THE BLOG
09/03/2014 09:51 am ET Updated Nov 03, 2014

Bipartisan Solutions to Poverty?

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Tom Edsall takes an interesting tour through various partisan views on the causes and solutions to poverty, suggesting that there's a unified theory in there somewhere:

The emergence of a rough ideological consensus on the causes of poverty and inequality would increase the likelihood of, but by no means guarantee, agreement on such initiatives as raising the minimum wage, increasing and expanding the scope of the earned-income tax credit, programs promoting marriage and paternal involvement, as well as stronger efforts to improve the quality of education, especially in poor neighborhoods.

Two further points.

Edsall devotes considerable space to the impact of single parenthood on poverty, and as noted above, suggests marriage is an important part of the solution. But as I argue here, while I agree with much of the research he cites, there are more limits to this solution than his piece implies.

First, because changing the decades-long downward trend in marriage rates is not very realistic, and swims hard against a tide that exists for some good reasons. Second, because policy interventions to encourage marriage [the "marriage promotion programs" Edsall cites] have been shown to be quite ineffective against that tide. Third, though this is not the intention of many marriage advocates, marriage advocacy can make it harder to deepen policies to support single parents. And fourth, because it fails to recognize some of the important gains made by single mothers that push against poverty.

My second point is that there's another area -- a particularly important one -- where I wonder if there might someday be bipartisan agreement. Many on both sides agree that work should be a ladder out of poverty. The problem is that too often conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan argue that all you have to do to get a job is want a job.

In fact, there exists and large and persistent market failure to generate the quantity and quality of jobs available to low-income workers that would enable them to climb out of poverty. Yes, measures like wage supplements, child care support, and job training help, but what's really needed is a commitment that says if you're willing to work, we're willing to ensure there's a good job for you.

In other words, the left agrees to work requirements for the able-bodied poor and the right agrees to direct, public sector job creation to ensure ample opportunity.

Whaddya think?

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.