Obama, Romney Respond to New Poverty Data

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event at West Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Sept. 9, 2012.

Today the US Census Bureau announced that the nation’s poverty rate remained at 15% in 2011 after increasing each of the previous three year. President Obama and Mitt Romney both responded via online video messages.

Census numbers show that over 46 million people in America now live below the poverty line, including 16.1 million children. In 2011, the median household income fell 1.5% to $50,054. Poverty rates for blacks, 27.6%, and Hispanics, 25.3%, were twice as high as the rate for whites.

Obama’s poverty video cites the Biblical mandate to help the least fortunate. “The Bible calls on us to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, and I believe that as a public servant, I must do my part to answer that call,” the President says in the video. His message is pointed: America “can’t ask the poor, the sick, or those with disabilities to sacrifice even more, or ask the middle-class to pay more, just so we can offer massive new tax cuts to those who’ve been blessed with the most.  It’s not just bad economics, it’s morally wrong.”

Romney’s video outlines his economic plan, too. “If we’re going to help lift our brothers and sisters out of poverty we must restore our economy and reduce the debt,” he says. “I support means testing, where more money goes to those in need, and a little less goes to those who are able to support themselves.”

Christian leaders—including Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, an organization of Christian activists, National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, Sister Simone Campbell, and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference —formed a group called “Circle of Protection” last year to combat poverty, pledging their efforts for “fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice” and for resisting “budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people.” Obama’s and Romney’s videos are available on Sojourner’s website.

“Record rates of poverty are unconscionable in this nation,” Wallis says. “I hope it makes a big difference in the public debate this election cycle.”