Don’t surrender in the war on poverty

Published on Monday, 13 January 2014 20:22 - Written by

The worst response Americans could have to the disappointing results of 50 years spent in a “War on Poverty” is to surrender. Poverty is still a painful part of the American landscape.

That’s why Sen. Marco Rubio’s recent speech, delivered on the anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of that war, is important. By assessing anew the very real problems — and the proven solutions — the Florida Republican is setting forth a plan of action the GOP should adopt as its own.

“We are still a country where hard work and perseverance can earn you a better life,” Rubio said. “The vast majority of Americans today live lives much better than their parents. Yet we are rightfully troubled that many of our people are still caught in what seems to be a pervasive, unending financial struggle. It bothers us because we are a people united by the belief that every American deserves an equal opportunity to achieve success.”

The first step is to have the right focus, Rubio contends.

“Today, the debate on poverty is primarily focused on the growing income gap between the rich and poor. From 1979 to 2007, income for the highest-earning Americans grew more than it did for anyone else. … Yes, the cashier at a fast food chain makes significantly less than the company’s CEO. The problem we face is not simply the gap in pay between them, but rather that too many of those cashiers are stuck in the same job for years on end, unable to find one that pays better. And it is this lack of mobility, not just income inequality, that we should be focused on.”

Income immobility often has recognizable causes, Rubio explains.

“Social factors … play a major role in denying equal opportunity,” he said. “The truth is, the greatest tool to lift children and families from poverty is one that decreases the probability of child poverty by 82 percent. But it isn’t a government spending program. It’s called marriage. Fifty years ago, today, when the War on Poverty was launched, 93 percent of children born in the United States were born to married parents. By 2010 that number had plummeted to 60 percent. It should not surprise us that 71 percent of poor families with children are not headed by a married couple.”

That’s not to say that children from single-parent homes are doomed to a life of poverty — not at all. Education offers hope to all Americans.

But as Rubio points out, children from disadvantage families are more likely to receive an inadequate education, due to failing public schools. Alternatives must be offered.

“We need policies that make our country the easiest and best place in the world to create jobs,” he adds. “This means removing the uncertainty created by a dangerous and growing national debt, enacting a simple and affordable tax code that incentivizes investment, and eliminating regulations that prevent employers from expanding and our energy sector from growing.”

These simple steps are part of a broad strategy we would do well to adopt.