The trouble is that the American right is still living in the 1970s, or actually a Reaganite fantasy of the 1970s; its notion of an anti-poverty agenda is still all about getting those layabouts to go to work and stop living off welfare. The reality that lower-end jobs, even if you can get one, don’t pay enough to lift you out of poverty just hasn’t sunk in. And the idea of helping the poor by actually helping them remains anathema.The New York Times adds:
Will it ever be possible to move this debate away from welfare queens and all that? I don’t know. But for now, the key to understanding poverty arguments is that the main cause of persistent poverty now is high inequality of market income — but that the right can’t bring itself to acknowledge that reality.
The [Republican] party’s reputation for hardheartedness is embarrassing a few prominent Republicans who try to pretend they are interested in the less fortunate. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, for example, wants to “reform” the social safety net. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, wants to expand school vouchers. These are ideological goals meant to camouflage opposition to the important (and popular) anti-inequality agenda of the Democrats. But their insistence on cutting food stamps, refusal to expand Medicaid and hostility to jobless benefits and a higher minimum wage show they don’t really care about people falling from the middle to the bottom.Much more below the fold.
Ann Stevens and Marianne Page at The Los Angeles Times write about strengthening America's social safety net:
Jan. 8 marks the 50th anniversary of legislation launching America's War on Poverty. The story of that war is often told with a sort of reverse Hollywood ending: oversimplified and wrapped up neatly as a failure. No one can claim that the war on poverty has been won, but the failure narrative is just as wrong. The real story with some fundamental facts highlighted is more complex than simple wins and losses, and long overdue.Zoe Carpenter at The Nation dissects polling on poverty:
First, careful studies confirm that many of the safety net programs initiated with the War on Poverty, such as Head Start, WIC and food stamps (now called SNAP), make a big difference in the lives of the poor. Recent research by economists Hilary Hoynes, Douglas Almond and Diane Schanzenbach shows, for example, that the introduction of the food stamp program improved infant health, especially in high poverty areas where participation rates were highest. Similar benefits have been found for WIC, and for cash-based anti-poverty programs. Gordon Dahl and Lance Lochner have shown that increases in the size of the earned income tax credit are associated with improvements in low-income children's achievement test scores.
These safety net benefits go unrecognized because our official poverty statistics do not measure such noncash or after-tax benefits, nor do they track real outcomes, like improvements in health or education. But the benefits are there, and they need to be taken into account, especially when cuts are being proposed.
News of falling unemployment, a rising stock market and an end to the recession hasn’t shaken the public’s perception that a vast proportion of Americans can’t meet their basic needs. In fact, Americans see poverty as being far more widely spread than the government does. Asked what percentage of their fellow Americans were living in poverty, the average guess was 39 percent—a sharp rise from the official estimate of 15 percent. Poverty is also a common personal experience, with more than half of respondents reporting that they knew someone who was poor.Sharon Parrott, Vice President for Budget Policy and Economic Opportunity, CBPP:
When it comes to equality of opportunity, a majority of Americans don’t believe that poor Americans face a level playing field. And when forced to choose between core arguments about the roots of American poverty—that it stems from a flawed economic system, or from personal failings—nearly two-thirds agreed with the structural argument.
At the heart of opposition to safety net programs is the idea that poor Americans are undeserving of assistance, and that they are poor because they are lazy. It turns out that very few Americans polled by CAP support this core principle. Nearly 80 percent agreed that “most people living in poverty are decent people who are working hard to make ends meet in a difficult economy,” including 66 percent of white conservatives and libertarians. The poll showed nearly equal agreement across race and party lines on the point that a shortage of jobs with good wages is the primary reason for poverty in America, and that the poor receive unfair criticism.
The poverty story over the last half-century in the United States is mixed for several reasons. A much stronger safety net along with factors such as rising education levels, higher employment among women, and smaller families helped push poverty down. At the same time, rising numbers of single-parent families, growing income inequality, and worsening labor market prospects for less-skilled workers have pushed in the other direction.Nicole Hemmer:
Today’s safety net -- which includes important programs and improvements both from the Johnson era and thereafter -- cuts poverty nearly in half.In 2012, it kept 41 million people, including 9 million children, out of poverty, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). If government benefits are excluded, today’s poverty rate would be 29 percent under the SPM; with those benefits, the rate is 16 percent. Most analysts view the SPM as a better poverty measure than the “official” measure because it’s more comprehensive. The SPM counts not only cash income but, unlike the official measure, also non-cash and tax-based benefits, such as SNAP (food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and rental vouchers. Also unlike the official measure, it accounts for income and payroll taxes paid, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and child care expenses, and it adjusts the poverty line to reflect geographic differences in living costs.
Beyond reducing poverty, alleviating hardship, and giving millions of Americans access to health care, the safety net also generates other important achievements, with research showing that programs such as SNAP and the EITC have long-term positive educational and health benefits for children.
[T]ea party politicians face an uphill battle in their right-wing war on poverty. They have a significant image problem in the wake of the 2012 election, when Mitt Romney's infamous 47 percent comments left the distinct impression Republicans don't care about the poor. Their recent votes to slash food stamp funds and dramatically reduce unemployment benefits did not help change that impression. Moreover, the new poverty warriors have so far only slapped a new label on the same warmed-over policy ideas of the past, like school vouchers and tax credits. Even if the GOP could overcome these issues and create an innovative anti-poverty agenda, getting the base to sign on seems like a tall order.
Yet Republicans know they must do something. The Democrats have front-loaded their anti-poverty agenda with popular proposals. A recent poll found 66 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage. Majorities likewise approve the extension of unemployment benefits. While the GOP spent much of 2013 displaying a willful indifference to public opinion, the upcoming midterm elections seem to have changed the party's calculus.