If progressives think they’ve got any chance at midterm victory, it’s time to focus on dramatic solutions for young and minority voters – before it’s too late
On Friday, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen warned that “income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years”. On Saturday, Senator Elizabeth Warren called for federal student loan refinancing, and declared: “The game is rigged, and the Republicans rigged it.” On Sunday, along with a secret memo that threatened “crushing” defeats, there was the headline on the front page of the New York Times: “Black Vote Seen as Last Hope for Democrats to Hold Senate”.
Inequality: it’s all anybody can talk about … except Democrats on the campaign trail who, with two weeks before Election Day, desperately need to turn out the very people so disproportionately affected by it – young and minority voters.
Sure, the teacher-backed Super-Pacs are hitting Republicans from Arkansas and North Carolina to Hawaii and back again for wanting to “shut down” public education. Yes, ignoring affordable housing is the stuff attack ads are made of.
But housing and education are issues of inequality that have solutions, not just stump-speech lines or YouTube-ready complaints. And if Democrats have any hope left in the midterms, they cannot be this shamefully muted on bold progressive policies that could dramatically improve the lives of voters who just happen to hold the keys to a majority of the United States Senate.
Barack Obama’s neglect on foreclosure has been well-documented. The housing crisis turned countless former homeowners into renters and, now, into would-be voters in dire straits. More than four in 10 of very low-income US households have no access to subsidized housing, and are instead paying more than 50% of their income in rent, living in horrific conditions or both. We have about as much public housing today as we did in the mid-1970s, losing 10,000 units per year, even though the US population is now 47% bigger.
An easy fix would be to simply expand the stock of affordable housing, especially units available to low- and moderate-income households. And believe it or not, the Obama administration has the unilateral authority to do so, without Congress. The National Housing Trust Fund, a program created during the second Bush administration, was never actually funded. But the National Low Income Housing Coalition believes we could end homelessness in America in 10 years if it was funded now. So what are Democrats so afraid of?
Money for the fund is supposed to come from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but their regulator – the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) – has been preventing the cash from flowing. Now Fannie and Freddie are profitable, and putting all of those profits towards deficit reduction, instead of setting aside a small portion for people who need somewhere to live.