10/21/2016 12:03 EDT | Updated 10/21/2016 12:08 EDT

How America's Poor Will Affect The Presidential Election

John Moore via Getty Images
EGG HARBOR, NJ - AUGUST 28: Low-income residents select fresh bread and produce at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey on August 28, 2015 in Egg Harbor, New Jersey. The food bank has seen an 11 percent increase in food distribution in Atlantic County since four of Atlantic City's major casinos closed in 2014, laying of 8,000 people. The closures brought Atlantic City's unemployment rate to more than 11 percent, double the national average. The mass unemployment has produced the highest foreclosure rate of any metropolitan U.S. area, with 1 out of 113 homes now in foreclosure in Atlantic County. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

People often talk or read about the poor without having a clear picture of them in mind. Who are they? Is the stereotype of a chronically homeless and jobless person correct? As the U.S. Bureau reports, 5.1 million American families are poor despite having at least one member working.

Things are not improving and having a more concrete idea and a clear definition of who is poor can help us understand our society and politics better. The opposing campaign strategies of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in approaching the poor and tackling poverty give us a deeper insight to their agenda.

The most common way to define the poor is by measuring income poverty. Even though this method is problematic, since it excludes non-economic factors such as medical and living conditions, it is the most straightforward. The Census Bureau determines who is poor through official poverty estimates that use a set of dollar-value thresholds, or minimum income needed to meet basic needs. The official poverty line for 2015 is $12,082 for a single person and $24,257 for a household of four, which brings 43.1 million Americans below poverty line.

If you add their families, the working poor become a large percentage of the electorate -- and they are up for grabs in this election.

So, in contrast to the stereotype, many of the poor actually work but make less than $1,000 per month. The working poor may be involved in precarious and low-wage work, or forced to remain part-time. That puts them in a distinct category of workers -- the outsiders.

According to the insider-outsider theory of employment, workers are divided into insiders and outsiders, two groups with often opposing interests. Insiders are those who have a secure job and enjoy work benefits -- union members are the best example. Outsiders are those who work in precarious jobs and often need welfare protection while temporarily unemployed or earning below the poverty line.

If you add their families, the working poor become a large percentage of the electorate -- and they are up for grabs in this election. The candidates have adopted different approaches: Clinton has a pro-poor plan, even though she has mostly focused her campaign on the insiders, while Trump, who has proposed largely pro-business policies, has tailored his rhetoric to attract a certain segment of outsiders.

During the second presidential debate, Trump quoted Bernie Sanders a few times. One reason could be that Sanders was particularly focused on the poor and Trump has been trying to appeal to these voters. Trump has repeatedly said that "poverty is beyond belief" and, in an (largely unsuccessful and misguided) attempt to gain support from minorities such as the black community, Trump often brings up the lack of opportunity in inner cities and unemployment rates.

His performance in the primaries shows that appealing to the poor actually made a difference: Trump succeeded in counties with unemployment rates higher than the national average of five per cent. Specifically, an analysis of county-level primary voting data shows that Trump won about three-fourths of 1,400 counties with higher-than-average unemployment rates.

In his plan to revive the economy, Trump suggests that "reform policies with a pro-growth tax plan" will boost the economy. Despite his anti-establishment rhetoric, his plan would mostly benefit employers, not the employees. His vague claims that the repatriation of American companies will help the poor are non-pragmatic and misleading, as trickle-down economics have proven to be dysfunctional.

Clinton, on the other hand, has proposed a targeted anti-poverty agenda in her plan for helping America's poor. Her strategy, based on Congressman Clyburn's 10-20-30 plan, directs 10 per cent of federal investments to communities where 20 per cent of the population has been living below the poverty line for 30 years.

In terms of campaign strategy, however, Clinton has mostly focused on one of the traditional Democratic supporters -- the insiders. She has promised to be the "partner in the White House" for the National Education Association, one of the largest American unions. She has told Americans that "When unions are strong, America is strong."

So Clinton got a lot of the insiders, who are her expected base, and is planning to help the outsider poor by promising targeted investments within an anti-poverty agenda. Trump, through focusing on the disenfranchised, has managed the unexpected -- to expand the Republican base to the poor. Clinton could take some of the outsiders back by better explaining her anti-poverty plan and more explicitly exposing Trump's pro-business agenda. The next president needs to have a specific and targeted plan for the poor because, remember, these are not just voters.

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