To help the poor, you have to know their problems. If a person treated cancer with cough-drops they may cough less, but they will surely die. If this person were an uninformed person trying to stop their coughing with cough-drops – completely unaware of why they were coughing because of cancer – it would be somewhat understandable. The uninformed can only do the best with what they know. If an oncologist treated a cancer patient with cough-drops, the patient or their family would hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit for medical malpractice. Some progressive leaning people are hard working, working-class Americans that want to stop injustice. They see that the world could be better, and what to make it better. Conservatives are no different, we see a problem – poverty – and we want to solve it. Progressive leaders and bloggers are not talking about poverty. They want to address income equality. This is a problem if you want to help the poor. They should know better.

Focusing on Inequality Doesn’t Help the Poor

Camden, New Jersey is one of the poorest cities in the United States. Camden suffers from unemployment, urban decay, poverty, and many other social issues.

The fundamental issue is about poverty, and not about whether incomes at the top are ten or fifteen times higher than for the bottom. While these latter statistics may serve a useful political end in stocking class wars, they do little to help people in need.
– Dr. Aparan Mathur

Any policy that addresses income inequality will have either no impact on poverty or will increase poverty. Why? First, income inequality is difficult to define. If income is defined as only wages than income inequality has increased in the United States since 1979. If income includes other forms of income (like capital gains), then income inequality narrowed between 1987 and 2007.

Some argue that because this income can’t be spent on goods or service, so it should not be included. This argument is particularly popular among progressives, but it isn’t true. The ability to buy stuff depends on if you think will have a job tomorrow, not if the amount of money you can spend today. Income security is achieved through income diversification (having multiple sources of income). As real income inequality decreased between 1987 and 2007, the percentage of the poor (lower wage earners) having access to expensive household appliances and modern technology increased.

In the 2000s, we stopped focusing on poverty and started focusing on income. It began with Bush. Welfare policy under Bush focused on expanding the welfare base through “compassionate conservativism.” Many of Obama’s policies began under the Bush administration. For example, Medicare Part D is a forerunner to ObamaCare’s medicade expansion. No Child Left Behind is a forerunner to Race to the Top and Common Core.

Compassionate conservativism led to more poverty. In 2000, poverty in the United States was at 11.3% of the total population. By 2007, before the recession, the rate was at 12.5%. The recession pushed the number up to 14.3%. Barack Obama expanded welfare programs, focusing on income-inequality. The recession increased the poverty rate to 15.1%, and it has only dropped to 15%.

When we focus on income inequality instead of poverty, we start to focus on things that help people that don’t need help, but people who want help. In a world with limited stuff, we can’t help everyone. Someone will fall through the cracks. When we focus on income-inequality, the poor fall through the cracks.

Focusing on Poverty Helps the Poor

Women giving a meal to a homeless man on Broadway Street between 79th and 80th Street in New York City

People working 8 hours a day, forty hours a week on their third job. Others can barely afford to feed their children breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If the rent ain’t too high in your state, something is high somewhere.- Jimmy McMillian

People who are poor are suffering because they cannot afford to purchase food, pay their rent, and purchase health care. These are issues of personal finance. Personal financial issues are solved at the local level. Job growth is crucial. The ability to take advantage of job growth is also crucial. Policies that focus on creating jobs and ensuring that people can work help the poor. They address the problems they face.

Poverty measures in the 1980s and 1990s addressed poverty directly. Clinton/Gingrich welfare reform focused on continually training the working population and providing assistance only to those in need. Single parents need to know that their children will be safe while they are at work. The economy must be stable enough that people know they will have a job tomorrow. People with unneeded skillsets need to know how to get retrained for a related service without going into debt. Even libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek thought that developed nations should focus on these areas to reduce poverty.

Focusing on poverty means focusing on improving three areas: the culture, the job prospects, and national economic security. To improve the culture, we must advocate policies that build up the education sector to provide the maximum amount of opportunity and reform the social safety net to focus on poverty reduction. To improve job prospects, we must create an implement a pro-jobs national and state policy that reduces the burdens on businesses, especially the burden on small businesses. A pro-jobs policy not only allows for a deeper job market, it allows lower-middle class families the flexibility to become entrepreneurs and better themselves. Finally, the federal government and state governments have to become serious about their debt. It is undeniable that Greece couldn’t maintain its safety net because of its heavy spending and poor public policy. When our nation and our states do not appreciate the powerful, destructive force of high levels of debt, it transfer risk to Americans.