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Forum Post: The Three Biggest Right-Wing Lies About Poverty By Robert Reich

Posted 4 months ago on June 17, 2014, 11:04 a.m. EST by flip (7123)
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The Three Biggest Right-Wing Lies About Poverty

By Robert Reich Source: Robertreich.org

Posted in: Class, Economics, Economy, SourceZ, US | No comments Rather than confront poverty by extending jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed, endorsing a higher minimum wage, or supporting jobs programs, conservative Republicans are taking a different tack.

They’re peddling three big lies about poverty. To wit:

Lie #1: Economic growth reduces poverty.

“The best anti-poverty program,” wrote Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, in the Wall Street Journal, “is economic growth.”

Wrong. Since the late 1970s, the economy has grown 147 percent per capita but almost nothing has trickled down. The typical American worker is earning just about what he or she earned three decades ago, adjusted for inflation.

Meanwhile, the share of Americans in poverty remains around 15 percent. That’s even higher than it was in the early 1970s.

How can the economy have grown so much while most people’s wages go nowhere and the poor remain poor? Because almost all the gains have gone to the top.

Research by Immanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty shows that forty years ago the richest 1 percent of Americans got 9 percent of total income. Today they get over 20 percent.

It’s true that redistributing income to the needy is politically easier in a growing economy than in a stagnant one. One reason so many in today’s middle class are reluctant to pay taxes to help the poor is their own incomes are dropping.

But the lesson we should have learned from the past three decades is economic growth by itself doesn’t reduce poverty.

Lie #2: Jobs reduce poverty.

Senator Marco Rubio said poverty is best addressed not by raising the minimum wage or giving the poor more assistance but with “reforms that encourage and reward work.”

This has been the standard Republican line ever since Ronald Reagan declared that the best social program is a job. A number of Democrats have adopted it as well. But it’s wrong.

Surely it’s better to be poor and working than to be poor and unemployed. Evidence suggests jobs are crucial not only to economic well-being but also to self-esteem. Long-term unemployment can even shorten life expectancy.

But simply having a job is no bulwark against poverty. In fact, across America the ranks of the working poor have been growing. Around one-fourth of all American workers are now in jobs paying below what a full-time, full-year worker needs in order to live above the federally defined poverty line for a family of four.

Why are more people working but still poor? First of all, more jobs pay lousy wages.

While low-paying industries such as retail and fast food accounted for 22 percent of the jobs lost in the Great Recession, they’ve generated 44 percent of the jobs added since then, according to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project.

Second, the real value of the minimum wage continues to drop. This has affected female workers more than men because more women are at the minimum wage.

Third, government assistance now typically requires recipients to be working. This hasn’t meant fewer poor people. It’s just meant more poor people have jobs.

Bill Clinton’s welfare reform of 1996 pushed the poor into jobs, but they’ve been mostly low-wage jobs without ladders into the middle class. The Earned Income Tax Credit, a wage subsidy, has been expanded, but you have to be working in order to qualify.

Work requirements haven’t reduced the number or percent of Americans in poverty. They’ve merely increased the number of working poor — a term that should be an oxymoron.

Lie #3: Ambition cures poverty.

Most Republicans, unlike Democrats and independents, believe people are poor mainly because of a lack of effort, according to a Pew Research Center/USA Today survey. It’s a standard riff of the right: If the poor were more ambitious they wouldn’t be poor.

Obviously, personal responsibility is important. But there’s no evidence that people who are poor are less ambitious than anyone else. In fact, many work long hours at backbreaking jobs.

What they really lack is opportunity. It begins with lousy schools.

America is one of only three advanced countries that spends less on the education of poorer children than richer ones, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Among the 34 O.E.C.D. nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do schools serving poor neighborhoods have fewer teachers and crowd students into larger classrooms than do schools serving more privileged students. In most countries, it’s just the reverse: Poor neighborhoods get more teachers per student.

And unlike most OECD countries, America doesn’t put better teachers in poorly performing schools,

So why do so many right-wing Republicans tell these three lies? Because they make it almost impossible to focus on what the poor really need – good-paying jobs, adequate safety nets, and excellent schools.

These things cost money. Lies are cheaper.

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4 Comments


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[-] 3 points by elf3 (2726) 4 months ago

Nothing to disagree with in there. We are witnessing the end of America and I'm not sure what we can do when we have a country full of people who worship the culture that controls them ...anyone seen the new Orange is the New Black season? Ws is Vie!

[-] 3 points by StillModestCapitalist (423) 4 months ago

Holy crap, I've heard the same flat-footed BS about how great economic growth and job creation are a thousand times on talk radio. Hannity in particular has gone to extraordinary lengths to peddle outright lies about such benefits when even the official data proves otherwise. In fact, we actually had a stronger middle class when our economy was smaller in terms of GDP several decades ago. It's true even after you account for inflation. In other words, jobs don't necessarily create wealth. When they do, any wealth created tends to rise upward along with a cut of existing middle and lower class wealth. It's almost like the masses are being paid to loot the homes of one another in order to deliver the stolen goods to Park Avenue. That may be an over-simplified analogy but it's been happening for nearly 40 years. Certainly in terms of net worth.

Please someone. Hannity won't take my calls. I've tried several times. But someone needs to put that right wing wacko in his place on this issue. This page alone has all the information you need for a good call. There was also a really good CBO report on household income by quintiles from 1979-2007 published a few years back. It clearly indicated a profound concentration of household income over that time frame. That report along with this page is enough to slam through Hannity's BS like a runaway train through a picket fence.

Beware, Hannity doesn't give articulate free thinkers a chance to be heard. Instead, he takes calls from progressives, liberals, and free thinkers who can't debate worth a crap in order to make it seem as if progressives, liberals, and free thinkers are stupid and naive. I called him out for that particular strategy a few years back on another show with over 200,000 listeners. Shortly after, he took one call that I know of from a very articulate liberal but since then he has gone right back to his old strategy of screening out any non-conservative caller that can debate worth a crap.

So if you call, you might want to try this approach. Have your best argument ready but play dumb until you are on the air with Hannity. Hesitate, stutter, and use bad English as you explain your position to the screener. Then, surprise Hannity with a strong argument and well documented facts and figures.

I might even be listening when you call. I hate Hannity with a passion. His daily psychological tactics, word games, and outright BS annoy the hell out of me but I do listen because I like to keep up on the latest line of die-hard partisan CRAP being fed to my fellow citizens.

[-] 2 points by flip (7123) 4 months ago

Do not allow yourself to be distracted by hannity. He has no real power. Those who own the country want weakened unions, lower wages and higher profits. Just what they have gotten over the last 40 years - from both parties. Hannity could not get his favorite candidate elected dogcatcher!

[-] 0 points by Shule (2041) 4 months ago

How about "po' folk are poor because they have no money. If they had money they would not be poor."

Damm po' folk causing all this hate and discontent. Somebody ought make a law against not having money here in the U.S.A. That way we can throw po' folk in jail.