House Republicans Lay out a “Better Way” to Fight Poverty

More millennials believe that wealth is achieved through luck than hard work. That’s one of the findings of our latest report—Growing Up GOP—which seek to better understand young voters and how the GOP can communicate with them effectively. It’s little surprise then that our focus groups also found that, when asked to “build” the ideal candidate, the quality that was most often cited was a candidate who was “kind to people of all walks of life.”

The common theme was simple: Millennials want leaders who care. They value that far more than traditionally valued candidate qualities, such as experience in office, having business or military experience, orbiting someone who deeply studies policy issues. Young adults tend to believe that if a person’s heart is in the right place, if they care deeply about things like equality, and are willing to work extremely hard to get things done, then everything else will take care of itself.

A candidate who “knows the system” would be nice if the system was working, but millennials think the American Dream is currently broken. If Americans are relying on luck to be financially secure, then it makes sense to search for a mechanism to help the unlucky.

House Speaker Paul Ryan understands this dynamic and is working hard to show that the GOP is not only the party of ideas, but that it’’s squarely focused on helping segments of society that have too long been overlooked.

On Tuesday, Speaker Ryan rolled out an anti-poverty plan, the culmination of Ryan’s travels through the poorest parts of America to see low-income communities firsthand and speak with the boots-on-the-ground in the fight against poverty, and the work of the Poverty, Opportunity and Upward Mobility Task Force, which is made up of six Republican committee chairmen who focused on the challenges they saw in their districts.

The 35-page document—the first in a larger agenda that will be rolled out over the coming weeks—is built around five key ideas:

  1. Reward work: As one of the plan’s authors, Rep. Kevin Brady, wrote in the Washington Post: “Decades of experience show that the most effective anti-poverty program is not one of the 80 disjointed programs run by the federal government – but instead, it’s a job. It’s helping low-income Americans earn success through the dignity of work.” Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially with an economy that is morphing faster than people’s skills, which is why the plan also incentivizes education and work-preparation.
  2. Tailor benefits to people’s needs: Currently, many of the government’s anti-poverty programs and benefit systems have “welfare cliffs,” which disincentivize work by reducing benefits as income rises. Part of the problem is that the current one-size-fits-all solution, isn’t actually tailored to any given individual’s needs or situation. The House’s proposal would incentivize a more holistic and flexible approach that encourages states to work with local partners, who know the members of their community personally, in order to tackle the problems from the ground-up.
  3. Demand results: Ron Haskins of the left-leaning Brookings Institution praises the report as “full of good ideas,” and specifically singled out it’s focus on holding government-funded programs accountable for outcomes. “A notable characteristic of today’s report is the emphasis on evidence, to which an entire section of the report is devoted,” Haskins writes. “Yes, discussions of evidence tend to induce yawns among Washington insiders and the public. But if the evidence-based proposals released today by Ryan became standard procedure in Washington and state capitals, especially by executive agencies, the nation would know a lot more about effective ways to address our nation’s most pressing social policy problems.”
  4. Improve schools and skills: “If we treat poor kids like statistics, they will become statistics,” the plan’s authors write. So in order to focus on more person-centered education, the plan proposes to strengthen early childhood development and support more research into what works, to improve the juvenile justice system to give kids better services in order to stop the cycle of recidivism, and to encourage innovation in higher learning and tuition-assistance programs.
  5. Plan and save for the future: Washington can’t forget about people once they’re on their feet, it must make sure that they continue to have the ability to capitalize on that success. To foster investment and assist Americans in building their long-term savings the plan eliminates regulatory burdens that reduce access to banking services and makes it easier for employers to band together to offer 401(k) retirement plans.

Notably, Paul Ryan presented the plan at a nonprofit social services provider called House of Help, City of Hope in the downtrodden Anacostia neighborhood of Washington.

“These are the people who are fighting poverty on the front lines … and they are winning, Ryan said. “If there is anyone we should listen to, it is them – the people here in our communities who are actually successful in fighting and winning and beating back poverty. What they’re doing is, they’re not isolating the poor, they are elevating the poor. If we want people to contribute to our society, then we need to reward those contributions.”

If our recent report on the attitudes of young voters is any indication, this is exactly what young voters want to hear. We can’t wait to hear more.