Detroit Presidential Debate Must Address Poverty

Editor’s Note: Herb Boyd, a Detroiter based in New York is a member of The PuLSE Institute National Advisory Panel. The noted journalist and  historian is the author of several books on Malcolm X and James Baldwin. His latest work is titled “Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination,” which examines Detroit as a mecca for black people.  For submission inquiries contact Bankole Thompson, the editor-chief of the Institute at

By Herb Boyd

The second round of the 2020 Democratic presidential debates arrives in Detroit on July 30-31 at the historic Fox Theatre, and hopefully it will be as politically relevant and entertaining as previous events at this venue.  Relevancy from our perspective here at The PULSE Institute is the extent to which the 20 candidates address the issue of poverty and welfare.  There isn’t space here to consider the political platforms of all the candidates, so let’s take a look at the top vote getters in recent polls.

Since he first officially entered the race former Vice President Joe Biden has been the pacesetter, though his numbers have dwindled a bit after the tiff between him and Sen. Kamala Harris highlighted in the first debate in Miami.  The word poverty pops up ten times in Biden’s welfare and poverty plank of his platform, and, for the most part, it appears as he puts forth his plan on global poverty.  “More than 1 billion people worldwide live on less than $1 a day,” Biden states, “and another 1.6 billion people struggle to survive on less than $2 per day.”

Given his broad tapestry of poverty, the poor in America apparently can be counted among the global billion on the poverty scale.  During the debate Biden should be asked to be more specific about his stance on poverty as it applies to be people right here in Detroit, which is the largest black city in America that also leads the nation on poverty among major cities. Of course, he includes the poverty issue within the overall plan he has developed on welfare, which too needs to be teased out.  But he needs to explain what his anti-poverty program would look like.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts with U.S. Senator Gary Peters from Michigan

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, minces no words in establishing his position on poverty, telling the Trump administration that the war against poverty is not over.  “More than 40 million Americans live below the poverty line,” Sanders said, bringing the issue of poverty home. “In Vermont, almost 27 percent of the population qualifies for good assistance, and 14 percent of Vermont children lack reliable access to enough food.” Rather accepting Trump’s conclusion that the war against poverty is over, Sanders said we must “redouble our efforts to fight poverty,” and in his view that fight begins right here at home.

“Nobody should work full-time and still live in poverty,” has become a mantra for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.  She hammered away at this issue during her appearance at the AFL-CIO forum on raising wages. “I don’t think the U.S. government should be making tens of billions of dollars in profits off the backs of our students,” she declared, on the question of student loan debt. Warren has also stressed a need to strengthen the social safety net, which, she contends is needed now more than ever. 

“The suggestion that we have become a country where those living in poverty fight each other for a handful of crumbs tossed off the tables of the very wealthy is fundamentally wrong… we don’t build a future by first deciding who among our most vulnerable will be left to starve,” Warren stated.

The Detroit presidential debate should be an opportunity for the candidates to lay out how America must confront the paralyzing impact of inequality which many Detroiters know too well.


  1. The candidates should be asked what their views are on pushing for a new Works Progress Administration and a Civilian Conservation Corps. These programs that were federally-driven jobs programs aimed at a variety of infrastructure related projects. This was enacted during the Franklin Roosevelt administration. The tenets of this program can be updated for the 21st century. This can also incorporate forms of non-military public service.

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