In tax debate, whatever happened to the 'poor'?

by Maureen Fiedler

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Over the holidays, commentators and politicians -- both outgoing and incoming -- had lot to say about the state of the economy. They criticized (or defended) tax cuts for the wealthy, well off or “connected.” They waxed eloquent on their love for the “middle class” -- and the importance of restoring their economic foundations, stopping home foreclosures, and creating jobs.

Some use the catch-all term, “working families,” which can reasonably describe any family from bank executives to road repair workers.

But one designation seems to have disappeared from public discourse, and that is the “poor.”

We rarely hear the word in political circles. Yet, people are dropping out of the middle class in disturbing numbers as the “wealth gap” widens in this country.

Many people don’t worry about foreclosures because they simply don’t own a home. And lots of those who were once part of a “working family” wish they were again -- but can’t find jobs. They are, in short, “poor.”

There seems to be a political reluctance to use one of the terms most commonly found in the Judeo-Christian scriptures: the poor.

Maybe it’s a subtle allergy to the word. The scriptures, after all, talk about “justice” for the poor, and that is not often what political leaders are about.

This is not just a question of the use of political language. It is a question of linguistic -- and social -- justice. Those who are not named are often forgotten.

That may be why -- in that tax “compromise” that passed the lame duck Congress -- that the “working poor” actually had a tax increase because the bill did not renew the “Making Work Pay” tax credit.

Out of sight, out of mind. Or should I say: out of discourse, out of mind -- and out of legislation?

It’s time to start talking about the “poor” once again.

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