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Paul Ryan thrusts poverty into 2016 conversation

Republican candidates descended on South Carolina Saturday to speak at the Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity - an anti-poverty summit hosted by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Tim Scott.

The summit is being billed as an opportunity for GOP candidates to discuss conservative solutions to the problems of the American poor. It's named after former Congressman Jack Kemp, whom Ryan considers a mentor. Kemp was known as an aggressive crusader for supply-side conservative economics, which argued lower taxes would increase growth. But he was also known for his outreach to minority communities and people living in poverty, and his insistence that the Republican Party should speak to everyone in America, not just the middle class and the well-off.

"Naming the gathering after Kemp echoes the former congressman's efforts to do what Ryan is trying to do," "Face the Nation" host John Dickerson wrote in a column shortly after the summit was announced. "Kemp even tried to do it when he was Bob Dole's vice presidential nominee. He traveled to Harlem in New York, Watts in Los Angeles, and the South Side of Chicago preaching the gospel of free enterprise. Green is the color of civil rights, he used to say, meaning the money that came from free enterprise. Much like Ryan, Kemp was ultimately discouraged from appealing for votes in poor neighborhoods where there weren't many Republicans."

In one of Ryan's first major policy addresses as Speaker, he echoed Kemp's message.

"There are the millions of people stuck in neutral: 6 million people who have no choice but to work part time, 45 million people living in poverty," he said. "Conservatives need to have an answer to this--because we do not write people off in this country. We just don't."

The summit was arranged before Ryan became Speaker, but he felt strongly enough about his message that he wasn't going to let his new job scuttle the event.

"This is such a high priority for me, I instantly determined as soon as I became speaker that I'm going to keep this on the schedule," Ryan told the Wall Street Journal this week.

The forum could give Ryan and the Republican candidates an opportunity to renew Kemp's message for a new generation and demonstrate how their policies would address the problem of poverty in America. And according to the most recent annual data available, that's no insignificant task.

The census defines poverty on a sliding scale according to the size of a family unit, but for a family of four, the poverty threshold in 2014 was just over $24,000. For one person, it was just over $12,000.

In 2014, 46.7 million people were living in poverty, according to the Census Bureau - a poverty rate of 14.8 percent.

U.S. Census Bureau

Some groups were harder hit than others - 21.1 percent of children were living in poverty, comprising a full third of the American poor. The poverty rate for white Americans was only 10.1 percent, but for Hispanic Americans, it was 23.6 percent, and for black Americans, it was 26.2 percent. Among men, the poverty rate was 13.6 percent; among women, 16.1 percent.

U.S. Census Bureau

In an interview on Sunday's broadcast, we'll ask Ryan what he hopes to accomplish with his summit, and what he thinks of the GOP candidates that shared the stage with him on Saturday, so make sure you tune in! Check your local listings for air times.

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