When six Republicans met in South Carolina recently to discuss combating poverty their focus was predictable. Marco Rubio talked about broken families, dangerous neighborhoods, substandard housing, failing schools, and drug dealers, all while rejecting the idea of raising the federal minimum wage. He argued that welfare should be turned over to states, especially those that have recipient work requirements.
Jeb Bush, who agrees with Rubio on states taking over welfare, blathered about giving Americans the "right to rise." Ben Carson said that "some people hate rats, some hate roaches, I hated poverty." And Chris Christie warned against drug addiction as the gateway to incarceration.
Rubio invoked his parents, a bartender and a maid, to extol rising above poverty. But they had jobs which presumably they could get to without too much hassle, steady incomes, and, it would seem, someone to watch the kids. Bush's comments smacked of not wanting the problem in his neighborhood, and Carson seemed to equate poor people with vermin.
It reminded me of Paul Ryan and the accolades he received when he said he "could not, and would not, give up [his] family time" to serve as House Majority Leader. But does he hold to that ideal for people who spend hours waiting for several buses to get to two or three minimum wage jobs, worried that there is no "angel in the house" to take care of the kids, and no decent day care? Does he realize, as Judith Shulevitz pointed out in a recent New York Times op ed., that there are more than four times as many American families run by single moms as by single dads, and that a third more households are headed by women on welfare than those run by men?
The fact is the competing Republicans don't get the reality of poverty. They've never lived it and they don't like it. The only emotion it seems to raise in them is pity. God knows it's never empathy. Nor do they get the interconnections between major federal issues in need of urgent attention and poverty alleviation. Shove punitive, top-down, us/them welfare problems back to the states is their mantra. They don't want to see it and they don't want to deal with it, because dealing with it means addressing really big issues, and then funding them.
Transportation infrastructure is one example. None of the naysayers has ever had to get to work without a car (and often a driver). How willing would they be to rise in the wee hours of the morning to catch several buses in any kind of weather? How many of them have ridden sophisticated transportation systems in other countries, where wait times are almost nil and connections are well planned so that people who really work for a living can be moved about by the millions with relatively little hassle?
How many of the Horatio Alger guys have had to worry about quality, affordable, accessible daycare? Hey People on the Hill: Poor folk don't have nannies! They don't have stay at home spouses. They don't even have enough food to feed their kids half the time and some of you want to cut food stamps?
Speaking of nutrition, it's a big part of staying healthy so you can work. So is affordable, accessible, quality healthcare. It might be worth factoring that into the equation for ending poverty while you're trying to gut Obamacare or avoid universal health care.