House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) previewed his upcoming legislative proposals for reforming America’s poverty programs during an appearance on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America Wednesday, hinting that he would focus on creating work requirements for men “in our inner cities” and dealing with the “real culture problem” in these communities. “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” he said.
Ryan also cited Charles Murray, a conservative social scientist who believes African-Americans are, as a population, less intelligent than whites due to genetic differences and that poverty remains a national problem because “a lot of poor people are born lazy.”
Ryan’s comments come a week after he released a 204-page report analyzing the effectiveness of the nation’s anti-poverty programs 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson declared a national War on Poverty. The former GOP vice presidential candidate, who argues that federal anti-poverty programs have contributed to the nation’s high poverty rate and “created what’s known as the poverty trap,” is expected to offer reforms to the programs in his upcoming FY 2015 budget.
“[W]e want people to reach their potential and so the dignity of work is very valuable and important and we have to re-emphasize work and reform our welfare programs, like we did in 1996,” Ryan told Bennett. Listen:
Numerous anti-poverty initiatives already include work requirements, particularly long-term unemployment insurance and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Other programs, such as Head Start, allow parents to go to work while their children attend education programs.
Work requirements have yet to significantly reduce poverty, particularly during a downturn economy. While Ryan touts the success of lowering the number of people on welfare after 1996, poverty has actually increased since the recession and the number of families whose incomes are below half the poverty line (less than $12,000 a year for a family of four) is actually higher now than it was when Congress and President Bill Clinton enacted welfare reform. Welfare’s rigid work requirements improved employment among single mothers initially, but those rates started to decline by 2001, once the economy went into recession. The work provisions also pressure some women to abandon the higher education that could lead to upward mobility in favor of lower-paying jobs that meet the law’s standards.
But Ryan is prepared to double down on the welfare reforms of the mid-90s. “When you question this war on poverty, you get all the criticisms from adherents to the status quo who just don’t want to see anything change,” Ryan said. “We got to have the courage to face that down, just as we did in the welfare reform of the late 1990s and if we succeeded we can help resuscitate this culture and get people back to work.”