The Issues

Pandemic Response

Pandemic Response

Boston Globe via Getty Images

This year, the election is happening in the midst of a worldwide health crisis. As the coronavirus pandemic has continued to spread, it has changed daily life for people around the globe. Millions of people have been infected with the deadly virus—and more of those cases have been in the U.S. than any other country. Millions of Americans stayed home for weeks this spring to stay safe and help contain the virus. But cases surged in many states this summer after businesses that closed to stop the spread of the virus started to reopen.

Health officials say that without strong plan to contain the coronavirus—and ultimately a vaccine for it—the virus will continue to spread. They stress how important it is for people to wear face masks, wash their hands frequently, and practice social distancing. Meanwhile, Americans want to hear what the candidates plan to do to help stop the virus and safely reopen businesses and schools.

Voters also want to know how candidates plan to prevent other dangerous diseases from spreading around the world in the future. Public health officials have concluded that the risk of a devastating pandemic has grown in recent decades. One big reason, they say, is that the world has become increasingly connected, especially by air travel. To prevent the next pandemic, many experts say, nations worldwide must devote more money and resources to their public health systems. Developing new vaccines should also be a top priority. More medical staff need to be trained. And more supplies need to be stockpiled so they don’t run out in a crisis. In the upcoming election, Americans will likely want to hear how the candidates will take on such challenges.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a devastating global health crisis. Midway through 2020, hundreds of thousands of people had died from the virus worldwide, and the U.S. continued to have more cases than any other nation. As Covid-19 infections continue to spread uncontrolled in states across the U.S., the pandemic response has become one of the most important issues in this year’s presidential election. Voters want to know what candidates plan to do to finally end this health crisis—and prevent another one from happening in the future.

                                                           

Containing the Coronavirus


The coronavirus has infected millions of people worldwide. About a quarter of all known infections and deaths have been in the U.S.

Early in the U.S. outbreak, President Donald Trump restricted most travel from countries where the virus was spreading quickly. Since then, he has focused on the fast development of a vaccine for the virus. Overall, however, he has largely left it up to individual states to oversee their responses to the coronavirus.

Many state leaders have requested assistance from the federal government. In some areas, medical workers have not had enough supplies to treat patients safely and hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients. Testing for the virus has been slow and inadequate, experts say.

At the same time, in an effort to boost the struggling economy, many states that had been temporarily shut down have moved to reopen quickly, something the president has encouraged. Health experts have continued to caution that reopening too early could lead to new outbreaks. Indeed, many states that reopened businesses have seen a dangerous spike in cases. Some states have had to pause their reopening plans as cases mounted.

Many health officials warn that without the development of a strong, coordinated federal plan to contain the coronavirus—as well as the development of a vaccine—the virus will continue to spread. They stress how important it is for people to wear face masks, wash their hands frequently, and practice social distancing. Meanwhile, Americans want to know what candidates will do to contain the virus once and for all—and safely reopen the economy.


Preventing Future Pandemics


Public health officials have concluded that the risk of a devastating pandemic has grown in recent decades, as the world has become increasingly connected. To prevent the next infectious-disease crisis, many experts say, the U.S. and other countries need to start treating pandemic preparedness with the same seriousness as threats such as war, which has historically not been the case.

They say nations must better fund and equip their public health systems. Developing new vaccines should be a top priority. More medical staff need to be trained to combat pandemics. And supplies must be stockpiled so they don’t run out in a crisis. It is also critical to develop and maintain systems worldwide that can rapidly detect and contain viruses, experts add.

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, nearly 80 percent of Americans say the spread of infectious disease is a major threat to the U.S. In the leadup to the upcoming election, they will likely want to hear how candidates will confront the problem.

Words to Know:

pandemic (noun) an outbreak of a disease that spreads quickly and affects many people in different areas or around the world

vaccine (noun) a substance given to people or animals (usually as a shot) to protect them against a particular disease

social distancing (noun) the practice of limiting physical contact with other people as much as possible

Words to Know:

pandemic (noun) an outbreak of a disease that spreads quickly and affects many people in different areas or around the world

economy (noun) a system for making, buying, selling, and distributing products and services within a country, region, or industry

social distancing (noun) the practice of limiting physical contact with other people as much as possible

Racial Justice

Racial Justice

Protesters gather at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., on June 4.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The long history of unjust treatment of Black people in America has become a major focus of this election. Two current crises—police killings of Black Americans and the coronavirus pandemic—have highlighted just how widespread the problem is.

Recent incidents of police using deadly force against Black people have sparked historic civil rights demonstrations nationwide. Since last spring, many millions of Americans have marched in the streets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The public gatherings began after a Black man named George Floyd was killed while in police custody. He died after a white officer pinned him to the ground by his neck for more than eight minutes. Individuals and civil rights groups have since joined together in demanding an end to the long history of bias and brutality against Black people by law enforcement.

Another form of racial injustice is wealth inequality. White families have an average of nearly 10 times the wealth of Black families. Why? A key reason is racism. Centuries of racist practices, laws, and attitudes have prevented many Black people from gaining access to good schools and high-paying jobs, as well as from owning homes. Quality education, good jobs, and home ownership allow people to build wealth and pass it on to their children.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought this problem of injustice into sharp focus. Research shows that people of color are contracting the virus and dying of it at the highest rates. That’s in large part because Black and Latinx people work in lower-paid service industry jobs, such as food service and health care, at greater rates than white people. Those jobs have been considered extremely important during the pandemic. Many people who do them can’t afford to lose their jobs, so they’ve continued to work even though doing so puts their health at risk. 

In this election, the candidates will be answering questions about how they plan to address racial injustice in America.  

Racial injustice in America has become a major focus of this election as historic crises highlight just how widespread the problem is. Earlier this year, in response to the killing of multiple Black people by the police, mass demonstrations broke out across the country—and the world—with protesters calling for an end to the long history of racial bias and brutality against Black Americans by law enforcement. The ongoing demonstrations amount to the largest protest movement ever in American history. At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic has heavily underscored inequalities that persist between Black and white Americans.

A recent CNN poll shows that a majority of Americans—67 percent—feel racism is a big problem in the U.S. In this election, candidates will be answering questions about how they plan to address racial injustice in America.  


Bias in Criminal Justice


Racial injustice is a serious problem in our criminal justice system. Earlier this year, demonstrations objecting to injustice and violence against Black Americans by the police grew to a historic level. Protesters took to the streets in more than a hundred cities nationwide after George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, died while in police custody. Floyd was handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white officer who used his knee to press on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, killing him.

Bystanders filmed the arrest on their phones and posted the footage on social media. Amid widespread fury over the killing of other Black Americans at the hands of police, the videos sparked outrage and protests worldwide in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. (The movement seeks to stop the violence inflicted on Black communities by law enforcement and others, as well as to end white supremacy.)

Across the country, calls have sharply increased for officers everywhere to be held accountable for their actions and for an end to racial profiling (the discriminatory practice of targeting people as criminal suspects based on their race or ethnicity) and police brutality.

Indeed, a large body of research suggests that racial bias has long played a role in policing across the nation. For example, government statistics show that Black people are more likely than white people to be the victims of force—or the threat of force—by the police. Data compiled by a group that tracks police killings nationwide show that Black Americans are three times as likely as white Americans to be killed by the police—even though Black people make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population. Other research has shown that African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested, convicted, and given lengthy prison sentences for similar crimes.

Since the protests began, some city, state, and federal officials have moved to enact laws and policies to reduce the use of force by officers and to make it easier to hold police accountable for illegal acts. There also are now widespread calls to cut police budgets and put the money toward government services such as education, health care, and housing—and to utilize social workers and other community outreach professionals with special training in resolving crises to address some calls that police now respond to.


Addressing Economic Injustice


Another form of racial injustice is wealth inequality. White families have an average of nearly ten times the overall wealth that Black families do. And more than twice as many African Americans live in poverty as whites.

How did racial economic inequality become a problem? The driving force has been racism. Centuries of racist practices, laws, policies, and attitudes have prevented many Black people from gaining access to good schools and high-wage jobs and from owning homes—all of which allow people to build wealth and pass it down from generation to generation.

In recent months, the coronavirus has brought the impact of economic racism into sharp focus. Data show that people of color are contracting and dying of the virus at the highest rates. One reason: Many Black and Latinx people are disproportionately represented in lower-paid jobs in the service sector, including food service and health care. Such jobs have been considered essential during the pandemic. That means the people who do them were told to continue working, even when most Americans were advised to stay home to avoid getting sick. Many such workers can’t afford to lose their paychecks, so they’ve continued to do their jobs even though doing so puts their health at risk. High-wage workers, who are disproportionately white, are much more likely to be able to work from home, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Potential solutions to the problem of economic racism are wide-ranging. People are calling for the strengthening and better enforcement of civil rights laws. Many leaders also want to ensure that all Americans have access to good and affordable education opportunities, child care, health care, and housing—policies they say will help people of color the most.

Words to Know:

unjust (adjective) unfair

pandemic (noun) an outbreak of a disease that spreads quickly and affects many people in different areas or around the world

civil rights (noun) guarantees of equal opportunities and protections under the law

bias (noun) a personal opinion that influences someone’s work, actions, or thoughts

brutality (noun) cruel, harsh, and usually violent treatment of another person

racism (noun) unfair treatment of people based on their race

Words to Know:

bias (noun) a personal opinion that influences someone’s work, actions, or thoughts

criminal justice system (noun) police, courts, and other groups that investigate crimes and work to arrest and punish criminals

federal (adjective) relating to the national government

civil rights (noun) guarantees of equal opportunities and protections under the law

Economy

Economy

Shutterstock/Piotr Szczepanek

A main concern of every president is the strength of the United States economy. An economy is the system in which goods and services are made, bought, and sold in a country. When more people are working, the whole economy gets a boost. Why? When more people are working, there are more people who can spend more money—which in turn helps businesses grow and create more jobs. That’s why the level of U.S. unemployment (the number of Americans who are out of work and looking for work) is an important sign of our economy’s health. Without jobs, people struggle to support themselves and their families—and the overall economy gets weaker.          

For the most part, the number of unemployed Americans had been dropping over the past 10 years. By this past February, the number of people who were unemployed was very low—just under 6 million. But the coronavirus pandemic quickly changed that. Last spring, most businesses nationwide temporarily closed to prevent the spread of the virus. Millions of people lost their jobs as a result. Other workers lost their jobs because businesses weren’t making as much money and cut staff. By the end of June, nearly 18 million Americans were unemployed.  

Health experts say that the coronavirus must be better contained for businesses to reopen safely. Indeed, after businesses across the U.S. slowly began to reopen this spring and summer, dangerous spikes in cases of the virus occurred in many states. Overall, it remains to be seen how fully many businesses will bounce back. Meanwhile, millions of American workers continue to face a problem they had before the spread of Covid-19. Their pay hasn’t increased much in years—even as many businesses have made record profits.

Americans want to know how candidates plan to address the continuing economic crisis, strengthen the nation’s economy for the years to come, and make sure everyone is paid fairly.

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the U.S. economy. Last spring, most businesses nationwide temporarily closed to prevent the spread of the new virus. Tens of millions of people lost their jobs as a result.

In an effort to boost the economy, many states that had been temporarily shut down have moved quickly to reopen, something President Donald Trump has encouraged. Health experts have continued to caution that reopening too early could lead to new outbreaks. Indeed, many states that reopened businesses have seen a dangerous spike in cases. Some states have had to pause their reopening plans as cases mounted.

How to revive the nation’s economy safely has become one of the biggest issues in this election. Though that is a central focus of millions of voters, many are also concerned with other economic issues, including who should pay the most taxes and growing economic inequality in the U.S. 


Rebuilding the Economy


Before the pandemic, the U.S. economy was very strong. It had expanded for a record 10 years in a row. When an economy is growing, unemployment is low, workers are more productive, business profits rise, and people spend more money. Now the economy is in its worst downturn in roughly a century.

The federal government has provided trillions of dollars in economic aid to Americans and businesses during the pandemic crisis. That aid has helped many families to afford food and rent and companies to stay in business. Still, many officials say much more assistance is needed. In early August, Congress was debating another aid package.

Moreover, health experts and many elected officials say the U.S. government must implement a comprehensive national plan to contain the coronavirus in order for businesses to safely reopen and for the economy to begin to rebound. They are calling for much more widespread testing and contact tracing—finding the individual contacts of people who have become infected so those contacts can isolate themselves. Health experts also say additional protective equipment for medical workers and others is urgently needed.

Even once most businesses have been allowed to resume normal operations, many experts expect the economy to rebound slowly. Some businesses won’t reopen at all, and others will struggle to stay in business. State and local governments will face severe budget shortfalls. Many job losses will be permanent. Some leaders have proposed undertaking major infrastructure projects—improving America’s transportation systems, for example—to create new jobs and strengthen the economy for the long term.


Economic Inequality


Economic inequality is a growing problem in the U.S. A big reason is income inequality. Over the past few decades, the incomes of America’s highest earners have increased significantly. Meanwhile, wages for average workers haven’t risen meaningfully.

One much-discussed proposed solution to this is to increase the federal minimum wage, which has not gone up in more than 10 years. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Some cities and states have higher minimums. Recently, there has been a campaign to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. A recent Pew Research Center poll showed that two-thirds of Americans are in favor of that.


Taxes


Taxes—and how much to cut or increase them—are often a big part of the discussion about strengthening the economy. Tax cuts are frequently proposed as a way to increase the amount of money people and businesses have to spend and invest. In 2017, President Trump signed into law a huge tax bill that cut taxes for most Americans as well as businesses. The law has been criticized for giving the largest share of the tax breaks to big corporations and people with high incomes.

Meanwhile, tax increases on the wealthiest Americans and large corporations are also frequently proposed. People who favor this approach say that money from such increases could, for example, help pay for programs that would make education and health care more affordable or even free for many Americans. Critics of increasing taxes on the wealthy say such a plan would be hard to implement and wouldn’t raise as much money as its supporters think. A Reuters/Ipsos poll from January shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans support taxing the richest Americans to fund public programs.

Words to Know:

pandemic (noun) an outbreak of a disease that spreads quickly and affects many people in different areas or around the world

profits (noun) the amount of money that remains after all the costs of running a business have been  subtracted from all the money earned

Words to Know:

economy (noun) a system for making, buying, selling, and distributing products and services within a country, region, or industry

inequality (noun) an unfair situation in which some people have more than others

taxes (noun) money paid to the government, usually based on income or purchases, that is mostly used to pay for public services

federal (adjective) relating to the national government

infrastructure (noun) public facilities such as roads and bridges

minimum wage (noun) the lowest hourly rate an employer can legally pay most workers

Health Care

Health Care

Getty Images

Health care is the medical care people receive to treat illness or injuries—or simply to stay healthy. But visiting a doctor can be expensive. So most Americans purchase health insurance to help pay their medical bills. Workers typically get health insurance through their employers, who help pay for its cost. But some companies don’t offer health insurance, and many people struggle to afford it on their own.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how essential access to affordable health care is. Millions of people across the U.S. have been infected by the virus.  Nearly 29 million Americans didn’t have health insurance before the pandemic began. Now that a record number of people have lost their jobs, the number of Americans without health insurance is increasing.

The last major change to the U.S. health-care system took place a decade ago, when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. It has helped millions of Americans get health insurance. The law requires large businesses to offer health-care coverage to their employees. It also provides options that are more affordable for people who have to pay for health insurance on their own. But the law has been criticized for being too costly. Many people still have a hard time affording health insurance.

Even before the pandemic, health care was a major concern among voters. Now people in this country see it as even more important. This fall, voters will be looking carefully at how candidates say they will help Americans afford the care they need to stay healthy.

The debate over health care is one of the most heated in American politics. The coronavirus pandemic has only increased the importance of the issue. Millions of people in the U.S. have been infected by the virus, hundreds of thousands have required hospitalization, and more than 150,000 have died. The crisis has highlighted the vital importance of access to affordable medical care.

Even before the pandemic, health care was a major concern among voters. Tens of millions of Americans lack health insurance, which helps people pay their medical bills. And many people who do have it are worried about its rising cost. This fall, voters will be looking carefully at how candidates say they will help Americans afford medical care—for their own health and safety and for society’s well-being.


The State of U.S. Health Insurance


Health insurance is how most Americans pay the bulk of their medical bills, which can be very costly. (For example, the average cost of a three-day hospital stay is about $30,000, according to the federal government.) About 55 percent of Americans get health insurance through their employers, U.S. Census data reveals. Most others (including older and low-income Americans) get insurance through government-run programs. Regardless, most Americans must pay for their insurance, which is sold by private companies.  

But for many Americans, health insurance is too expensive, so they go without it. If people who lack health insurance require medical treatment, they sometimes go into deep debt from medical bills. For that reason, uninsured people sometimes put off going to the doctor, even when not going threatens their own health—or the health of others. Getting medical treatment is essential to helping stop the spread of a communicable disease, like Covid-19.

The last major change to the U.S. health care system happened a decade ago. At the time, about 50 million people in the U.S.—about 16 percent of the population—didn’t have health insurance, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Getting insurance was not possible for many Americans because the prices were extremely high—unless they were offered a plan through an employer. Also, anyone with a known medical condition (such as diabetes or cancer) could be charged more for health insurance or denied coverage altogether. 

As a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a federal law passed in 2010, the number of uninsured Americans dropped by about 40 percent. The ACA helped make private insurance more affordable for individuals and required insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions—without charging them more. A 2020 Gallup poll shows that the ACA is supported by a slight majority of Americans—52 percent—but it has been criticized for being too costly for some people.


Ideas to Improve Health Insurance


Since the ACA was passed, Republicans in Congress have tried repeatedly to repeal all or part of it. Currently, President Donald Trump, along with several Republican-led states, is challenging the law in court. Republicans have said they want to replace the ACA with something better, but so far have not put forth a formal plan.

Other lawmakers are focused on updating the ACA to improve it. One idea is to create a new health care plan that anyone could purchase, called a public option, which would be run by the government rather than by a private insurance company. Some leaders have also proposed expanding government-run programs to cover more people.

  Meanwhile, the most far-reaching proposal to fix the U.S. health care system, often called Medicare for All, would both replace the ACA and eliminate the private insurance industry entirely. Instead, the U.S. government would guarantee free or low-cost health care for all Americans and pay their medical bills, mostly with money from taxes. Some people believe Medicare for All would be too costly for the nation and too big a change to the American health care system. But others argue that health care is a basic human right that should be provided to all by the government. They sometimes point out that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t offer some form of universal health care.

Words to Know:

pandemic (noun) an outbreak of a disease that spreads quickly and affects many people in different areas or around the world

Words to Know:

federal (adjective) relating to the national government

industrialized nation (noun) a country that has a highly developed economy and advanced technologies

universal health care (noun) a system in which all residents of a nation have easy access to free or affordable health services

Climate Change

Climate Change

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Climate change—the gradual shift in Earth’s average temperature and weather patterns—has become a growing concern around the world. Scientists say climate change is causing sea levels to rise and will lead to more extreme weather events, such as droughts, wildfires, and heavy rain.

Climate change is largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels—such as oil, coal, and natural gas—to power factories, homes, and cars. That releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. Such gases collect in the atmosphere, trapping the sun’s heat close to Earth’s surface. As a result, the planet’s average temperature is increasing. To combat climate change, experts say countries have to sharply reduce the use of fossil fuels.

In recent years, concerns over climate change have sparked protests worldwide. Many of the demonstrations have been led by young people. Students in the United States and elsewhere have skipped school to take part in climate protests to show leaders how urgent they believe this problem is. Many voters want to hear how leaders plan to confront climate change as threats caused by it grow.

Americans have become increasingly concerned about climate change. According to a 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of Americans say climate change is a major threat to the country, up from 44 percent in 2009.

Scientists worldwide warn that the effects of climate change present a clear danger to the planet. A 2018 United Nations (U.N.) report notes that many areas of the world are threatened by rising sea levels. If global temperatures continue to rise, scientists warn, the number of extreme weather events, such as droughts, wildfires, and heavy rainfall, will increase.

Concerns over climate change have sparked protest movements worldwide, many led by young people. Students in the United States and elsewhere have taken part in school climate strikes and other demonstrations to show leaders how urgent they believe this problem is. Many voters want leaders to act to address climate change as the threats caused by it grow. 


Reducing Emissions


Climate change is chiefly caused by the burning of fossil fuels—such as oil, coal, and natural gas—to power factories, homes, and cars. That releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. Such gases collect in the atmosphere, trapping the sun’s heat close to Earth’s surface. As a result, the planet’s average temperature is increasing.

The U.N. report warns that if Earth’s temperature keeps rising, damage may be “irreversible.” The world’s countries must drastically lower the levels of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, the report concludes. How? By sharply reducing the use of fossil fuels and switching to renewable resources such as wind and solar power. The goal, the U.N. says, must be to effectively bring carbon emissions down to zero by 2050. Some countries have pledged to do that. The U.S. has not.

Last year, President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of a 2015 pact signed by more than 170 nations that aims, among other things, to effectively eliminate greenhouse gases by the second half of the century. Citing concerns about costs to businesses and consumers, he has also rolled back many regulations that limit the amount of greenhouse gases that industries, businesses, and vehicles can produce. Experts have said Trump’s changes could end up costing Americans more money, however. For example, lower fuel efficiency standards for vehicles will require Americans to buy more gas. Also, experts say, these changes will lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, pollution that is bad for the planet—and people’s health.


Energy Production in the U.S.


Most energy in the U.S.—80 percent—is generated by burning fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The U.S. oil and natural gas industry has been booming in recent years as new technology has made it easier and cheaper to extract those fuels from the ground. A significant amount of U.S. fossil fuel production happens on federal lands and waters. President Trump wants to expand drilling on federal lands, saying it will help the U.S. economy and make the nation less dependent on oil from other nations.

But other people are demanding an end to drilling on federal lands, partly to help curb the use of fossil fuels. Some Americans are calling on the federal government to invest more money in renewable-energy research and development to help those technologies advance faster and become more common. Renewable energy is the fastest-growing energy source in the U.S., having increased 100 percent from 2000 to 2018, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Supporters say switching to renewable energy not only will help eliminate greenhouse gas emissions but also will create many new jobs.


Green New Deal


One of the most sweeping proposals to address climate change is called the Green New Deal. Outlined in 2019 by some members of Congress, it includes an ambitious goal for the U.S. to effectively eliminate carbon emissions by 2030.  

The plan involves upgrading the nation’s infrastructure so transportation and electrical power systems are powered by renewable sources instead of fossil fuels. It also calls for updating buildings to make them more energy-efficient. In addition, the Green New Deal aims to address other big problems in America, including income inequality, in part by creating good, secure jobs in industries like renewable energy.  

Some people have criticized the plan for being too broad and expensive. But many Americans support at least some of its main goals. A 2019 NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows that 63 percent of people in the U.S. support the federal government investing in a Green New Deal to create new “green” jobs and more Earth-friendly infrastructure. Some lawmakers and other officials have announced their own proposals, which have similar purposes but different specific goals.

Words to Know:

fossil fuels (noun) coal, oil, and natural gas formed from the remains of prehistoric plants and animals

carbon dioxide (noun) a gas that is produced when certain fuels are burned and when people and animals breathe out

greenhouse gases (noun) gases that warm the atmosphere by trapping the sun’s heat close to Earth’s surface

demonstrations (noun) public displays of protest against a person or cause

Words to Know:

climate change (noun) a long-term change in Earth’s typical weather conditions, including warmer average global temperatures, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather events

fossil fuels (noun) coal, oil, and natural gas formed from the remains of prehistoric plants and animals

carbon dioxide (noun) a gas that is produced when certain fuels are burned and when people and animals breathe out

greenhouse gasses (noun) gasses that warm the atmosphere by trapping the sun’s heat close to Earth’s surface

renewable resources (noun) things that can be used as needed and are constantly being restored

federal (adjective) relating to the national government

infrastructure (noun) public facilities such as roads and bridges

Education

Education

Education is a major issue in this year’s election. One big reason for that is the rising cost of preschool and college. Preschool helps children succeed in kindergarten and beyond. But it is too expensive for many families to afford. And college costs have gone way up in recent years. Students often have to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to earn their diplomas—and they and their families end up in debt.

Public school in the United States is free for students in kindergarten through high school. It’s paid for by state and local governments. They fund it largely through taxes collected from residents. But most families and students have to pay for preschool and college out of their own pockets. Many people say taking away or lessening those costs would give more students access to education and better opportunities in life.

Another major issue Americans are concerned about when it comes to education is segregation—the separation of people by race. Segregation has been illegal in public schools in the U.S. for more than 65 years. Yet across the country, schools continue to be divided by race. They are also divided by income. These divisions have had a major impact on the quality of education that students receive.

Experts say the main reason schools today are divided by race and class is that neighborhoods are segregated—and most students attend public schools in their communities. Why is this? Centuries of racist laws, policies, and attitudes continue to influence where many people of color live and go to school, as well as the types of jobs available to them.

The effects of these differences can be devastating. Researchers have found that attending segregated schools is linked to lower levels of college success, of long-term employment, and of income for people of color.

In this election, voters want to hear how candidates plan to make sure that more students and families can afford more years of schooling—and all students go to good schools with diverse populations.

How to give all Americans a quality education is a major issue in this year’s election. Across the country, students have access to starkly different educational resources depending on the state, city, and even neighborhood in which they live. Those differences have huge implications for their long-term success in life. Some Americans want key changes to the country’s educational system, such as making college free for all students. There are also calls to guarantee that all students can attend good public schools with diverse populations—and to help attract and retain talented educators by increasing teacher pay.


High College Costs


In recent years, the price of higher education has skyrocketed. From 2007 to 2017, the cost of attending public colleges and universities (which are run by state or local governments) rose more than 30 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Today the average cost of one year at a four-year college is more than $27,000, the NCES reports. Students often have to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to earn their degrees—and end up in debt.

As a result, college graduates sometimes struggle to pay their bills—and lack money to save and spend. For example, students with a lot of college debt often put off buying homes, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Such large purchases help the economy.

What’s more, college education has practically become a requirement for career opportunities. In 2019, college graduates earned weekly wages that were 67 percent higher than those of high school graduates, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

The debate about college costs is focused on two ideas: making tuition—the cost of attending classes—free at all public colleges and universities for most or all students (something some states already do) and forgiving college debt. A majority of Americans support those two proposals, according to a 2019 poll.


Segregated Schools


Segregation—the separation of students by race—in public schools has been illegal in the U.S. for more than 65 years. Yet across the country, schools continue to be divided by race. They are also divided by income. These divisions have a major impact on the quality of education that students receive, according to the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Experts say the main reason schools today are segregated by race and class is that neighborhoods are segregated—and most students attend public schools in their communities. Centuries of discriminatory laws, policies, and attitudes continue to influence where many people of color live and go to school, as well as the types of jobs available to them.

About two-thirds of all Black and Latinx students nationwide go to schools where most of their peers are Black and Latinx, according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project. And research by the nonprofit group EdBuild shows that school districts primarily serving kids of color receive $2,200 less in state and local funding per student than mostly white districts, which are usually wealthier. That’s in part because school funding is tied to how much residents pay in state and local taxes.

The effects of these differences can be devastating. The UCLA Civil Rights Project reports that for children of color, attending segregated schools is linked to lower levels of college success, long-term employment, and income.

Some cities are taking action to solve this problem—for example, by redrawing school zones to bring together students from all races. Experts say much more needs to be done across the country, from redrawing school districts to working to desegregate neighborhoods.


Teacher Pay


Experts say increasing educators’ salaries is also essential to improving education in America. Teachers make about 20 percent less than their peers in other fields with similar education and experience, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute. Some teachers must take second jobs to pay their bills or leave teaching for higher-paying careers. Many people believe that boosting pay would help attract more talented young people to the teaching profession—and keep more great teachers in the classroom.

Words to Know:

debt (noun) something (often money) that a person is owed and is expected to pay

taxes (noun) amounts of money paid to the government, usually based on income or purchases, that are mostly used to pay for public services

segregation (noun) the separation or isolation of people, often based on race, religion, or gender

income (noun) money earned, usually through work, business, or the ownership of property

class (noun) a group sharing the same level of wealth

Words to Know:

Discriminatory (adjective) making or showing an unfair distinction between different groups of people

Immigration

Immigration

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More than 100 million immigrants have come to the U.S. since its founding. Immigration has played an important role in our nation’s history—and has long been a topic of debate.

Over the past few decades, the focus of the debate has been on the nearly 11 million immigrants currently living in the U.S. who are undocumented. That means they are living in the U.S. without official permission to be here. Most of them have come to America looking for jobs and the opportunity for a better life. 

In recent years, huge numbers of people from Central America have entered the U.S. from Mexico by crossing the border on foot. Many of those people have come with their children and are fleeing violence in their home countries. They are often trying to apply for asylum. That’s a special protection that allows immigrants to stay in the U.S. for good—no matter how they come into the country.

This fall, candidates will explain their positions on all newcomers to the U.S. and how to best enforce—and perhaps change—U.S. immigration laws. 

Immigration has played an important role in American history—more than 100 million immigrants have come to the U.S. since its founding—and immigration policy has long been a topic of debate in this country. Yet that debate has been refocused and refueled since Donald Trump took office in 2017 and began enacting strict new immigration policies. His administration has prioritized deporting undocumented immigrants—people living in the U.S. without official permission to be here—and has worked to restrict both legal and illegal immigration. Such controversial policies have made immigration a big issue in this election.


Restricting Legal Immigration


For decades, the U.S. has prioritized letting in relatives of immigrants who live in the U.S. (Today between 60 and 70 percent of permanent immigration to the U.S. is family-related, according to the Migration Policy Institute.) One of President Trump’s goals is to adjust U.S. immigration policy to favor workers with certain job skills. In the meantime, the administration has made legal immigration harder for applicants who have low incomes or can’t speak English well. He says such immigrants use more public resources—such as housing assistance—than others.

Critics of these policies say they discriminate against poor people from Latin America, Asia, and Africa. They point out that the U.S. has long been a place where people of all incomes, including poor people, have come to find jobs or start businesses and build wealth—in other words, to pursue the American dream. Moreover, studies have shown that immigration has an overall positive effect on the U.S. For example, as the U.S. economy has grown, immigrants have strengthened it by increasing the workforce and helping to fill jobs at all levels, according to research from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.


Undocumented Immigrants


In recent decades, the U.S. immigration debate has focused mostly on what to do about the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Research suggests that, like other immigrants, many undocumented residents came here to find jobs and better opportunities for their families. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 67 percent of undocumented immigrants age 16 and over are employed—compared with 58 percent of people who were born here. Three-quarters of Americans support giving undocumented immigrants a process to stay in the U.S. legally, a June poll by the Pew Research Center shows. Still, the U.S. typically deports hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants each year. The Trump administration has made such deportations a top priority.

Meanwhile, President Trump’s most well-known plan to address illegal immigration is to build a wall along the entire U.S. border with Mexico. Most Americans think strengthening border security is important. But a 2019 Gallup poll shows that 60 percent of Americans oppose expanding existing border walls, which would cost billions of dollars. Instead, 75 percent of Americans surveyed support enhancing border security by hiring more border patrol agents.


Refugees and Asylum Seekers


President Trump has also taken steps to restrict the numbers of refugees and asylum seekers allowed into the U.S. A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home country because of war, violence, or unfair treatment. Many work with the United Nations to resettle in countries like the U.S. Historically, the U.S. has accepted far more refugees than any other nation. In 2016, the U.S. resettled 85,000 refugees, for example. The Trump administration has drastically cut the number of refugees allowed in—to fewer than 20,000 this year.

The administration has also worked to limit the number of people who can apply for asylum, a special protection that allows immigrants to stay in the U.S. for good. To receive it, asylum seekers must enter the U.S. and later prove in court that their lives would be threatened in their home countries. It is legal for people to apply for asylum even if they arrive here illegally.

In recent years, a surge of asylum seekers have arrived at the U.S. border with Mexico. Most are from Central America and are escaping violence, which immigration experts say endangers many people living there. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, more than half of Americans think many Central American asylum seekers should be allowed to stay. But the Trump administration says many immigrants take advantage of the asylum process to stay in the U.S. and has imposed new restrictions on asylum seekers. For example, since January 2019, the U.S. government has been requiring tens of thousands of asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until their trials. (Those trials have been postponed during the coronavirus pandemic and will resume when public health benchmarks are met, according the government). The so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy is being challenged in court by civil liberties and immigrant rights groups that say it’s illegal and endangers asylum seekers because of unsafe conditions in the temporary camps many are staying in.

Meanwhile, since March, the Trump administration has sent almost all asylum seekers and immigrants who have crossed the U.S. border with Mexico back to their home countries, saying they pose a public health threat during the pandemic. Many health experts have been highly critical of that decision, saying it is unnecessary and inhumane.

Trump’s most controversial immigration policy was designed to discourage people from trying to illegally cross the border. In 2018, the Trump administration enacted a strict policy calling for adults who cross illegally to be arrested and charged as criminals—even if they are seeking asylum. Initially, any children traveling with them were separated from them and sent to youth detention centers. Many kids did not see their parents or adult relatives for months.

After many Americans, including some who want tougher immigration laws, sharply criticized the family separations, Trump mostly ended them. In 2019, the administration set new rules that would allow children and parents to be held together until their court dates, which could be months away.

These new policies have sparked fierce debate across the country, guaranteeing immigration will be a major issue in this election.

Words to Know:

immigrant (noun) someone who comes to a new country and plans to stay permanently

asylum (noun) protection given by a government to someone who has left his or her country to avoid danger

Words to Know:

refugees (noun) people forced to flee to another country because of danger or persecution

asylum (noun) protection given by a government to someone who has left his or her country to avoid danger

civil liberties (noun) basic rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by law or by the U.S. Constitution

America & The World

America & The World

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The United States faces many challenges from across the globe, including ongoing threats from some longtime adversaries. U.S. leaders are particularly concerned that those nations could use cyberoperations to disrupt the upcoming presidential election. Cyberoperations are attempts to digitally disrupt or destroy computers, networks, or information.  

Cyberoperations affected the last U.S. presidential election. Government officials have concluded that Russia used cyberoperations to influence the 2016 vote. Russia spread false or misleading information on social media and hacked computer systems to steal information about candidates. Experts say Russia also hacked into American voting systems, although there is no evidence that any votes were changed. Many officials are worried that Russia is already meddling in the 2020 election.

Another major concern of U.S. leaders has been the desire of America’s adversaries, particularly Iran, to develop nuclear weapons. Those weapons are extremely deadly and pose a threat to U.S. allies and world peace. Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have been building, and earlier this year, they nearly spiraled into war.

Americans want to know how candidates will work to keep the U.S. safe from these kinds of threats and to create a more peaceful world.

The United States faces many challenges from around the globe. U.S. leaders and many Americans are particularly worried about continuing threats from America’s longtime adversaries, including Russia and Iran. Of particular concern are other nations’ development of cyberattack campaigns and desire to acquire nuclear weapons. At the same time, since he took office, President Donald Trump has disrupted traditional relations with America’s longtime allies with his “America first” approach to foreign policy. As America faces urgent threats, voters want to know whether and how the candidates plan to work with other nations to confront those global challenges and build a safer and more secure world.


Cyberoperations


U.S. intelligence officials and many U.S. leaders say foreign cyberattacks and other cyberoperations are a major threat to our democracy. Intelligence experts note that other nations could use cyberattacks to target critical infrastructure, like the U.S. electrical grids. But currently, the most talked about cyberthreats are those designed to influence our elections.

In 2017, U.S. intelligence experts concluded that Russia used cyberoperations to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia hacked computer systems to steal information about candidates and spread false or misleading information on social media. Intelligence experts also say Russia hacked into voting systems, including voter registration databases. (There is no evidence that any actual votes were altered.)

Many experts and officials say that Russia is already meddling in the 2020 election. A big concern is that voting systems are insecure and could be hacked. Recently, lawmakers have put forward bills to improve election security systems, including requiring paper ballots at all polling places so there is always a paper trail for vote totals.

Recent polls indicate that a significant number of Americans have concerns about the security of our elections. A 2019 survey from the Brookings Institution shows that a majority of Americans want the federal government to help states secure their voting systems.


Nuclear Threats


For years, a major concern of U.S. leaders has been the desire of America’s adversaries, particularly Iran, to develop nuclear weapons. Last summer, a Gallup poll revealed that 78 percent of Americans would prefer the U.S. to use diplomacy rather than military force to discourage Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

For his part, President Trump has taken a hard-line stance against Iran. In 2018, he pulled the U.S. out of a 2015 deal in which Iran had agreed to limit its nuclear program. In exchange, the U.S., along with the European Union and five other nations, had lifted economic sanctions that had devastated Iran’s economy. Many experts believed the deal was working, and Iran’s leaders insist they had been honoring the agreement. But Trump said the deal wasn’t tough enough to get Iran to change its ways. He reimposed sanctions against the Middle Eastern nation and later ordered additional economic penalties.

Since then, tensions with Iran have been building, and earlier this year, they nearly spiraled into war. Polls taken when hostilities between Iran and the U.S. were increasing over the past year show that most Americans do not want to go to war with Iran. Some U.S. leaders think President Trump’s policies toward the nation have been too risky, and that the U.S. should rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.


International Alliances


As voters consider how the candidates will work to build a safer and more secure world, one thing they will be thinking about is our country’s approach to foreign policy. Typically, the U.S. works with other nations—especially its longtime allies—to solve international problems and improve the global economy.

Under President Trump, the U.S. approach has been much more unpredictable—and controversial. Trump has declared an “America First” policy as a guiding principle, saying he will put U.S. interests above the interests of the world. For example, he has pulled the U.S. out of key agreements with our international allies—including the Iran nuclear deal and a major global agreement to fight climate change—saying those deals hurt U.S. interests. Trump has also publicly feuded with leaders of traditional U.S. allies, including Canada and Germany. At the same time, he has praised authoritarian leaders whose actions have threatened U.S. security, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Many foreign policy experts and U.S. officials believe that such actions have damaged the nation’s relationships with international allies. They say that repairing them—and boldly confronting adversaries such as Russia—is urgently necessary to make the world safer and more secure. Meanwhile, according to a Pew Research Center survey from this past March, large majorities of Americans say cooperation with other countries is important when dealing with international threats such as the spread of disease, cyberattacks from other countries, and climate change.

Words to Know:

adversaries (noun) enemies or opponents

hacked (verb) to have used a computer to gain access to information without permission

allies (noun) people or countries that have agreed to help and support each other, especially in times of great difficulty or danger

Words to Know:

adversaries (noun) enemies or opponents

cyberattack (noun) an attempt to damage or destroy a computer network or system

foreign policy (noun) the strategy that a government follows when dealing with other countries

diplomacy (noun) the work of keeping good relations between the governments of different countries

European Union (noun) a group of 27 European countries that work together on trade and policies

sanctions (noun) official actions taken by one country against another as punishment, such as not allowing certain products to be sold in some places

climate change (noun) a long-term change in Earth’s typical weather conditions, including warmer average global temperatures, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather events

authoritarian (adjective) requiring people to obey rules or laws while restricting personal freedom