Ambrose: The War for Poverty

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceFebruary 27, 2014 

AMBROSE JAY MCT

Ambrose

. — MCT

This year is the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s War on Poverty and there has been lots of discussion of whether it worked or didn’t. It didn’t, at least as regards its advertised purpose of reducing poverty. But it didn’t do anything to worsen it, either. That’s President Obama’s record.

The pain has been terrible, as you can find by asking about black teens and discovering that their unemployment rate is up to a horrifying 38 percent. That’s one fact mentioned by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, in something he wrote for National Review Online. Other facts: Food stamp use has increased 50 percent to 48 million people and Social Security disability has been rising by a million a year.

It’s the worst recovery since World War II, and yes, I know, President Obama has an explanation for all evil in the universe — George W. Bush — and some of his defenders add that, geez, this was a really bad recession, Obama was up against a recalcitrant Congress, recoveries are complicated and give the guy a break.

I’d say along with other critics to take some of that list into consideration and then agree that Obama has been a major factor through his fiscal recklessness, his total incompetence as a negotiator and a constantly divisive rhetoric that has rendered trust and compromise feathers in a hurricane.

Even now he continues to miss the point, as in conveying in press leaks about the 2015 budget that he’s giving up on the idea of restructuring Social Security. Fixing that program and other entitlements is crucial for dealing with a bloated debt. The Washington Post reports, however, that Obama figures the era of austerity is over, and I’d say listen to Charles Blahous about this so-called austerity.

A trustee for Social Security and Medicare, Blahous observes that the four biggest deficits in close to seven decades, along with three years of record spending in that stretch, occurred during Obama’s first term. He notes that projections are that we will get more excess like that in the 2020s, thanks in part to what Obamacare is going to cost us.

Because the deficits have come down lately, many have joined Obama in yawning about the debt. Don’t, says the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, which has noted it will be a towering threat during the next decade, lowering wages, vastly complicating budget management and maybe going “boom” in a new fiscal crisis that would leave darned few of us alone.

Part of Obama’s answer is to take away an additional half-million jobs. That would be the possible cost of the minimum wage hike he wants, according to the CBO, which also points out that a third of the increased wages would go to families with total incomes three times higher than the poverty level. Yes, many of the worst off would be helped, but not a ton. They would go from poor to not quite as poor.

We also get this income inequality talk that is little more than gouging some who made it big for the sake of applause and more taxes. To be sure, the administration is up to some decent things, such as trying to fix a malfunctioning Head Start pre-K program launched as part of the War on Poverty, though further expansion of such programs should likely be left to states and localities that have often done a much better job.

The main thing in fixing poverty is a tough thing, say experts at both conservative and liberal think tanks. It is prompting cultural change that keeps fathers around to help mothers and keeps teens from dropping out of school. I think dramatic White House leadership on such fronts could help a lot more than beating up one group in order to make another group grin.

Email Mr. Ambrose, an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune, at speaktojay@aol.com.

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