Bipartisan Solutions to Poverty?

September 3rd, 2014 at 8:42 am

Tom Edsall takes an interesting tour through various partisan views on the causes and solutions to poverty, suggesting that there’s a unified theory in there somewhere:

The emergence of a rough ideological consensus on the causes of poverty and inequality would increase the likelihood of, but by no means guarantee, agreement on such initiatives as raising the minimum wage, increasing and expanding the scope of the earned-income tax credit, programs promoting marriage and paternal involvement, as well as stronger efforts to improve the quality of education, especially in poor neighborhoods.

Two further points.

Edsall devotes considerable space to the impact of single parenthood on poverty, and as noted above, suggests marriage is an important part of the solution. But as I argue here, while I agree with much of the research he cites, there are more limits to this solution than his piece implies.

First, because changing the decades-long downward trend in marriage rates is not very realistic, and swims hard against a tide that exists for some good reasons. Second, because policy interventions to encourage marriage [the “marriage promotion programs” Edsall cites] have been shown to be quite ineffective against that tide. Third, though this is not the intention of many marriage advocates, marriage advocacy can make it harder to deepen policies to support single parents. And fourth, because it fails to recognize some of the important gains made by single mothers that push against poverty.

My second point is that there’s another area–a particularly important one–where I wonder if there might someday be bipartisan agreement. Many on both sides agree that work should be a ladder out of poverty. The problem is that too often conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan argue that all you have to do to get a job is want a job.

In fact, there exists and large and persistent market failure to generate the quantity and quality of jobs available to low-income workers that would enable them to climb out of poverty. Yes, measures like wage supplements, child care support, and job training help, but what’s really needed is a commitment that says if you’re willing to work, we’re willing to ensure there’s a good job for you.

In other words, the left agrees to work requirements for the able-bodied poor and the right agrees to direct, public sector job creation to ensure ample opportunity.

Whaddya think?

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9 comments in reply to "Bipartisan Solutions to Poverty?"

  1. Robert Salzberg says:

    With over $2 trillion worth of infrastructure jobs that need doing, few Americans collecting unemployment should lack work.

    We should restructure unemployment so anyone who collects unemployment works 20 hours a week on local infrastructure or other government/social needs programs.


  2. Alex Bollinger says:

    Wait what?

    “The emergence of a rough ideological consensus on the causes of poverty and inequality would increase the likelihood of, but by no means guarantee, agreement on such initiatives as raising the minimum wage,”

    Republicans are against the minimum wage and will oppose any increase. Where has Edsall been for the last few decades?

    “increasing and expanding the scope of the earned-income tax credit,”

    You mean giving more money to the 47% of leeches who don’t pay taxes? This is more realistic than raising the minimum wage, but a) conservatives usually point to the EITC just to show that they’re not totally heartless in opposing minimum wage increases while not actually supporting this policy, and b) the GOP made a hard turn to the right in the mid-2000’s and would likely oppose raising the EITC even if they did support it in the past.

    “programs promoting marriage and paternal involvement,”

    What Jared said, plus that other countries have solved this problem better than the US could with an army of marriage counselors: give more resources to single moms and the gap in their children’s outcomes closes.

    “as well as stronger efforts to improve the quality of education, especially in poor neighborhoods.”

    Since when have conservatives supported that? I mean, beyond platitudes like “education is the key to our future”? Would they support increased funding for schools? Well, no, the GOP openly declared war on teachers and their enormous salaries 5 years ago (I’m guessing Edsall wasn’t paying attention to that incident in Wisconsin). No, they want to privatize and profit off of schools, lower taxes by making larger classes and schools, and take away job security from teachers. Republicans (and many Democrats) just plain don’t care about education for poor people.


  3. Alex Bollinger says:

    About Jared’s grand bargain:

    “In other words, the left agrees to work requirements for the able-bodied poor and the right agrees to direct, public sector job creation to ensure ample opportunity.”

    Didn’t the left already agree to that with welfare reform in the 90’s? Where are all these strong young bucks getting paychecks without working? Maybe a few people get food stamps who could get a job at mcdonalds if they wanted to, but that’s not really the same as there being a large population of people getting $40K/year from welfare who could be getting the same income working 40-hours a week in pampered working conditions.

    The right simply has no ideas that would benefit the poor.


  4. Tyler says:

    The right won’t agree to direct, public sector job creation to ensure ample opportunity because their donors don’t want ample opportunity. They want the unemployed desperate and willing to take any job at any wage.


  5. Fred Donaldson says:

    A single mother is entitled to far more government benefits than many working women can earn, especially considering child care and transportation. This discourages couples from actually marrying. It is a financial decision (fiduciary responsibility?), just like those made by other capitalists.


  6. smith says:

    when I go here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United_States

    I see households making less than $20,000 average about 2 people and 1/2 a full time wage earner. They make up almost 1 in 7 households (13.5%).

    Are they retirees? Are they single parents with one child? Are they working part time? Or were they only able to find temporary work? If there is a child, how old and what are the opportunities for child care? If they are retirees, does income really reflect economic condition, or are there substantial assets like a free and clear home and/or other savings?

    Tell me the distribution of this and then we can begin to consider possible solutions. I need more data.


  7. Jill SH says:

    Here I go repeating myself again. My reaction to Ryan’s latest anti-poverty plan:

    We need jobs, good jobs, better jobs, better-paying jobs. Jobs that pay a living wage for starters. Jobs with a future, a path to the middle class.

    We still don’t have those jobs. Too many jobs are dead-end Walmart/McDonalds jobs.

    Good jobs (and/or a good jobs program) are the only solution to ANY anti-poverty program.


  8. Rima S. Regas says:

    I read Edsall’s piece with great interest last night. The only thing that troubles me is the one thing we have experience with: one party hindering the process of making jobs available, on the one hand, while successfully cutting the only lifeline millions have, on the other hand.

    Bipartisan solutions and compromises are dandy, as long as they’re made in good faith. Good faith and shame left our country together in 2008.


  9. Dausuul says:

    The forces bankrolling the Republican Party don’t *want* the poor to climb out of poverty. A slack labor market and a lot of desperate poor people, ready to take any job no matter how awful, makes life easier for the business lobby.

    Now, the business lobby is not the entirety of the conservative movement. There are lots of religious conservatives who honestly want to help the poor. But the business lobby holds the whip hand. When they crack that whip, Republican politicians jump. Until that changes, I do not believe the Republican Party will ever sign on to a deal like this.

    But they’ll be happy to do a bait and switch. Somehow we will end up with the work requirements, while public-sector job creation never quite happens. We’ve seen this play before, with welfare “reform” under Bill Clinton.


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