Presidential campaigns rarely lead to great discussions of public policy, and this one has been no exception.
But here are seven issues the candidates should be pushed to talk about, either by the press or by voters. The best opportunity for such a discussion could be the presidential debates, the first of which is on Oct. 3. (I should acknowledge ThinkProgress, which had its own list last week.)
1. Wage stagnation
The unusually high unemployment under Obama’s presidency is a major problem, but one both candidates have discussed and offered solutions for. But middle-income workers have essentially had more than a decade of their income stalled.
“In 2000, median family income was $66,259. In 2010, it was 6 percent lower ($62,301), constituting a “lost decade” for income growth,” the Economic Policy Institute wrote in a recent report.
Those wages have stagnated as corporate profits have hit record highs. This disparity is a huge issue affecting middle-class Americans, but has barely registered on the campaign trail.
2. High black unemployment and low graduation rates
The African-American jobless rate, even before the recession, was double that of whites. And at 14.1 percent, it’s a crisis in many communities. Unemployment among black youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are actively seeking jobs is at 28 percent, compared to 15 percent for whites. The jobless rate combined with the mortgage crisis has wiped out much of the wealth gains blacks made during the 1990s.
Most would argue part of that solution lies in education, but black men in particular are struggling there too: a new report found that only 52 percent of black males are graduating from high school, compared to 78 percent of whites.
President Bush and Democrats agreed to the No Child Left Behind Act a decade ago to address this challenge. But states long complained that law was underfunded and too rigid, and the Obama administration has effectively repealed it.
What’s come in its place may be less than ideal. In Virginia, as education expert Andrew Rotherham recently wrote, under the state’s new rules “schools are expected to have 78 percent of white students and 89 percent of Asian students passing Virginia’s Standards of Learning math tests but just 57 percent of black students, 65 percent of Hispanic students and 59 percent of low-income students.”
Less accountability for schools could lead to lower expectations for black, Latino and low-income students, as Bush and civil rights groups once feared.
3. Gun control
The shooting of then-Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others last year and the dozen killed in a movie theater shooting in suburban Colorado in July not only didn’t result in any policy changes, but barely any discussion of gun control. A spate of killings in Chicago, America’s third-largest city, this summer have also not spurred the president or Congress to make a gun control push.
It’s not clear a ban on certain kinds of guns or high-capacity magazines would actually stop these mass shootings. As conservatives note, these deranged individuals might find other ways to carry out mass killings.