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Poverty Must Become a Top Priority for All of Us

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Poverty -- the single most important factor in determining the well-being of a society as a whole -- has thus far been conspicuously absent from this presidential campaign. That's not necessarily surprising. The poor are less likely and less able to vote, and voter suppression efforts around the country are dangerously effective in sidelining the voters most sensitive to this issue.

But America's astonishing level of poverty -- the rates at which the number of poor are increasing, children are hungry, and Americans are without health care -- is one of the gravest threats to our nation. This is not just a problem for the poor; it is a problem for all of us.

Consider the following:

An astonishing 15.1 percent of Americans -- 46.2 million people -- are poor. That number is up from 43.6 million in 2009. Equally disturbing is that levels have increased every year for four consecutive years and are higher than they have been since 1960, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nationwide, 15 percent of Americans don't have enough money to buy food and even more are terrified that they will become unable to pay their rent or mortgage after their unemployment checks end or if they become sick. Safety nets for the most vulnerable people -- the jobless and their children -- continue to be dismantled.

In Michigan, The Kids Count project reveals that our state is on shaky ground. Many jobs here don't pay a livable wage, and one in four children is at risk of hunger and poverty. The impact of recession and years of cuts to the state's social safety net means Michigan ranks 33rd in education and 36th in economic security. In Detroit, hunger is a daily fact of life for nearly half of all children. By the third grade, hungry children have lower reading and math scores than children who are well fed.

Statistics like these belie the myth that any American who wants a decent job can find one. Many jobs now offer very unsustainable wages. Our nation's poverty has become embedded in the fabric of our society. As a constant in our lives, it's too easy to shrug away poverty as a sad fact of life. But it is not -- it is the byproduct of a vast disparity between social classes in our nation, and one that threatens to destabilize all of us.

Yet even with a presidential campaign in full swing, poverty has not been on the radar screens of the candidates or the national media. During one primary presidential debate, not a single candidate spoke out after an audience member shouted that when an American is sick and without health insurance we should "let him die."

Communities and nonprofit organizations are mobilizing to improve the lives and livelihoods of our neighbors, but we cannot do it alone. Yes, it takes a community response, but the war on poverty must become a national priority, one that enables us to achieve a livable wage, health care and a safety net for all Americans, regardless of race or gender.

Only then will we be truly be a strong nation -- one capable of withstanding challenges and growing together toward a healthy, productive future.

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.

HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at the persistence of poverty in America August 29th and September 5th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.