Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Note to Governor Romney: Growth by Itself is not an Anti-Poverty Program

Today is not only the start of the GOP Convention, but the start of classes at Syracuse University, where I teach a class on Social Welfare Policy to MPA students.  This semester, we’ll obviously be talking about the presidential candidates’ positions on issues such as welfare and poverty.  I looked for the Romney campaign’s position statement, though, and came up empty.  Theirissues page lists 23 topics, but those two apparently do not merit inclusion.
When asked, Mitt Romney summarized his policy this way: “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.” But the Ryan budget plan would slash the social safety net.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, almost two-thirds of Mr. Ryan’s spending cuts come from programs that help lower-income Americans.  You can quibble about the details of CBPP’s analysis, but there’s little evidence to support Governor Romney’s pledge to repair the safety net if necessary.
The cornerstone of the Romney program is that his policies will fuel much more economic growth.  There are many reasons to doubt Romney’s growth projections, but even if they materialized, would they trickle down to help the poor?
The first reading for my class is from a book called Changing Poverty, Changing Policies, edited by Maria Cancian and Sheldon Danziger.  They address this issue at the outset:
It is not surprising that the severe economic downturn that began in late 2007 reduced employment and earnings and raised the official poverty rate. What many readers may find surprising, however, is that even during the long economic expansions of the 1980s and 1990s the official poverty rate remained higher than it was in 1973. … Even though gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has grown substantially since the early 1970s, the antipoverty effects of of this growth were substantially lower than they were in the quarter-century that followed the end of World War II.  Economic growth is now necessary, but not sufficient, to significantly reduce poverty. [p. 1, emphasis added]
In other words, governor, growth by itself is not an anti-poverty program.
There are smart thoughtful conservatives who are concerned about the very poor and have written volumes on the subject. You might ask them to help you craft a policy proposal, or at least a set of principles (which is what theWhite House website offers). My students will be debating different approaches.  You and President Obama should too.
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