Fighting poverty on two fronts

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Tea Party Republicans, with waning power, are still insisting that any new program must be offset by cuts in existing programs.  Their cuts in food stamps, for example, can be eliminated if the president and Democrats are willing to give something else.  The president’s new poverty program must be matched, they say, by other cuts.  These folks have effectively tied President Obama’s hands behind his back.  Only Congress can loosen the restrictions of these ropes.

I often wonder whether Republicans represent any poor people, because their attacks on things such as food stamps hurt the people that keep voting for them.  You’d never know they represent any poor people by the votes they take, their resistance to higher wages, and the ways the block programs designed to help the needy.

There is a movement afoot, though, to increase the minimum wage.  At the federal level there are proposals to raise the wage by as much as $10 an hour.  Some cities and states have already raised the wage that exceeds $10.  This is the long-term result of the Occupy Movement that, whole failing to articulate specific goals, raised consciousness about the 1 percent.  Now, people are considering tax breaks on the wealthy and insisting hat Congress look at ways that the poor are disadvantaged compared to the rich.

Some Republicans operate with an amazing arrogance, using the Bible to make their points against public assistance and food stamps.  At least two have cherry picked the Bible, using that Thessalonians verse that says, “If you do not work, you cannot eat.”  The Bible also talks about feeding the hungry, but these seem to be parts of the Bible that have escaped their notice.

Bible or not, the economic recovery is moving more slowly that anyone would like.  The stock market has had tremendous gains, but the unemployment rate has dropped slowly for the overall population, and even slower for African-Americans.  The status of African-Americans is hardly mentioned as economic analysts gloat about poverty, and some members of Congress have been downright derisive toward those who are jobless. These are the same people who voted down the president’s American Jobs Act I 2011.

President Obama is moving in the right direction by paying attention to poverty. Let’s hope Congress allows him to move from conversation to implementation.

(Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.)

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