Rep. Paul Ryan says Washington needs to refocus its war on poverty with the premise that "the best anti-poverty program is economic growth."
"We should renew the fight," the Wisconsin Republican said in an essay in The Wall Street Journal
"The federal government needs to take a comprehensive view of the problem.
"It needs to dump decades-old programs and give poor families more flexibility," the House Budget Committee chairman added. "It needs to let communities . . . develop their own solutions."
Ryan charged that a half century and trillions of federal dollars after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national war on poverty, "47 million Americans still live in poverty today.
"And the reason is simple: Poverty isn't just a form of deprivation; it's a form of isolation," Ryan said. "Crime, drugs and broken families are dragging down millions of Americans.
"On every measure, from education levels to marriage rates, poor families are drifting further away from the middle class."
He argued that anti-poverty programs created by Washington were "deepening the divide.
"Over the past 50 years, the federal government has created different programs to fix different problems, so there's little or no coordination among them. And because these programs are means-tested — meaning that families become ineligible for them as they earn more — poor families effectively face very high marginal tax rates, in some cases over 80 percent.
"So the government actually discourages them from getting ahead," he said.
"Poverty isn't a rare disease from which the rest of us are immune," Ryan continued. "It's the worst strain of a widespread scourge: economic insecurity. That's why concern for the poor isn't a policy niche; it goes to the heart of the American experiment.
"What the poor really need is to be reintegrated into our communities. But Washington is walling them up in a massive quarantine," he said.
Ryan suggested consolidating the nation's means-tested welfare programs to require most recipients to have a job or look for one — with aid gradually tapering off, not stopping abruptly as with current programs.
On education, Ryan argued for giving teachers more autonomy and parents greater school choice — and for developing job-training programs that must "put people who need jobs with people who create them.
"The problem with federal job-training programs is that they often train workers for jobs that don't exist," he said.
"For 50 years, we've been going in the wrong direction, and liberals want to march on," Ryan concluded. "Some in Washington insist that you're concerned for the poor only if you're committed to a path that has failed the poor.
"But the question isn't whether we should do more or less of the same," he added. "It is which new direction will work best."
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