Gingrich On Poverty: Culturally Inferior Blacks Should Learn From My Success

Our guest blogger is Joy Moses, Policy Analyst with the Poverty Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

gingrichhand.jpgNewt Gingrich has recently been advancing policy proposals for reducing poverty in America. Gingrich’s description of the poverty problem reveals a condescending approach to the poor, while his tried-and-failed market-based solutions do little to help Americans living below the poverty line.

First, Gingrich assumes that poor people are culturally inferior. According to Gingrich, poor people need to develop a culture of “productivity” and that when they are around people who have money, they “learn very rapidly to show up at work on time, to actually keep part of their paycheck every week, to do all the things successful people do.” In short, poor people don’t work hard enough, don’t work well enough, and don’t save. However, the reality is:

– Full time minimum wage workers live below the poverty line. The federal minimum wage is simply not a living wage.

– Poor Americans do not work less than poor people in other nations.

– Low income people are experiencing the big squeeze of working longer hours, including multiple jobs and extended overtime just to make ends meet.

– By definition, poor people have less income to save. They are less likely to have employer-sponsored retirement plans or benefit from tax breaks that primarily go to middle- and high-income people. They pay more for basic financial services.

The second faulty assumption is that poverty is a black and urban issue. Gingrich chooses to frame his ideas about poverty around Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, and the city of Detroit. Otherwise, he refers to Native Americans living on reservations. Although such frames are an effective tool in diverting attention from troubling issues facing the U.S. economy, serious discussions about ending poverty can not be based on stereotypes or reinforce the idea that it is someone else’s problem. The reality is:

– Although poverty disproportionately affects people of color, all races are impacted, including whites who are the largest group (45 percent) amongst the poor.

– Rural communities experience levels of poverty that are similar to urban communities—14.5% and 17% respectively. And poverty also reaches the suburbs.

Not surprisingly, one of Gingrich’s primary suggestions is to cut taxes for corporations and the rich so that they will create more jobs. Nearly eight years of such tax cuts under the Bush Administration has increased the poverty rates and demonstrated that this is not a valid policy solution. Similarly, Gingrich’s proposals to encourage kids to work at the age of 14 and to only spend two or three years in high school would probably advance the contrary goal of creating an undereducated permanent underclass, but not get us very far in ending poverty.