Americans Extend Helping Hand to the Poor

Politicians tend to avoid the issue of poverty, assuming Americans aren’t interested. But a look at public opinion data tells quite a different story.

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Politicians tend to avoid the subject of poverty on the theory that voters aren’t very interested in helping the poor. Yet public opinion data consistently shows that the public is very willing to extend a helping hand to the least fortunate in society.

Recent data indicates that these sentiments are in fact increasing, perhaps in reaction to the trend toward greater inequality and economic insecurity.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in January of this year, for example, shows that 69 percent agree that “the government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep” and an identical 69 percent agree that “it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” These figures are up 10 and 12 points respectively relative to their recent low point in 1994.

Americans are also willing to consider a wide range of options for helping the poor. The most complete results along these lines are provided by an NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard poll from 2001. As the chart below shows, four proposals garnered 80 percent support or higher: expanding subsidized day care, increasing the minimum wage, spending more for medical care for poor people, and increasing the tax credit for low-income workers. Yet every option offered, even increasing cash assistance for families, received majority support.

For more information on CAP’s recently released report that outlines a strategy for cutting poverty in half in 10 years, see:

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Ruy Teixeira

Former Senior Fellow

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