A Look at the Post-Election Play on Poverty
By Kiki BradleyFor many in this election cycle, the issue of poverty and inequality and a chance to achieve the American Dream certainly has played a big role. Bernie Sanders elevated this to the forefront of his campaign and even Donald Trump visited several impoverished communities to discuss new pathways to prosperity. While solutions to these problems vary widely, there is common belief that this is a worthy cause and purpose to pursue.A new report has been released, “A Window of Opportunity II”, by Opportunity Agenda, that explores what Americans think about poverty, the perception of income inequality, what role the government should play in helping low-income people, barriers to success, and the decline of race relations in recent years. One particular finding of note was an increased belief that achieving the American Dream is harder now (57%) than back in 2014 (48%) when the first report of this series was issued.These concerns make sense and are legitimate. Over the past eight years statistics have shown that median household incomes have dropped, workforce participation has been dramatically reduced, food stamp rolls have sky-rocketed and over 45 million Americans live in poverty. Achieving the American Dream is a much larger stretch today than when President Obama took office.While there is no one silver bullet to eliminating poverty, we do know there are several key factors that help move more people up the income ladder and toward self-sufficiency. Requiring able-bodied recipients of our nations cash welfare program, TANF, has had the impact of moving 2.8 million families off of welfare and into jobs and providing for themselves. Expanding this requirement to other welfare programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, child care, housing, etc. would have the same impact.A 2013 Rasmussen poll found that 80% of people support and agree that, “Work is the best solution to poverty.” Similarly, a 2013 McLaughlin and Associates survey found that 63% of its respondents believed welfare programs should be available but that the safety net can become a dependency -trap and discourage self-sufficiency.The incoming President and new Congress will face many tough issues in the coming year. Helping find common ground and real solutions on the poverty and inequality front will likely be a top tier issue for both. In the mix should be a serious discussion about work requirements and those programs that lead to jobs and employment such as apprenticeship opportunities and jobs skills training. We cannot afford to lose another generation to living in poverty and the grasp of the American Dream being further from reach.