Spotlight Exclusives

Is Anyone Putting Foward Real Solutions?

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We cannot win the war on poverty if we are not fighting for the American dream. Tom Freedman is right to point out that conservatives are too silent on this issue. They need to begin explaining what they are doing to address the economic insecurities that many Americans are feeling. But long lists of proposals that purport, once again, to bring government to the rescue will leave Americans disenchanted if they are not aimed at the heart of the problem serious achievement gaps in education, financial illiteracy, government programs that breed dependency, and few tools to build wealth. Embracing policies for an ownership society and advocating opportunity for all will resonate with voters in the Republican primaries as well as the general election. It is my hope that this forum will drive all candidates to look more seriously at problems

Americans are facing and the solutions that will work. Millions of American lives are at stake.

Those who follow the presidential campaigns know that liberals have been far more vocal on the issue of poverty than have conservative candidates. This is not surprising, given the long history liberals have in trying to address the issue.

The question, however, is whether the ideas that candidates are putting forward provide real solutions to poverty and the economic challenges facing working families. Will the current proposals put forward by liberals truly provide new opportunity and upward mobility for low-income families, or will they continue a long history of trying to expand social insurance, even though the entitlement crisis we face is greater than it has ever been? At this point, it is hard to say. Safety nets are necessary, but without a ladder, they don۪t offer a way out and up. The war on poverty has left too many on the battlefield, and we need real solutions those that aim at the causes of poverty more than at its effects.

A successful presidential candidate might approach poverty and opportunity in America from this perspective. The welfare reforms of the 1990s had a significant impact on reducing poverty by incorporating incentives for recipients to find work. While those requirements can be burdensome in the short run, they have helped those in poverty develop the skills and resources over time that lead to a life free of dependence. Work incentives must be continued and a central part of any anti-poverty plan.

But getting a job is different from getting a high-quality job, which is why education is emerging as the essential factor in fighting poverty and inequality. Across the country, low-income students attend much worse schools than their high-income peers, graduate at far lower rates, and are far less likely to attend college. This is the case even for those students who demonstrate the most academic promise. This disparity must be fixed if poverty is to be reduced. The accountability measures of the No Child Left Behind Act provide a meaningful step toward ensuring all children have basic skills, but far more is needed to ensure that investments in human capital benefit the widest range of the citizenry as possible. Those who say they care about addressing poverty have to take a serious, honest look at what truly drives upward mobility.

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