About Spotlight

Updated February 2, 2009

Barack Obama – Campaign Positions on Poverty and Economic Opportunity:

During the 2008 campaign season, President Barack Obama outlined his plans to fight poverty and promote economic opportunity for American families. The following is a general overview of some of Barack Obama’s proposed policies with links to pertinent campaign speeches, proposals and nonpartisan third-party analysis of his stance on the issues that affect low-income Americans.

To read the Administration's policy position on poverty, click here.

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity does not take positions on legislation.


Early in 2008, during a televised event sponsored by Faith in Public Life and CNN, Barack Obama was asked if he would commit to “cutting poverty in half in 10 years.”   In response, he said:

“I absolutely will make that commitment…Understand that when I make that commitment, I do so with great humility because it is a very ambitious goal. And we’re going to have to mobilize our society not just to cut poverty, but to prevent more people from slipping into poverty…”  (Barack Obama. Democratic Candidates Compassion Forum, Grantham Pa. April 13, 2008). 

In a speech a month later in Grand Rapids, Mich, Obama recommitted to this target and announced that it “is a goal that I will set as president of the United States of America.” (Barack Obama, Speech: Grand Rapids, Mich. May 14, 2008) 

In October, the Obama campaign released a plan to fight hunger in America, including a pledge that Obama would “strengthen and expand nutrition assistance programs and commit to ending childhood hunger by 2015.” (Obama and Biden: Tackling Domestic Hunger (pdf), November 2, 2008) The Obama plan included a proposal to improve access and participation in school meals programs by automatically enrolling poor children who are already participating in other federally funded health and nutrition programs. Obama pledged to work with Congress to create a Child Nutrition and Women, Infants and Children program reauthorization bill.  The Obama campaign also noted that the $25 billion State Growth Fund proposed by Obama earlier in the year would include a temporary boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and prevent state and local cuts to critical support programs for low-income families. To read more about the State Growth Fund and the Obama Emergency Economic Plan, click here.

In August 2008, the Democratic Party released its policy platform and echoed Barack Obama’s commitment to reduce poverty in America. The platform stated that by “Working together, we can cut poverty in half within ten years.” The Democrats continued by declaring that “the fight against poverty must be a national priority.” (Democratic National Platform: Renewing America’s Promise (pdf), page 15 - 16, August 2008).

The Democratic Party adopted most of Barack Obama’s campaign proposals including a pledge to “expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation” (Democratic National Platform: Renewing America’s Promise (pdf), page 15, August 2008). 

To read the Democratic Party platform in its entirety, click here (pdf).


Economic Crisis

In the final months before the election, Barack Obama addressed the economic crisis by pledging to help moderate- and low-income families struggling to make ends meet. In a speech delivered in September, Obama said, “We don't just need a plan for bankers and investors, we need a plan for autoworkers and teachers and small business owners…we need to pass an economic stimulus plan right now for working families – a plan that will help folks cope with rising food and gas prices, save one million jobs by rebuilding our schools and roads, and help states and cities avoid budget cuts and tax increases. A plan that would extend expiring unemployment benefits for those Americans who've lost their jobs and cannot find new ones.” (Barack Obama. Speech: Westminster, Colo. September 29, 2008)

To read more about Obama’s Emergency Economic Plan, click here (pdf).


Poverty Measurement

The Obama campaign released a statement announcing Obama’s support for developing a new federal measure of poverty.  In an interview with a Congressional Quarterly blog, “Beyond the Dome,” campaign spokesperson Nick Shapiro said “Senator Obama believes that we should modernize the federal poverty guidelines to more accurately reflect the costs of living and the economic pressures on American families. Without an accurate measure of poverty and economic insecurity in America, we will not be able to fully tackle the effects of these problems on our children and families.” (Congressional Quarterly: Beyond the Dome. “Obama Endorses Calls for New Federal Poverty Measure.”July 18, 2008)


Tax Policy

During his address at the Democratic National Convention, Obama pledged to “cut taxes – for 95 percent of all working families.  Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.” (Barack Obama. Speech: Denver, Colo. August 28, 2008)

In October 2008, Obama expanded on a key guiding principle behind his proposed tax cuts. He said “We don't mind people getting enormously wealthy because of their skills and their talents and their drive. But we always want to make sure that the playing field is such where everybody who's got a good idea has a chance to succeed… And in that sense, that does involve us spreading around opportunity.” (Chicago-Sun Times Blog. “The Scoop From Washington” October 22, 2008)

This statement came on the heels of a previous exchange between Obama and Toledo, Ohio voter Joe Wurzelbacher (“Joe the Plumber”). According to an ABC News transcript, Obama said “My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s going to be good for everybody…and right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody." (Political Punch. “Spread the Wealth?” October 14, 2008)

Throughout the course of his campaign, Obama explained the details of his tax plan and how it would provide opportunity for middle- and low-income Americans.  Early in his candidacy, he proposed expanding the number of working parents eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), increasing benefits for families with three or more children and reducing the EITC marriage penalty. In a major speech aimed at fighting urban poverty, Obama pledged to “triple the Earned Income Tax Credit for full-time workers making the minimum wage.” (Barack Obama.  Speech: Washington, D.C. July 18, 2007)

Obama also committed to cutting taxes for working families by establishing a “Making Work Pay” tax credit.  In a speech delivered in May, Obama said “We need to stop giving tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, and put a tax cut in the pockets of middle class Americans. That’s why I’ve proposed a ‘Making Work Pay’ tax credit of up to $500 for workers, and $1,000 for working families.  This will cut taxes for 150 million Americans.  It will help you deal with rising costs, and give our economy a boost by easing the burden on Main Street.” (Barack Obama. Speech: Beaverton, Ore. May 9, 2008)

The Obama campaign also expects the “Making Work Pay” tax credit to assist small business owners with their payments of the employer and employee segments of the payroll tax.

To help families build wealth, Obama proposed a refundable Savings Credit for low- and middle-income Americans earning less that $75,000, which would match 50 percent of the first $1,000 of their savings.  Obama also proposed reforming another tax credit aimed at low-income families – the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.  As president, Obama said he would make the credit refundable. In a speech he delivered in June aimed at working women, he pledged to “expand the Child and Dependent Care tax credit, so that working families can receive up to a 50 percent credit for their child care expenses.” (Barack Obama. Speech: Albuquerque, N.M. June 23, 2008)

During the campaign, Obama also aimed his proposed tax reforms at another vulnerable group – seniors. The Obama campaign proposed to abolish income taxes for seniors earning less than $50,000 per year. (Barack Obama: Fighting Poverty and Creating a Bridge to the Middle Class (pdf), July 7, 2008)

Obama pledged to extend specific provisions of the 2001-2003 tax cuts that will expire in 2010, including one that lowered the tax bracket from 15 percent to 10 percent and another that reduced the marriage penalty. (Barack Obama’s Comprehensive Tax Plan (pdf), page 5)



Obama unveiled a two-part Emergency Economic Plan on August 1, 2008 that includes a $1,000 rebate for working families paid for by a tax on oil companies.  In his announcement, Obama said “This rebate will be enough to offset the increased cost of gas for a working family over the next 4 months.” (Barack Obama. Speech: St. Petersburg, Fla.) To read more about Obama’s plan, click here (pdf).



As part of his Emergency Economic Plan, Obama announced a $50 billion stimulus to help prevent job cuts by strained state governments and create new jobs by investing in the highway trust fund and projects to improve the national infrastructure.  (Barack Obama. Jump start the Economy. November 3, 2008)

Obama pledged $1 billion over five years to fund transitional jobs and career pathways programs to help low-income Americans. Obama’s transitional jobs program would include temporary, subsidized wage-paying jobs to provide necessary skills to participants before they transition into a public or private sector job. The program would also provide mentoring and social services to offer a more comprehensive assistance. (Barack Obama: Fighting Poverty and Creating a Bridge to theMiddle Class (pdf), page 1)

The Obama plan would also raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011 and “…will index the minimum wage to inflation so that it goes up each year to keep pace with rising costs.” (Barack Obama. Speech: Albuquerque, N.M. June 23, 2008)


Health Care

Obama committed to passing a health care plan that would provide insurance coverage for every American, if they choose to participate.  In a speech to Democratic governors, Obama said “My plan would not only guarantee that every uninsured American could get the same kind of health care that Members of Congress give themselves, it would bring down premiums by $2,500 for the typical family, and bring down costs for the entire country by making our health care system more efficient through better technology and more emphasis on prevention.” (Barack Obama. Speech: Chicago.  June 20, 2008)

The proposed plan would mandate coverage for every American child. Additionally, Obama promised to expand eligibility requirements for Medicaid and SCHIP programs for children of low-income families. (Barack Obama: A Champion for Children (pdf), page 1)



Obama supports efforts such as the “STEP UP” program, which provide summer learning and enrichment opportunities for low-income students.  The program aims to fight the achievement gap between low-income or minority students and white and middle-income children. (Barack Obama: Fighting Poverty and Creating a Bridge to the Middle Class (pdf), page 5)

Obama also proposed a fully refundable tax credit to pay for the first $4,000 of college tuition for most Americans. Named the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Obama campaign expects this tax reform to cover two-thirds of the tuition for a public college or university. (Barack Obama’s Economic Agenda (pdf), page 2)



As part of his plan to fight urban poverty, Obama proposed creating an Affordable Housing Trust Fund “… that would add as many as 112,000 new affordable units in mixed income neighborhoods.” (Barack Obama.  Speech: Washington, D.C.  July 18, 2007) The Obama campaign also announced plans to “fully fund” the Community Development Block Grant program.  

To address the mortgage crisis, Obama proposed creating a $10 billion Foreclosure Prevention Fund to help borrowers refinance their mortgages. According to the Obama campaign platform, the fund would help “low-income borrowers get additional time and support to pay back any losses from the sale of their homes and [waive] certain state and local income taxes that result from an individual selling his home to avoid foreclosure.”  (Barack Obama: Fighting Poverty and Creating a Bridge to the Middle Class (pdf), page 6)


Proposed Offices and Agencies

Obama announced plans to create a White House Office on Urban Policy to be led by a director who would report to the president. According to the Obama campaign, the director would work with federal agencies, community and business leaders to support effective community and economic development programs in metropolitan areas around the country.

In a speech before the East Side Community Ministry in Zanesville, Ohio, Obama announced his plans to build a partnership with faith-based organizations around the country that would address specifically address poverty in America.(Barack Obama. Speech: Zanesville, Ohio, July 1, 2008)

Earlier in the year, during a televised debate sponsored by Faith in Public Life and CNN, Obama stated that the mission of his administration’s office would not be “…to simply build a particular faith community. The faith-based initiatives should be targeted specifically at the issue of poverty and how to lift people up."  (Barack Obama. Democratic Candidates Compassion Forum: Grantham Pa. April13, 2008). 


Urban Poverty

In June 2008, Obama addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors where he discussed his commitment to fighting concentrated poverty in America’s cities. While outlining the major points of his urban poverty program, Obama expressed his intention to “create public-private business incubators to open up economic opportunity…fully fund the COPS program, restore funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, and recruit more teachers to our cities, and pay them more, and give them more support.” 

Later in the address, Obama reiterated his commitment to creating an Office of Urban Policy.  He said, “As President I’ll work with you to develop this kind of strategy and I’ll appoint the first White House Director of Urban Policy to help make it a reality.”  (Barack Obama. Speech: Miami. (pdf) June 21, 2008.)

The Obama campaign also pledged to create 20 “Promise Neighborhoods” in cities across the country, modeling New York’s widely acclaimed Harlem Children’s Zone. To read more about Obama’s proposed policy to fight urban poverty, click here.


Rural Poverty

During the campaign, Obama outlined a plan to combat rural poverty.  Among his proposals, Obama proposed to develop the telecommunications capacity of rural America for communities lacking in high-speed Internet or other modern technologies. Obama also proposed improving the infrastructure of rural regions by investing in water and sewer systems and supporting small city airports. To read more about Obama’s plan for rural America, click here.


Gulf Coast Rebuilding

More than three years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, the Obama campaign released a platform to help rebuild the region. The plan stated that as president, Obama would work with state officials to “establish a goal for approving all Road Home applications within two months.” (Barack Obama and Joe Biden: Rebuilding the Gulf Coast and Preventing Future Catastrophes (pdf), page 3) The outline also included a plan to reinvigorate economic development in the region. Among the proposed items, the Obama campaign announced plans to aim tax incentives at the hardest-hit areas to entice businesses to invest in the region. To read more about Obama’s plan to rebuild the Gulf Coast, click here (pdf).

More Resources on Barack Obama’s Positions on Poverty and Economic Opportunity:

o  Tackling Poverty and Inequality in America (pdf) by Barack Obama,                                                     An Essay in Pathways, a publication of the Stanford Center for the study of Poverty and Inequality.

o  Democratic National Platform, Renewing America’s Promise(pdf) August 2008

o  Answersto Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity questions                                         

          Click here to view Barack Obama’s response to our five Spotlight questions


o  Issue Statements and Policy Positions:

·               Barack Obama: A Champion for Children (pdf)

·               Barack Obama’s Comprehensive Tax Plan (pdf)

·               Barack Obama’s Economic Agenda (pdf)

·               BarackObama’s Emergency Economic Plan (pdf)

·              Barack Obama and Joe Biden: Rebuilding the Gulf Coast and Preventing         Future Catastrophes (pdf)

·               Fighting Poverty and Creating a Bridge to the Middle Class (pdf)

·               Obamaand Biden: Tackling Domestic Hunger (pdf)

·               Real Leadership for Rural America (pdf)

·               Supporting Urban Prosperity (pdf)


o  Interviews and Remarks (as prepared for delivery):

·      September 29, 2008, Remarks of Senator Barack Obama, Westminster, Colo.

·      August 28, 2008: Remarks of Senator Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention, Denver Colo.

·      August 1, 2008: Town Hallon the Economy, St. Petersburg, Fla.

·      July 14, 2008: Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: 99th Annual Convention of the NAACP.Cincinnati, Ohio.

·      July 1, 2008: Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Zanesville, Ohio.

·      June 23, 2008: Discussion with Working Women, Albuquerque, N.M.

·      June 21, 2008: A Metropolitan Strategy for America’s Future, Miami, Fla. (pdf)

·      June 20, 2008: Economic Roundtable with Democratic Governors, Chicago, Ill.

·      May 14, 2008: Remarks of Senator Barack Obama and John Edwards, Grand Rapids, Mich.

·      May 9, 2008: Economic Discussion, Beaverton, Ore.

·      April 13, 2008: Democratic Candidates Compassion Forum, Grantham, Pa.

·      March 18, 2008: A More Perfect Union, Philadelphia, Pa.  

·      September 18, 2007: Tax Fairness for the Middle Class, Washington D.C.

·      July 18, 2007: Changing the Odds for Urban America, Washington, D.C.

·      May 5, 2007: Remarks of Senator Barack Obama to the National Conference of Black Mayors, Baton Rouge, LA


o  Key News Articles and Analysis

·      Congressional Quarterly: Beyond the Dome. “Obama Endorses Calls for New Federal Poverty Measure.”July 18, 2008.

·      Wall Street Journal. “The Obama Tax Plan” August 14, 2008.

By Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee, senior campaign advisors 

·      An Updated Analysis of the 2008 Presidential Candidates’ Tax Plans

Tax Policy Center, August 28, 2008 

·      Chicago-SunTimes Blog. “The Scoop From Washington” October 22, 2008 

·      Political Punch, “Spread the Wealth?” October 14, 2008 

To view select video clips, click here and go to the Obama-Biden window.