Our View: A path back

Posted: August 2, 2013

Proof positive that the Democratic Party remains a prisoner of lofty expectations grounded by well-intended but lamentably poor public policy was on full display earlier this week in Politico.

Gazing back, with obvious longing, to those halcyon days of 1964 and the initial stirrings of President Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty initiatives, present-day legislators Chris Van Hollen and Barbara Lee donned their rose-colored glasses — hardly the appropriate apparel when one is also afflicted with tunnel vision.

“Democrats believe that the War on Poverty is a war worth fighting, and a war we can win,” the two liberal lawmakers wrote.

Fine. We believe Americans can find agreement on the ultimate end — prosperity and a better life for all. But means to that end? Something else entirely. Since 1964, Washington has spent liberally on this “war” — trillions, we would wager, on myriad programs, many of them duplicative — and “victory,” as it were, is nowhere in sight.

So rather than look inward and assess the efficacy, or arrant lack thereof, of these programs, Mr. Van Hollen and Ms. Lee take the easy way out and place blame squarely on the backs of their Republican opponents. To wit:

“The country came together to tackle poverty in 1964, but that was then. Today, things look very different. Republicans are making it harder and harder for the economic gains our country has achieved to reach everyone. The GOP’s budget isn’t waging a war on poverty, it’s waging a war against the poor.”

Wrong — and not only wrong, but loud wrong. Republicans — i.e., conservatives — are not waging war on the poor; they’re waging war against misguided policy. And never has such policy been more misguided than at present, when dependency is encouraged and opportunity all but denied for the very people this “war” purports to help.

Let’s take both a macro and a micro view at the situation. For starters, a true indicator of where America stands in this regard is not how much money Washington spends fighting this “war,” but rather the extent to which the economy is growing. Historically, from 1929 through 2012, GDP grew at an average annual rate of 3.3 percent. In the last two years (2010-12), average growth has been an anemic 1.8 percent. And, in the last three quarters, ending this past June, these numbers have been 0.1, 1.1, and 1.7 percent.

Why are these figures important? Because growth translates to job creation, and job creation translates to folks having a better chance to escape the soul-sapping ravages of poverty.

For greater perspective, consider these statistics: In 2008, some 138 million Americans were employed. Today, after four years of alleged “recovery,” that number stands at fewer than 136 million — in a population that has grown by 12.8 million.

And where is all this implied unemployment clustered? Obviously and predictably, as Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute points out, in households earning less than $20,000 annually. In that segment of the population, the jobless rate resides at a Depression level — 24.4 percent.

This week, President Obama said a job was “a source of pride and dignity.” He’s right, of course, but such sentiments ring hollow when administration policies offer folks little reason for optimism, much less “pride and dignity.”

Genuine opportunity is the key — and the only path to a broader-based prosperity . . . and progress in the “war on poverty.”