A few Republican congressmen, including our own Andy Barr, deserve credit for taking on poverty in the United States, which hasn’t been a hot topic in the presidential race.
A report by the Republican Study Committee focuses on several troubling trends: multi-generational poverty, single-parent households, poor coordination among a host of social-welfare programs and the number of poor people who are disconnected from the workforce. It echoes the beliefs of people from across the political spectrum that the best path to escaping poverty is a good-paying job.
But it is disappointing that the report falls back on a number of familiar Republican talking points — benefits going to non-citizens, a bloated, self-perpetuating federal bureaucracy, fraud in anti-poverty programs, the evils of Common Core — to suggest that government is causing, or at least complicit in, poverty.
The report ignores the reality that it is hard for people with limited education and job skills, young children at home and unreliable or limited transportation options to find and keep a job, even one that requires few skills and pays little. Physical or mental disabilities or a criminal record make finding and keeping a job even more challenging.
Barr was more nuanced when he participated in a July panel discussion on poverty sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
“We’ve got to deal with this, the child-care issue for a single mom,” he said, as well as transportation challenges. He also acknowledged that fighting poverty could require “additional outlays,” at least initially.
Other panelists included experts who had participated in a work group — sponsored by AEI and the Brookings Institution — that produced a thoughtful, well-documented study late last year titled, “Opportunity, Responsibility and Security; a consensus plan for reducing poverty and restoring the American Dream.”
The think tanks sought out experts with both conservative and liberal leanings to forge recommendations that “would reflect compromises made by people of good will and differing views.”
The report notes that the nation “has made considerable progress in reducing poverty rates,” but none in increasing economic mobility. Economic stagnation has many causes, the authors write, but they focus on unequal education, the decline of wages and work, and the movement away from two-parent families. Here are some of the recommendations:
▪ Families. Government should promote marriage as a reliable route to assuring material security and stability, and should also provide young people with more information about and access to birth control to delay childbearing.
▪ Work. The federal minimum wage should be raised to increase both motivation and resources for low-skill workers and the Earned Income Tax Credit should be expanded and increased for childless workers. Government should help create jobs for hard-to-employ individuals at risk of losing benefits because of work requirements. And it advised taking “particular care” in any effort to increase work requirements for food-stamp recipients because the program “plays an important role in reducing hunger.”
▪ Education. Noting that too many poor children come to school unprepared, the group calls for greater government involvement to overcome the cognitive development gap.
Recommendations include expanding access to high-quality preschool and child care and developing a network of primary- and pediatric-care providers who can engage in parenting and early-childhood development interventions.
Few states are as plagued by ingrained poverty as Kentucky. We applaud Barr’s interest in the topic and encourage him to avoid political posturing to pursue evidence-based, non-partisan approaches to raising people out of poverty here and throughout the country.