Tackling Poverty

The Obama solution to alleviating poverty in America is a five-fingered approach: (1) create jobs, (2)  increase wages, (3) job training, (4) invest in kids and (5) strengthen families.  The conservative solution is (1) job creation, (2) job training, (3) education and (4) decreasing single parenthood.  As one can see, there is some overlap here and one would think that some reasonable solutions can be enacted.  Unfortunately, poverty rates have increased under Obama’s leadership.  Secondly, we should all agree that after 50 years of Great Society solutions, the results have been abject failure. The numbers do not lie.  And since both sides agree there is a problem, then both sides need to reach a solution that will work.

No one on the Right is calling for a shredding of the social safety net, but obviously that net as currently constructed is not doing its job.  If Obama can pronounce that 60 years of an embargo against Cuba has solved nothing then he should also pronounce that over 50 years of spending and liberal policies towards domestic poverty have achieved very little and, like a Cuba, a change in direction is needed.  And we can start with that overlap.

Unfortunately, many Obama policies (especially Obamacare) have made job creation difficult.  Business works best in an environment of certainty.  The Left, however, constantly demonizes businesses as the cause of the problems.  Part of the uncertainty of that environment is the tax code and part is regulatory.  In the 1950s, the economy and jobs grew at a reasonable rate in an era generally characterized as “boring.”  There is nothing the matter with this boredom.  The best solution here is for government to simply get out of the way.

Regarding job training, the federal government can help in partnership with state and local governments.  But let’s look at the current state of job training programs.  According to the GAO, in 2011 there were 47 federal job training programs spread across nine agencies.  In many areas there is considerable overlap.  My proposal: transform the Department of Education by getting them out of K-12 education and transferring all job training programs there from these other agencies.  Then winnow them down and eliminate or consolidate them to make them more effective.

On the education front, the Left’s solution is to throw more money at the problem, but we have seen the negative results of that tactic.  True educational reform is needed.  Obama has called for universal pre-K education.  I have seen the results up close and personal and there is a discernible difference between kids who have and have not attended preschool.  If I had to put it on a hierarchy, the lowest performers are Head Start graduates, followed by no preschool, then private preschool, and finally public preschool.  The reason public preschool is the best is because the goals of those preschools are closely coordinated with the elementary schools into which these kids will enroll.

But, this comes with a caveat: it should not be mandatory.  Some parents may opt for private preschool while other children may simply receive the academic enrichment at home and have no need for it.

Also in the area of education, it behooves this writer to understand the Left’s opposition to vouchers and charter schools.  I will admit that the jury is out on charter schools.  If they are general education charter schools, they appear to perform worse than charter schools with a common goal such as performing arts, or math, or technology.  Yes, they should be monitored and the ineffective ones closed.  But, by the same token it does a serious disservice to underprivileged children to trap them in poor performing public schools.  School vouchers make intuitive sense.

For the sake of simplicity, suppose it costs $10,000 per pupil to educate a child in public school.  The school district is going to expend that money one way or the other because they have to.  Let’s suppose a family is living in poverty as defined by the government and makes less than $25,000/year.  The local public school is not doing its job, but there is a private school that charges $8,000/year and does a better job.  That family gets the full $10,000 as a voucher.  As one moves up the income scale, the voucher amount decreases.  Remember- the district is going to spend $10,000 per pupil regardless.  Wouldn’t this system (1) save the district money, (2) decrease class sizes in the public schools, (3) give parents a viable option and (4) increase educational outcomes?  The devil would be in the details of a sliding scale and monitoring outcomes from the private schools, but IT CAN BE DONE!

And before leaving education, we need to face reality- not every kid will grow up to be a doctor or lawyer or nuclear engineer.  But, we will always have a need for trades like carpenter, mechanic, electrician and plumbers.  Greater vocational training should be a goal for the academically-challenged and this would include paid apprenticeships which would provide valuable on-the-job training.

Decreasing single motherhood is a hard problem to tackle.  Given the high rates in the black community, it makes the problem even worse.  Social engineering through the tax code has made the problem worse.  We cannot be China and limit births, or be like Nazi Germany and sterilize people.  But it needs to be discouraged.  Any policy designed to strengthen the traditional family structure- a structure that has advanced society throughout the ages- needs to be at the forefront.  I know many a single parent who has done wonderfully well, but also many who did or do not.  Denigration of the traditional family is not a solution.  And although I hate to say this as a conservative, but preventing an illegitimate birth through birth control is better than aborting a child or damning that child to a life of potential poverty.

The difference between the Right and Left comes over increasing wages.  Again, the Left’s solution is a forced redistribution of wealth through taxation and demonization.  The fact is that raising the minimum wage to $10 will do very little to alleviate poverty in America since so few people in the labor force make minimum wage.  Instead, the solution is education although there will always be a need for minimum wage workers even still.  And a corollary to this is that we as a country need to stop encouraging low skill workers from entering this Nation.  If people can put their lives on the line and cross a border and desert to get a job here in the US, then someone living in poverty can jump on a bus and perform the work these immigrants currently perform.

Finally, as a conservative, I am really tired when those on the Left accuse us of having a cold heart when it comes to solving the problem of poverty in America.  The Left does not have a monopoly on compassion or empathy, just a stranglehold on outdated, obsolete, expensive and stupid ideas.  If we can automatically hit a reset button on relations with Russia or Cuba, if we can reorder 17% of the American economy and claim success, then we can rethink our battle against poverty here in the United States.  Over 50 years of Great Society programs have made things worse and are bankrupting our country.  The Left mocks that conservatives have no new ideas.  What can be more antiquated than policies and programs rooted in Johnson’s war on poverty- a war we are apparently losing?