Paul Ryan’s Latest Rhetoric On Poverty Doesn’t Add Up To Any New Ideas
Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced a new anti-poverty plan in a speech in Washington today. But while Ryan is trying out new rhetoric around the issue of poverty, his “American idea” is full of the same empty promises he’s been making for years, this time with Ryan Rhetoric 2.0. His plan to fight poverty doesn’t include a fair wage for hard work and would dismantle the safety net. We need an economy that works for everyone, and Ryan’s cuts to low and moderate income Americans are not what this country needs to continue to prosper.
Here are a few things we know about his plan:
1. The Math Doesn’t Add Up. Ryan claims his plan is deficit-neutral. That’s a 180 degree turn from his budget proposal from earlier this year, which gets over two-thirds of its cuts from programs helping low and moderate income families. So either the plan is a dressed-up version of his budget, or he has abandoned his goal to balance the budget.
2. “Consolidation.” Ryan’s rhetoric calls it consolidation, hoping you won’t notice he is actually cutting programs helping low and moderate income Americans. And we already know that this strategy doesn’t work. Ryan holds up the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program as a model reform of the safety net. But under TANF, extreme poverty rose, fewer families received help, and states were unable to respond to the Great Recession. Consolidating multiple programs into a single funding stream would carry these same risks. In fact, Ryan undermines his own argument by proposing to eliminate an already-existing block grant, the Social Services Block Grant, calling it “ineffective” (which, by the way, helps approximately 23 million people).
3. Not Every Idea Ryan Proposes Is Without Merit. Depending on the details, ideas such as reforming our criminal justice system to give people the opportunity to rebuild their lives have a lot of merit and could attract bipartisan support. In fact, Ryan is not a leader on this issue, which has already had a bipartisan team of Senate champions in Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). On the whole, however, his plan would exacerbate poverty and inequality.
If Ryan were serious about cutting poverty, here are three policy ideas he could embrace — taken from a column by the Center for American Progress’s Melissa Boteach:
1. Increase The Minimum Wage. Ryan’s speech comes on the day marking five years since the last federal minimum wage increase. Progressive leaders and advocates around the country are marking the occasion by taking the “Live The Wage” Challenge — walking in the shoes of a minimum wage worker by living on the average minimum wage budget of $77 for one week. It’s simply not enough to live on. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 could lift as many as 4.6 million people out of poverty.
2. Bring Our Work And Family Policies Into The 21st Century. Women are now the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of families, but our workplace policies and public policies don’t reflect this change. One thing Rep. Ryan could do in this realm is support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, which would create a national paid leave program and stop the United States from being the only developed country that with no paid maternity leave. This is a critical poverty issue, as having a child is a major cause of poverty for families that can’t afford to leave the workforce.
3. Support High-Quality Child Care And Early Education. Poor families who pay out of pocket for child care spend approximately one-third of their incomes just to be able to work. Ryan could support policies to provide greater economic mobility for low-income families, like Head Start. He could also sign onto the bipartisan Strong Start for America’s Children Act, which would invest in preschool, quality child care for infants and toddlers, and home visiting as a resource to pregnant women and mothers with young babies, simultaneously helping parents work while boosting the future economic mobility of young children.
Instead, just a day after his speech, he and his House Republican colleagues will vote tomorrow to exclude millions of low-income working families from the Child Tax Credit, pushing millions of children deeper into poverty.
BOTTOM LINE: Addressing poverty with more than rhetoric is the challenge our country faces. America was not built on rhetoric, it was built on an idea that if we came together and worked hard, we could create a nation full of opportunity. There are policy proposals that exist that would help us do that — create an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthiest. Paul Ryan’s latest rhetoric on poverty is not the answer we need.