- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2014


Paul Ryan gets it.

America has an acute poverty problem, and Washington doesn’t have dibs on softening its devastating blows — even as we spend more than $1 trillion a year combating it.

The long and short of his message is that we need to rethink our anti-poverty policy.

You remember Rep. Ryan, don’t you?

A Wisconsinite from Janesville, the congressman took the national stage alongside [my man] Mitt Romney on the Republicans’ 2012 presidential ticket.

He grabbed the spotlight again when, as House budget chief, he emerged side-by-side with Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, to announce a budget compromise in December.

And shortly thereafter, he drew the wrath of the Congressional Black Caucus because he clumsily used the racially charged term “inner cities” in the same breath as “men” and “poverty.”

Poverty — real poverty — is painful.

When you live in the mountainous regions of western North Carolina and cannot feed, house and take care of your family, it hurts.

When you live a spit and a holler from the U.S. Capitol and cannot feed, house and take care of your family, it hurts.

And when you’re among the newly minted poverty-stricken, those Americans who were making ends meet prior to the recession, it really hurts because Washington can’t seem to get out of your way.

That’s where Mr. Ryan comes in.

Like San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Mr. Ryan wants America to take a fundamental approach.

He doesn’t want to take families’ food stamps, and he doesn’t want to snatch the cash welfare recipients receive.

He also doesn’t want to rescind your housing or transportation vouchers.

But he did tell me and a few other black journalists this week what he wants America in general and Washington in particular to do.

“We need to reassess our poverty policy,” he said, and “get out of our ivory tower and learn and listen get people back onto the ladder of upward mobility.”

No chump, Mr. Ryan also said we need to stop “marginalizing our poor” by ZIP codes and census tracts.

Hint: Poverty has no race, geographical, gender, marital or religious boundaries — and we need to stop pretending that it does.

The fact that the poverty rate has been sticking to 15 percent like Super Glue for three consecutive years proves as much — and that measuring stick hardly takes into account the generational poverty rate.

Part of the problem, Mr. Ryan said this week, is that we think of poverty as “government’s problem.”

It’s a platform the Democratic Party nailed down in the 1960s during the days of civil rights strides, and the Dems continue to shellac it for votes each election cycle.

This midterm, ask yourself, are you and your family better off than you were in 2012?

If your answer is no, then thank LBJ for his good intentions and pay attention to Mr. Ryan.

It’s time to reassess our anti-poverty policy, and this time it must be done by Washington politicians getting out of their ivory towers and learning and listening to what works where it hurts.

“We as conservatives need to get involved,” Mr. Ryan said. “The one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter solutions don’t work. We should look at what works where you are.”

I might add here that an anti-poverty memo needs to be shipped to Democrats, too, since one size never fits all.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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