Republicans have spent the last 20 months hammering the American poor and unemployed at nearly every turn. From the economic stimulus, to extension of unemployment benefits, Republicans have tried only to stand in the way of offering any help to those who borne the worst of the Great Recession.
They have done so only for the most crass political reasons, hoping to retake control of Congress by energizing the votes of anti-government conservatives, but what if, instead of tea party types, Republicans are met at the ballot box by the very people they’ve been attacking? Yes, what if unemployed and low-income Americans come out in November and turn GOP dreams into nightmares?
Don’t think it can happen? Don’t be so sure.
With the nation suffering its worst period of long-term joblessness (workers unemployed for six months or more) since World War II, and its unemployment rate dangerously close to double digits, there are some 15 million out-of-work Americans out there, and an affiliate of the AFL-CIO labor union is launching a campaign to mobilize unemployed workers across the nation for the November midterm elections.
“Millions of people are unemployed and underemployed, and millions more are worried about the future. Twenty-five percent of Working America members who are working are afraid they will lose their jobs,” says Karen Nussbaum, director of Working America, the labor affiliate behind the voter drive. “Yet some politicians are willing to play politics with the survival of unemployed workers and their families. We’ll make sure that unemployed workers get out and vote, and that they know the records of the candidates on issues like extending unemployment insurance, investing in jobs and preventing outsourcing.”
That’s just the unemployed. How about the rest of the low-income Americans who can — and should — vote? The Americans who aren’t counted as unemployed because the economy has gotten so bad they’ve simply given up looking for work. Or those who are working, but working for such little pay that they live at, or below, the poverty line.
Demos, a Washington-based policy center, wants to get these millions of low-income Americans into the political process, as well. It’s not only wishful thinking, either. Demos points to an often-neglected provision of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) that requires states to provide voter registration services to applicants and recipients of public assistance benefits. NVRA is better known for the so-called “motor voter” provisions that enable Americans to register to vote at their state motor-vehicle departments.
But the time is ripe, Demos says, to ensure that voter registration is provided at public assistance offices: Many public assistance programs are experiencing significant growth, with participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP,” formerly food stamps), one of the largest programs, now at an all-time high, having increased dramatically over the past year.
“As the full effect of the economic downturn is felt throughout the country and increasing numbers of individuals turn to public assistance, the NVRA has never been more important for ensuring that low-income citizens have a voice in the democratic process,” Demos says on its website.
And the law is successful. In a report on NVRA, Demos notes:
So, tea partiers, feel free to come to vote in November, but be warned: you may be standing in line behind a bunch of unemployed and poor neighbors even angrier than you.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as A Republican’s Worst Nightmare: The Poor Vote on Blogcritics.