Fighting poverty is a popular theme and as an adroit politician, President Obama has addressed the issue at recent speeches criticizing his perceived opponents – Christians, Republicans and the wealthy for their inaction and policies. Given that all of us are concerned about the condition of those in poverty, his contentions have emotional appeal but their failure to apply accurately the real economic causative factors is noticeable.
Examination of the results of President Obama’s policies over the six and one half years of his tenure in office presents a bleak picture. While the nominal unemployment rate has declined, new highs have been reached in the number of working aged Americans who are not in the workforce and those who are on food stamps and the income gap between the well to do and the poor has widened. Economic problems of African Americans have become acute. Black unemployment has risen 60 percent and their already high number in poverty has climbed 27 percent.
The condition of poverty afflicts people in a wide variety of circumstances. Some are elderly or otherwise unable to rejoin the work force, but the great bulk of those who are impoverished would welcome the opportunity to be employed or obtain more financially rewarding employment. It seems time to recognize that poverty has worsened in recent years and if improvement is desired it may well be that different policies are indicated rather than continuing those that have been used in recent years.
The problem with government assistance to those who in poverty is that while relief is provided to assure at least the necessities for survival, it does not generate a transition to a better economic condition and it tends to create a victim and dependency mentality. Only new and better employment can rectify this situation. Politicians on both sides of the aisle recognize that only stimulation of and growth in the economy can result in meaningful and continuing improvement for most of those in poverty.
While in the Obama years there has been a recovery from the 2008 recession, economic growth has been slow. With increased government centralization, higher taxes, greater business regulation and more government spending economic growth has peaked at a low rate and is currently unsteady.
All segments of our national society depend on economic growth for their well-being. Our current position contains numerous crevices. A reduction in the breadth of poverty in our country is vital for our future success. The current limited American growth rate we are experiencing is inadequate for survival in an increasingly competitive world.
With the political races for president in 2016 already shaping up in both parties, there is no shortage of rhetoric about the needs and problems of those who are in the lower ranges of the economic ladder. There is a general recognition that economic growth is a principal component of any meaningful improvement in the condition of those meeting poverty criteria as well as for those who are considered “middle class Americans.”
But the programs urged to achieve robust economic growth vary sharply between the two parties. Republicans seem to believe that economic recovery is generated by lower taxes, less business regulation and fiscal responsibility.
Democrats, on the other hand, are supportive of governmental stimulus and higher minimum wages. Some Democrats argue that the gap between the wealthy and others can be reduced by increased taxation of higher incomes.
While raising taxes on higher incomes may have merits for other reasons, there is a wise saying that you cannot legislate the poor out of poverty by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
There are no illuminated signposts that will assure a panacea of benefits. If we are to emerge on the best course, the alternatives need to be wisely evaluated and logical decisions made.
Our 2016 election will be a watershed occasion. Each of our political parties has its program for accelerating our economic growth.
Our voters must listen thoughtfully with open minds to the recipes being offered to dispel poverty, alleviate the stagnant condition of our middle class citizens and propel a meaningful recovery for our national economy and then vote their convictions.
Choosing the better course will be critical in determining whether we will enjoy a better future for ourselves and the generations of Americans who will succeed us.
Walter Lewis is a retired attorney who lives on Kauai and writes a regular column for The Garden Island.