Rhetoric and reality about Main Street.

Rhetoric and reality about Main Street.

- in Fitzsimon File

It seems like every political candidate running for office this year uses the term "Main Street" to define who they want us to think they want to help. The debate about the Wall Street bailout increased the frequency of the reference, providing symmetry to the talking point.

Candidates for state and national office now say they want to help "main street, not just Wall Street."  Thursday brought reminders of several places policymakers can start if they want to help folks in North Carolina and across the country who aren't spending $440,000 at a resort spa like the executives at AIG after the company received its $85 billion taxpayer bailout.

A new study by the Economic Policy Institute finds that workers in North Carolina are losing their employer-based health coverage at a faster rate than all but one other state. Children in North Carolina are joining the ranks of the uninsured faster than children in all other 49 states.

The share of people who have health coverage through their job fell for the seventh straight year in 2007.  More than 1.5 million people in the state are now insured and for the vast majority of them, the tax credits and health savings account proposed by the anti-government crowd won't help.

People already struggling to make ends meet won't be putting hundreds of dollars aside every month, tax credit or not. And neither will low-wage workers who can't afford coverage on their own when their employer drops it. Workers with preexisting conditions are especially affected, left out in the cold when their health insurance ends.

Children and their parents need to see doctors whether credit default swaps are doing well for the wealthy in the financial markets or not. Politicians who claim to want to help folks on Main Street shouldn't be taken seriously unless they have a plan to expand health care coverage to everybody. And a tax credit is not an answer.

A new report from the Center for American Progress finds that more than half the 37 million people in the United States living in poverty are women. More than one in four African-American women is poor, just less than one in four Latina women are living in poverty.

And despite claims otherwise, being a single mother is not the major problem. Just one-fourth of women over 18 who live in poverty are single mothers.

The report has some basic recommendations to address the crisis of women in poverty, including equal working conditions for women, affordable child care, family leave, protection and support to leave violent situations while keeping their job and finding housing.

Women who work fulltime still make only 77 percent of what men with the same qualifications earn.  Candidates who want to help people on main street need to talk about investments in services and supports for women and families who are living in poverty.

Politicians like to say that education can solve almost every problem, an overstatement that diverts the debate from policies and services that address the poverty that makes education a struggle for many poor students.

And there's evidence that the country is headed the wrong way in higher education. A report just released by the American Council on Education finds that overall, the latest generation of adults may be the first one in 60 years not to attain a higher level of education than their parents.

White and Asian-Americans are doing better than their parents, but African-Americans and Latinos are doing far worse. Economists and business leaders constantly say that the high-paying jobs of the new economy will demand more education and higher skills. Yet a generation of people of color is headed in the opposite direction.

Politicians who want to help the folks on Main Street aren't being genuine unless they have a plan to help more people go to college and improve public education so more people of color are ready to go.

It's time to move beyond the catchy rhetoric about Main Street and start talking about real ways to change the reality for millions of people who live there in poverty and without health care and with little hope to get the education they need and deserve.