STRUGGLES ARE AT THE STREET LEVEL.

  • gjanjones@hotmail.com

    well now im not sure – it may be afuturewithoutpoverty.com

  • gjanjones@hotmail.com

    Back when I was a teenager in the sixties, my great aunt was taking a college course on investing in stocks. So I took notice. What I noticed was that every time a large numbers of workers got laid off – stocks went up. I think I hurt her feelings by suggesting that it appeared to be dealing with the devil.

  • Pattisue Thoman

    I don’t know how much one letter to the President would accomplish, but a Petition on his website might work. As far as I know there isn’t one now – I just looked through the petitions – some serious, some funny (Death Star, and national holiday on the day after the Super Bowl) but I didn’t see one either in answered petitions or still to be signed. I would be glad to sign one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/suzanne.hurst.3 Suzanne Hurst

    I totally agree. Low income people SHOULD have their meeting with the President! Everyone should know from first hand accounts the difficulties faced and the inequities suffered by this huge population, which would be affected most by many proposed budget cuts.

  • Terri EC Mom5

    Are you that jaded or just sarcastic? Either way, you speak the truth.

  • Terri EC Mom5

    People in poverty should have a voice in the political arena. I have always believed this. I always thought this voice was through unionization, but ever since union membership has been demonized poor people have no voice…which is exactly what our corporate overlords want.