A Republican Poverty Plan

Commentary & Community

A Republican Poverty Plan

There has been a lot of talk about poverty during this election season. In a USA Today op-ed, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson explain what they would like to see happen with federal policy aimed at moving people out of poverty.


In their op-ed, Ryan and Johnson discuss a Wisconsin program that connects low-income workers with good jobs. They point to it as a model of how initiatives focused on individualized results can do more to move people out of poverty than government programs.


According to Johnson and Ryan, “Each year, it spends nearly $800 billion on more than 90 different programs to fight poverty, with almost no coordination or any consideration of an individual’s needs. It should be no surprise that upward mobility is no better now than when we started the War on Poverty in 1964. But it should be a scandal that today, if you were raised poor, you’re just as likely to stay poor as you were 50 years ago.”


What do they propose instead? “What the federal government should do is direct resources to communities, let them try different ideas, then hold people accountable for results.”


This op-ed echoes many of the themes found in the anti-poverty plan released by Speaker Ryan in June. In it, he laid out reforms he would like to see the federal government undertake, such as:

  • Expecting adults who are able to work to seek employment
  • Removing incentives that keep people from finding work
  • Measure the results of anti-poverty initiatives
  • Focus resources on the most needy


Not everyone thinks this approach is a good idea, however. The Washington Post editorial board, for instance, criticized Rep. Ryan’s plan, saying, “The program offers no real sense of how states might work through a series of thorny issues in practice: How to design a welfare system that phases out as income grows but does not discourage people from seeking higher wages, for example.”


Others, such as Timothy Smeeding, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, dismiss the plan for being little more than rhetoric. “I don’t see anything here,” he asserts. “I see some broad generalities.”


What do you think of the anti-poverty agenda being put forth by Speaker Ryan and Senator Johnson?


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