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“Warmed Over Reaganism”: Paul Ryan’s Poverty Trap; Stop Taking These Lame Makeovers Seriously!

McKay Coppins already told us that there’s a new Paul Ryan who really cares about poverty and the poor. Now Robert Costa has the details on the newest new Paul Ryan, who just released a report on poverty that is 204 pages long, which proves that he really cares about the poor, because when was the last time a Republican wrote that many words and sentences about them?

Last seen handing out neckties to poor kids, Ryan is now talking up his report, “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later,” which enumerates roughly 100 federal anti-poverty programs that Ryan tells Costa “have actually created a poverty trap.”

Now, Ryan’s plan does one positive thing: It makes Sen. Marco Rubio look kind of lazy and insincere. Because Rubio gave a much-heralded speech on the anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s declaring a War on Poverty, but it was only a few thousand words, it wasn’t 204 pages, and since then, he basically dropped the issue. Ryan says his report will provide the basis of his next budget. But the basic Ryan-Rubio message is the same warmed-over Reaganism: We fought a war on poverty and poverty won, so let’s give up.

But seriously, how many times are we going to be told that there’s a “new” Paul Ryan who really, really, really cares about the poor – and whose budget proposals consistently slash programs designed to help them. All that’s different about Ryan’s approach now is he’s telling the poor that cutting their programs is good for them, because it will free them from “the poverty trap.”

Also, how many generations of Republicans are going to rely on Bob Woodson’s self-promotion? Like Coppins, Costa tells us Ryan is looking to Woodson’s Center for Neighborhood Enterprise for new ideas about fighting poverty. But it’s been generations now that Woodson has been reassuring Republicans, with zero evidence, that unfettered capitalism can heal the inner city. Can’t they even trouble themselves to find a new Bob Woodson?

In fact, Think Progress found that buried in Ryan’s report, beneath the dark warnings about a “poverty trap,” are findings that actually, even by GOP standards, a lot of anti-poverty programs are doing a lot of good. From the Veterans’ Health Administration to the Earned Income Tax Credit, Ryan’s report identifies at least 16 major programs that in fact help the poor and are a good bet for government. You wonder whether he even read his own report.

And in several of the areas where Ryan found fault with programs, the Fiscal Times found that the economists behind the studies Ryan cited say he misrepresented their data.

To be fair, Ryan actually makes three good points. One, he supports the once-bipartisan, now-GOP-questioned Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps low-wage families out of poverty (but even better would be if he called for a major expansion). The EITC is actually a huge part of the story behind the “47 percent” Ryan’s running mate Mitt Romney slurred in 2012. Ryan doesn’t acknowledge the dissonance, but his EITC support is welcome.

Ryan’s second fair point is that federal anti-poverty programs are a sketchy patchwork of mostly uncoordinated initiatives that would certainly work better if anyone put time into pulling them together. But Ryan merely criticizes that patchwork in order to rip it apart, proposing to slash rather than coordinate the services that help poor people, admittedly inadequately.

The third is more complicated, and if taken seriously, subverts Ryan’s entire message. He complains, correctly, that too many anti-poverty programs are “means-tested — meaning that benefits decline as recipients make more money — [so] poor families face very high implicit marginal tax rates. The federal government effectively discourages them from making more money.”

Of course, the alternative to means-tested programs in other industrialized nations is universal programs that essentially set a floor for income, nutrition and health below which families can’t drop. Social Security and Medicare are rare American examples of universal program – ones that Ryan has repeatedly tried to gut (while most Republicans and even some conservative Democrats endorse “means testing” them). A guaranteed family income and a genuine national health insurance program could eliminate means-tested programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Medicaid – but Ryan and his GOP allies (and lots of Republicans) would never consider those notions.

Nor will they consider the other guaranteed anti-poverty program: a hike in the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would lift almost a million Americans out of poverty immediately – but Ryan’s party is opposed to it. Indeed, more Republicans are coming out every day saying there should be no minimum wage at all.

There is, indeed, a poverty trap in the U.S., and the media fall into it again and again: taking seriously the warmed over Reaganism of conservatives like Paul Ryan, and pretending there’s something in it that will help the poor.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 4, 2014

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Plight Of The Poor”: Your Newest Fraudulent Poverty Crusader Is The Tea Party’s Mike Lee

Have you heard about the hot new trend that is sweeping the Republican Party? No, not “endorsing a celebrity’s confused defense of Jim Crow,” I am talking about “caring about poverty.” Marco Rubio cares. Paul Ryan cares. Rand Paul cares. Even Eric Cantor cares. Now, it can be revealed that Sen. Mike Lee also secretly cares very deeply about the plight of the poor.

“Tackling poverty may seem a counterintuitive agenda for one of the most conservative figures in Congress,” the Guardian says, but we have seen many examples over the last few months of how easily a far-right figure can earn positive press simply by stating that it is bad that some people are very poor and that something should be done about that. (Though to be fair to the press, it is actually pretty unusual to hear any politician admit that many Americans are very poor, and the last prominent politician to campaign on a platform of doing something about it turned out to be a toxic narcissist.)

Lee, best known for being a less telegenic Ted Cruz, declared a “war on poverty” last November. Unlike the prior War on Poverty, which was made up of various policies designed to alleviate poverty (and which was much more successful than its critics have claimed), Lee’s war on poverty is mainly about making the rhetorical case that government causes poverty and that eliminating welfare benefits for the poor will somehow spur “market forces” to solve the problem. Here are Lee’s policy proposals, as described by the Guardian:

-“[A“] bill, introduced last week, that would restore a work requirement for recipients of food stamps….”

-capping means-tested welfare spending at 2007 levels”

Capping spending on benefits at 2007 levels — that is, capping them where they were just before the devastating economic crisis and subsequent worldwide recession — seems, like so much of the modern GOP “anti-poverty” platform, to be more of a cruel joke than a serious suggestion. The right now rejects the idea that spending on benefits ought to increase when need increases, in favor of believing, because they really want to believe, that need increases because spending increases. Keep in mind too that “means-tested welfare spending” includes a wide array of programs beyond TANF and SNAP — scroll down to Sec. 301 here — and capping spending at 2007 levels would effectively reverse the ACA Medicaid expansion.

(The Guardian, to its credit and unlike certain American press outlets reporting on GOP poverty crusading, does quote experts explaining how Lee’s ideas will not actually help any poor people.)

At least Marco Rubio suggested a program that might actually alleviate poverty. (Though in order for it to do so, it would have to spend money. And that is why Marco Rubio is a huge failure at being a modern conservative superstar.) The Pauls and Lees simply argue that their goal of completely dismantling the welfare state is in fact an anti-poverty platform, because the government giving poor people money and vouchers is the only thing standing in the way of the poor lifting themselves from poverty with the assistance of the benevolent market.

When a Republican announces his war on poverty, impoverished people should understand that they are the ones the war is against.

 

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, February 20, 2014

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Front In The War On Poverty”: The Affordable Care Act Will Do For Most Americans What Medicare Did For Seniors

Buried in Sunday’s Washington Post was a small notice of a study on senior citizens living in poverty. The numbers have plummeted from the late 1960s, according to a study of census data done by the Akron Beacon Journal.

27 percent of seniors were living in poverty more than 40 years ago, compared to only 9 percent today. There are 3.7 million seniors living in poverty today as compared to 5.2 million in 1969, while the number of seniors has more than doubled during that time, up to 40.6 million.

So who says President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s War on Poverty was a failure?

The reasons for this drastic reduction can be placed squarely on retirement programs like 401(k)s, Social Security and the establishment of Medicare in 1965. In addition, many continue to work post-65, many saw the tough times of the Depression and World War II and have been careful and frugal.

Another important change that I was involved in back in the 70s working for Sen. Frank Church, who was Chairman of the Aging Committee, involved the capital gains tax on the sale of one’s home. Congress passed an exemption for seniors who sold their homes and downsized, saving them substantial sums from taxes on their primary nest egg. Prices of homes had gone up and this change was crucial for many seniors and is still important today.

But there are still too many Americans, both young and old, living in poverty. Too many are without jobs, too many have jobs that don’t pay enough to raise a family and the future of pensions and retirement savings is far from certain. A new Kaiser study even indicates that additional health expenses could raise the percentage of seniors in poverty up from 9 percent to 15 percent.

And that is why the importance of the Affordable Care Act cannot be understated. Before Medicare, many seniors were one serious illness removed from bankruptcy. Today, the same is true for many Americans. The ACA, when it is fully implemented, will do much the same as Medicare to keep Americans out of poverty.

Here is what life was like before Medicare: The cost of health care for seniors kept many from having even basic hospital coverage. Only one in four had insurance that would cover 75 percent of a hospital stay, and half of all elderly Americans had no insurance at all.

The point is that when we look back at American life in the pre-Johnson era, the pre-Medicare era, we faced a daunting problem. We did much to solve that problem for the vast majority of seniors. Now, with the ACA, we can do the same for most Americans.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, February 10, 2014

February 11, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Poverty, Seniors | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Same Tired Arguments”: Paul Ryan’s Proposed War On Poverty Is Hobbled By Conservative Ideology

On Monday, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan gave a brief address on poverty and economic mobility at the Brookings Institute. His goal? To present the GOP as a party committed to alleviating poverty. And he gestured toward ideas—straightforward cash payments and an end to means-testing—that would sit well with liberals.

But his rhetoric revealed the extent to which this concern for poverty is still bound by the right-wing, anti-government ideology that drove his budget blueprints, and continue to dominate the Republican Party.

To wit, during the question and answer session, Ryan chose to distance himself from the phrase “compassionate conservatism.” “I don’t like that term or the premise of it,” said Ryan, “Since it presumes that conservatism itself isn’t compassionate. I believe conservatism, or what I call classical liberalism, is the most compassionate form of government because it respects the individual.”

Ryan wants to present this as a kind of reform conservatism, but it’s too similar to what he’s offered before, and what we’ve seen from Republicans in the past. Indeed, like many of his predecessors, he sees existing anti-poverty programs as ineffective—despite evidence to the contrary—and the War on Poverty as a failure. “Just as government can increase opportunity, government can destroy it as well. And perhaps, there’s no better example of how government can miss the mark is LBJ’s War on Poverty.”

Why has the government missed the mark? Because it doesn’t understand that poverty is “isolation” from civil society as well as “deprivation.” To bring the poor back to their communities, Ryan wants to eliminate the “hodgepodge” of existing programs and craft a “simpler” system that provides straightforward cash transfers. He doesn’t offer any detail, but when you consider these critiques in the broader context of the GOP, it’s clear what he means: “Reforms” that would reduce spending and redirect what’s left to smaller, state-controlled programs that would be at risk of additional cuts.

Indeed, what Ryan has offered is a more attractive version of the GOP’s long-standing narrative on poverty: That it has as much to do with individual choices as it does anything else, and facilitating better choices—though marriage promotion, job training, and other programs that enhance civil society—is the core job for government.

This gets to a core divide that makes poverty a tough topic for liberals and conservatives. The former see poverty as the product of structural economic and social forces that create certain incentives and shape individual behavior. People can make bad choices, yes, but they play out differently depending on where you stand in the structure. A lazy, irresponsible rich kid can still become a stable professional, a lazy, irresponsible poor kid might find himself in jail.

Conservatives, on the other hand, are less likely to acknowledge the role of environment, and more likely to focus on choices. Yes, you can be trapped in poverty by circumstances beyond your control, but if you make the right decisions—get educated, get married, have kids—then you’re likely to escape, or at least create the conditions for your children to escape.

Speaking as a liberal, there seems to be a real limit to what the Wisconsin congressman—or any Republican—can do. An anti-poverty agenda that focuses on individual behavior and individual communities is one that can’t accommodate the fact of systemic discrimination and deep racial inequality—two realities that shape the physical and human geography of poverty.

In other words, while I think Ryan is sincere about wanting to alleviate poverty, but he’s bound by an ideology—and a party—that doesn’t want to acknowledge the role that structure plays in all of this, and remains committed to a vision of government that isn’t equipped to deal with those kind of problems.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, January 14, 2014

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The War Over Poverty”: The Problem Of Poverty Is Part Of The Broader Problem Of Rising Income Inequality

Fifty years have passed since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. And a funny thing happened on the way to this anniversary. Suddenly, or so it seems, progressives have stopped apologizing for their efforts on behalf of the poor, and have started trumpeting them instead. And conservatives find themselves on the defensive.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. For a long time, everyone knew — or, more accurately, “knew” — that the war on poverty had been an abject failure. And they knew why: It was the fault of the poor themselves. But what everyone knew wasn’t true, and the public seems to have caught on.

The narrative went like this: Antipoverty programs hadn’t actually reduced poverty, because poverty in America was basically a social problem — a problem of broken families, crime and a culture of dependence that was only reinforced by government aid. And because this narrative was so widely accepted, bashing the poor was good politics, enthusiastically embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, too.

Yet this view of poverty, which may have had some truth to it in the 1970s, bears no resemblance to anything that has happened since.

For one thing, the war on poverty has, in fact, achieved quite a lot. It’s true that the standard measure of poverty hasn’t fallen much. But this measure doesn’t include the value of crucial public programs like food stamps and the earned-income tax credit. Once these programs are taken into account, the data show a significant decline in poverty, and a much larger decline in extreme poverty. Other evidence also points to a big improvement in the lives of America’s poor: lower-income Americans are much healthier and better-nourished than they were in the 1960s.

Furthermore, there is strong evidence that antipoverty programs have long-term benefits, both to their recipients and to the nation as a whole. For example, children who had access to food stamps were healthier and had higher incomes in later life than people who didn’t.

And if progress against poverty has nonetheless been disappointingly slow — which it has — blame rests not with the poor but with a changing labor market, one that no longer offers good wages to ordinary workers. Wages used to rise along with worker productivity, but that linkage ended around 1980. The bottom third of the American work force has seen little or no rise in inflation-adjusted wages since the early 1970s; the bottom third of male workers has experienced a sharp wage decline. This wage stagnation, not social decay, is the reason poverty has proved so hard to eradicate.

Or to put it a different way, the problem of poverty has become part of the broader problem of rising income inequality, of an economy in which all the fruits of growth seem to go to a small elite, leaving everyone else behind.

So how should we respond to this reality?

The conservative position, essentially, is that we shouldn’t respond. Conservatives are committed to the view that government is always the problem, never the solution; they treat every beneficiary of a safety-net program as if he or she were “a Cadillac-driving welfare queen.” And why not? After all, for decades their position was a political winner, because middle-class Americans saw “welfare” as something that Those People got but they didn’t.

But that was then. At this point, the rise of the 1 percent at the expense of everyone else is so obvious that it’s no longer possible to shut down any discussion of rising inequality with cries of “class warfare.” Meanwhile, hard times have forced many more Americans to turn to safety-net programs. And as conservatives have responded by defining an ever-growing fraction of the population as morally unworthy “takers” — a quarter, a third, 47 percent, whatever — they have made themselves look callous and meanspirited.

You can see the new political dynamics at work in the fight over aid to the unemployed. Republicans are still opposed to extended benefits, despite high long-term unemployment. But they have, revealingly, changed their arguments. Suddenly, it’s not about forcing those lazy bums to find jobs; it’s about fiscal responsibility. And nobody believes a word of it.

Meanwhile, progressives are on offense. They have decided that inequality is a winning political issue. They see war-on-poverty programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and the earned-income tax credit as success stories, initiatives that have helped Americans in need — especially during the slump since 2007 — and should be expanded. And if these programs enroll a growing number of Americans, rather than being narrowly targeted on the poor, so what?

So guess what: On its 50th birthday, the war on poverty no longer looks like a failure. It looks, instead, like a template for a rising, increasingly confident progressive movement.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 9, 2014

January 13, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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