Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 4, 2012

Another View: Candidates should address poverty


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---- — We'll go out on a limb here and assume Republicans, Democrats and Independents and conservatives, centrists and liberals believe the rising rate of poverty in the United States is a bad thing.

In fact, about two months before the election the Census Bureau is expected to release the nation's rate of poverty figure. That rate is expected to climb from 15.1 percent in 2010 to as high as 15.7 percent in 2011.

That's the estimate of more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, non-partisan and those with leanings left and right.

That would be the highest level since the 1960s. A 15.7 poverty rate would represent 47 million Americans, or one in six.

But, of course, the two main political parties have very different approaches to addressing the poverty issue. Jobs are key and Democrats and Republicans have different approaches. Democrats basically are proposing cuts to taxes on middle class via extension of the Bush tax cuts, with tax increases on those earning over $250,000. Republicans favor continuing tax cuts for all and more spending cuts to balance the budget.

But voters shouldn't be satisfied with the talking points of either party.

Tough questions need to be asked. If we're going to spend money trying to reduce the level of poverty, via tax cuts or new safety net spending, taxpayers need to know their scarce dollars are being used efficiently and effectively.

The starting point for any policy to reduce poverty should be a way to accurately and precisely measure a program's effectiveness. If we think tax cuts to small businesses will create more jobs for people who had none or just create more net jobs in general, we ought to be able to measure that after a year and say it's working or it's not.

By the same token, if we raise taxes on the wealthy, we ought to be able to say this did not hurt job creation.

If states are going to cut their Medicaid programs that provide health care to the poor, we ought to ask if the federal government's costs of welfare will rise even further, or if local hospitals will end up serving the poor without reimbursement because it is a federal law.

If the federal government is going to go further in to debt financing new safety net money, we ought to ask if that raises our interest rates and costs us more in the long run.

Poverty, it seems, has never been a more serious issue to tackle. Voters have to help candidates get it right.

-- The Free Press Mankato, Minn.