Ahead of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) detailed how the federal government is failing Americans in poverty and mapped out an agenda that would give the private sector and states more flexibility to reintegrate those in poverty back into society.
In a Saturday article in the Wall Street Journal, Ryan wrote that “for all its professed concern about families in need, Washington is more concerned with protecting the status quo than with pursuing what actually works.”
“For 50 years, we’ve been going in the wrong direction, and liberals want to march on,” he wrote. “Some in Washington insist that you’re concerned for the poor only if you’re committed to a path that has failed the poor. But the question isn’t whether we should do more or less of the same. It is which new direction will work best.”
Noting that this month marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s failed “War on Poverty,” Ryan pointed out that 47 million Americans live in poverty even though politicians keep spending more money and creating new government programs to solve the problem.
“Poverty isn’t just a form of deprivation; it’s a form of isolation,” he wrote. “Crime, drugs and broken families are dragging down millions of Americans. On every measure from education levels to marriage rates, poor families are drifting further away from the middle class.”
Washington, Ryan wrote, has actually deepened the divide over the past 50 years by creating programs that have “little or no coordination among them.”
“And because these programs are means-tested–meaning that families become ineligible for them as they earn more–poor families effectively face very high marginal tax rates, in some cases over 80%. So the government actually discourages them from getting ahead,” he wrote.
Ryan emphasized that “poverty isn’t a rare disease from which the rest of us are immune” for “it’s the worst strain of a widespread scourge: economic insecurity.”
“That’s why concern for the poor isn’t a policy niche; it goes to the heart of the American experiment,” he wrote. “What the poor really need is to be reintegrated into our communities. But Washington is walling them up in a massive quarantine.”
Going forward, Ryan said that the federal government needs to dump “decades-old programs and give poor families more flexibility” and “remember that the best anti-poverty program is economic growth.”
Ryan suggested giving teachers more control by giving parents more choice in education and reforming and lessening the control of unions. He also emphasized giving the private sector more control in job training programs so that “people who need jobs” can be matched “with people who create them.” He said the problem with “federal job-training programs is that they often train workers for jobs that don’t exist.”