Problems facing poor inch into 2016 presidential race

In a presidential campaign where candidates are jockeying to be champions of the middle class and asking wealthy people for money, the problems facing the poor are inching into the debate. Tensions in places such as Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, have prompted candidates to explore the complicated relationship between poor communities and the police, and the deep-seated issues that have trapped many of the 45 million people who live in poverty in the United States. But addressing the long-running economic, education and security troubles in underprivileged neighborhoods is a challenge with few easily agreed upon solutions. A frustrated President Barack Obama challenged the nation to do

“some soul-searching”

after riots in Baltimore followed the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody.

There have been other deadly altercations between police and black men or boys in Ferguson, New York’s Staten Island, Cleveland and North Charleston, South Carolina. “I’m under no illusion that out of this Congress we’re going to get massive investments in urban communities,” Obama said.

“But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could.” To some of the Republicans running to replace Obama, his call for spending more money in poor areas underscores the problem with many current anti-poverty programs.

The GOP largely opposes new domestic spending and party officials often say federally run programs are bloated and inefficient. “At what point do you have to conclude that the top-down government poverty programs have failed?” said Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and expected presidential candidate.

“I think we need to be engaged in this debate as conservatives and say that there’s a bottom-up approach.” Republicans have struggled in recent years to overcome the perception that the party has little interest in the plight of the poor. Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, was criticized for saying he was

“not concerned about the very poor”

and that it was not his job to worry about the 47 percent of Americans who he said

“believe that government has a responsibility to care for them.” More than 60 percent of voters who made less than $30,000 per year backed Obama over Romney in that campaign, according to exit polls. Blacks and Hispanics, who overwhelmingly backed Obama in the past two presidential elections, are most likely to be poor.

According to the census, about 27 percent of blacks and 25 percent of Hispanics were poor in 2012, compared with 12.7 percent of whites. Bush has been among the most vocal Republicans discussing the need to lift the poor out of poverty and reduce income inequality, though he has yet to flesh out many of his policy proposals.

He has been most specific about the need for greater educational choices and opportunities.

He frequently cites his work in Florida, where he expanded charter schools, backed voucher programs and promoted high testing standards.

JULIE PACE AP White House Correspondent-WASHINGTON

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