Atlanta resident Cathy Hooker has heard enough about Donald Trump’s legal woes and Joe Biden’s fraught relationship with Israel this election cycle.

Instead, the 63-year-old grandmother — who earns $25,000 annually as a child care provider in Lithonia and shares a rented, single-family home with her son, daughter-in-law-and their two children — wants to hear the president and his predecessor talk about how they plan to raise wages for service-sector employees like her during their highly anticipated Thursday night debate.

“All we hear is, ‘There is no money. There is not a grant,’” Hooker told Worldacad Atlanta on Wednesday of conversations with her employer. She said she hasn’t received a raise in years despite her family’s rent rising an estimated $500 a month over the past few years.

“We hear the economy is going up. It’s only going up in certain places,” Hooker said. “Low-wage individuals’ [incomes] are not moving. They’re standing still. They’re falling down. And we don’t need this. That brings crime. Crime brings death.”

The eyes of the world will be on Atlanta tonight as the first 2024 presidential debate between Biden and Trump kicks off at CNN studios in Midtown. The 90-minute broadcast, scheduled to begin at 9 p.m., is expected to be one of the most-watched presidential debates in U.S. history — and Atlanta, an influential epicenter in Black cultural and economic life, serves as a fitting backdrop.

Black voters like Hooker have been a central focus in this year’s election cycle for both Biden and Trump, and Atlanta remains one of the Blackest cities in the nation — despite losing its Black majority three years ago due to shifting demographics. Parts of metro Atlanta’s suburbs, and Georgia overall, have become increasingly diverse in recent years even as the city itself has seen its concentration of Black residents diluted.

“Atlanta influences everything, including politics,” local political strategist Fred Hicks told Worldacad Atlanta on Wednesday. “[Trump and Biden] definitely want to win Black votes, particularly votes from Black men. Holding this [debate] in Atlanta is a nod to the significance of the Black vote overall.”

The city also is regarded as having the highest level of income inequality in the U.S., a growing problem for many Americans since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It’s also where Trump is expected to eventually stand trial for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The debate couldn’t come at a more pivotal time for Biden, who has been fighting to maintain the same level of Black support that helped him defeat Trump four years ago.

The president’s struggles have been largely due to post-pandemic inflation having an outsized impact on Black households, whose wages haven’t kept up with the rising cost of rent, groceries, and other consumer goods despite a booming stock market and a record low Black unemployment rate. Black folks have also struggled to buy homes in Atlanta due to higher interest rates and elevated housing prices.

Black voters in Georgia are more concerned with their own economic survival than they are with Trump’s trials or Biden’s foreign policy problems, according to Hillary Holley, executive director of Care In Action, a domestic workers advocacy group that does door-to-door voter engagement work in Georgia.

“We’re hearing a lot that people are having to literally choose, ‘Do I pay to take care of my family or do I take some of that care away so I can pay my rent … my groceries?’” Holley told Worldacad Atlanta on Wednesday. “All they really want to hear about [during the debate] is how they’re going to take care of their families.”

Polls show most Black voters in Georgia still support the Democratic Party despite growing frustrations with stagnant wages and a higher cost of living. They want Biden to talk about how he will improve the economic outlook for service-sector employees during the debate, according to John Taylor, co-founder and co-chair of the Black Male Initiative Georgia, an advocacy group for Black men.

Taylor’s group also does voter engagement work throughout the state. He said Black Georgians’ economic woes are directly related to Biden’s Black voter engagement problem.

“We have Black voters who are not going to the polls because they can’t afford to take time off work and stand in line for 10-12 hours,” Taylor said. “We’ve heard people say it.”

Macon resident Sharon Brawley said she also wants Biden to talk about pay increases for service workers. Brawley is an elder care provider and a self-described lifelong Democrat who said she plans to vote for Biden “reluctantly” in November despite her frustrations with his administration so far.

“I’m a Democrat, have been all my life, but he needs to step up to the plate,” Brawley said of Biden. “They’re not doing it for the folks here in Georgia.”

Brawley also wants the president to stop sending money overseas to fund foreign wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

“They’re sending a lot of money that could be used here in the United States to other countries,” she said.

Chauncey Alcorn is Worldacad Atlanta's state and local politics reporter.