Is Paul Ryan’s Poverty Report Problematic?

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Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Reading Paul Ryan’s new report, The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later, I was most struck by how disconnected it is from the real-world economic concerns of today’s diverse working class (a term I use to designate people in roughly the bottom third of income/wealth distribution.) Here are just a few of the real issues of concern to working-class people, none of which receive any mention in Ryan’s report:

  • Stagnant and declining wages, particularly for men since the 1970s, but also for women over the last decade. As EPI’s Heidi Shierholz has noted, in the last decade even male workers with a college degree haven’t seen any real wage growth. Declining and stagnant wages have nothing to do with the programs for low-and middle-income people that Ryan obsesses about in his report, and everything to do with bad policy decisions like those Shierholz details; prioritizing low inflation over full employment, weakening labor standards including the minimum wage, a high dollar (which costs manufacturing jobs), and the attack on workers’ ability to form unions.
  • Helping working- and middle-class mom, dads, and families balance work and parenting (and other caregiving responsibilities.) While women’s increased labor force participation over the last several decades has helped families economically, our public policies haven’t really adjusted to the fact that both women and men are increasingly combining breadwinning and caregiving. Now, states and cities are doing something about it by creating policies that ensure workers are able to take paid family leave and have access to paid sick days, and to expand pre-K. Yet, there are absolutely zero mentions of family-friendly policies like these in Ryan’s report. Similarly, you wouldn’t hear anything about issues like the gender pay gap in Ryan’s report.
  • Although you wouldn’t know it from reading the papers or listening to politicians like Paul Ryan, today’s working class is incredibly diverse. As I’ve written, 56 percent of black women and 65 percent of Latinos self-identify as working class today, compared to 40 percent of white, non-Hispanics. Yet, Ryan’s report has basically nothing to say about racial and ethnic disparities in wages and other areas. Although comprehensive immigration reform would remove barriers that are keeping hundreds of thousands of families impoverished, it’s not mentioned in Ryan’s report.
  • Strengthening retirement security by expanding Social Security and reforming the failed 401(k) system. Social Security is our single most important and effective poverty-reduction program. So, of course, it receives no mention in Ryan’s report, although it should be noted that Ryan does spend over a page discussing the $3 million Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant.

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