January 17 2014

If They're Serious About Fighting Poverty, Liberals Must Reduce Job-Killing Regulations

Carrie L. Lukas

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein claims that the public can judge whether Republicans actually care about helping the poor based on how much money they dedicate to welfare programs. If they propose reducing spending, then their concern for the poor is merely lip-service.

Yet the public ought to consider another litmus test: If Democrats actually want to help people people become self sufficient and find jobs, then they will look for ways to make it easier for businesses to create jobs and hire people. Thus far, the Left pushes entirely in the other direction, proposing higher payroll taxes, more mandates for benefits (such as ObamaCare), and of course, a higher minimum wage. It's hard to take seriously that job creation is really a priority when they do everything possible to make it more expensive to create a job.

Klein sneers about a new proposal presented by AEI's Michael Strain, for a comprehensive approach to reducing unemployment. Klein writes:

Some of Strain’s ideas will thrill conservatives. He calls for policies that would reduce “oppressive licensing requirements” at all levels of government, reform the disability insurance system so it rewards work, facilitate immigration by highly skilled foreigners, and expand union-busting right-to-work laws to more states.

He then goes on to describe some of the other ideas Strain offers, such as providing relocation assistance to the long-term unemployed and allowing employers to pay formerly unemployed workers less than minimum wage, while the federal government makes up the difference. Klein continues:

That’s not the kind of idea you normally hear from Republicans. But Strain’s point is that these aren’t normal times -- and Republicans have to stop acting as if they are. “I don’t think traditional solutions that people on the right typically turn to would be particularly effective here,” he said. “Lower taxes are important for long-run growth. Less debt is important for long-run growth. But cutting the top marginal income tax rate this year or doing draconian spending cuts to balance the budget won’t be particularly effective in getting the unemployed back to work.”

Strain’s article doesn’t offer much in the way of budget estimates. So I asked him point-blank whether his proposals would require spending more money.

“Yes,” he said.

Klein feigns shock that Republicans might actually consider a spending program, if they believed that it would actually move people toward self-sufficiency, or that there are limits to what lowering marginal tax rates would do for those who have been long out of the employment market. Yet this should come as no surprise. Republicans understand that there is a need for a safety net and that positive reforms can require an upfront investment. Gov. Tommy Thompson made this perfectly clear during his welfare reform:

If we are going to invest money as a society or as a state to help poor families, it makes sense to invest it in ways that will help them enter the workforce and become self-sufficient-instead of sending checks out once a month and in effect just walking away from their needs....

When we first started working on reforming welfare in Wisconsin, I invited individual mothers on welfare to visit the executive residence. You can imagine how somebody from a poor neighborhood might feel being invited to the governor's mansion in Madison and sitting down with the governor to talk about personal problems. I do this on a regular basis because I enjoy inviting them to the executive residence for lunch. Why? I wanted to know straight from those who were on welfare why they were on welfare.

We found their answers to be very simple, yet very profound. They wanted to work-something I always had believed was the case-but they were concerned about being unable to afford health care for their children, to obtain quality child care, and to find transportation to and from their jobs. They could not afford to pay for these necessities on their own, especially for health care. So they stayed on welfare as a means to care for their families.

From these meetings and from related research, we began to understand how government could help these families become self-sufficient. The solution was not simply to hand them a check to cash and walk away. The solution was developing meaningful programs that could support them in their struggle for independence-programs for child care, health care, job search assistance, and transportation. The solution was to provide these programs as a ladder to help them climb out of poverty and off welfare. So we immediately started shifting resources to these areas.

Strains' proposal may have many new innovative ideas, but the idea of investing in programs to help the jobless find work is hardly a first for conservatives.

If Klein is skeptical that Republicans might actually really want to help the unemployed and would sacrifice a sacred cow to do so. Yet why does he believe that Democrats are serious about job creation, when they ignore all proposals to facilitate private sector job creation and indeed seem to do everything possible to push in the other direction?

Why is it only Republicans who support reform of absurd licensing regimes and embracing common sense right-to-work laws? Why isn't Klein asking for the evidence that the long-term UI actually is helping the job climate, as Democrats claim? Before proposing yet more government stimulus spending, shouldn't a little more scrutiny be given to why the trillion dollars plunged into the Democrats' surefire scheme to finance “shovel-ready” jobs and bail out state governments failed to work as promise? And what about that immediate jobs-boom that ObamaCare was supposed to usher in?

Democrats are wedded to the idea of expanding government power, having the government control more resources, transfer more money from one group to another, regulate exactly what our compensation packages must include, as well as what our health insurance must cover. That's their prescription for success in extraordinary times like these, and all other times as well. They say that its all part of helping lift people out of poverty, even though the massive expansion of federal anti-poverty programs has failed to actually reduce the problem of poverty.

Lip-service to helping the poor? Klein should ready his own columns.

 

 

 

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