Journalists, Experts Slam Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” On Poverty

In the week since Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the Republican-led Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility released their so-called anti-poverty agenda, titled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty,” journalists and experts heavily criticized the plan for rehashing “the same, stale, far-right ideas” pushed by Republicans in the past, and for ignoring basic facts about the inefficacy of these reforms.

Ryan’s Proposed Poverty Reforms Are Infused With Right-Wing Media Myths About The Poor

Core Of Ryan Agenda Is Lie That Anti-Poverty Programs Are Ineffective, Counterproductive. Speaker Ryan released his latest plan to reform anti-poverty programs on June 7. The report focused heavily on misleading arguments commonly forwarded by right-wing media that the War on Poverty has largely failed to positively impact the circumstances of low-income Americans, and has instead trapped them in poverty, created pervasive disincentives to work, and undermined the fabric of American families. In each case, Ryan’s position has been thoroughly debunked by economic research. [Media Matters, 6/8/16]

Ryan Omitted Minimum Wage Policies From His Plan, Routinely Relies On Debunked Right-Wing Media Myths About Living Wages. One glaring omission from Ryan’s anti-poverty agenda is that he offers no policies regarding the minimum wage. During his June 7 press conference debuting the plan, two reporters asked Ryan to comment on the anti-poverty impacts he expected from a local initiative in Washington, D.C., to raise the municipal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020. Ryan responded by parroting numerous debunked claims about the minimum wage frequently promoted by conservative media, such as that it hurts teenage and entry-level workers, that increased wages reduce mobility for low-wage workers, and that stoking economic growth is a better solution to poverty than stoking wage growth. [Media Matters, 6/7/16]

Media, Experts Bash Ryan’s “Doomed To Fail” Anti-Poverty Agenda

CBPP’s Robert Greenstein: Ryan’s Plan “Is Seriously Flawed,” Too “Vague,” And In Some Cases “Would Likely Do More Harm Than Good.” A blog post by Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), labeled Ryan’s plan as “seriously flawed” and argued that the proposals it contains “are so vague that it’s hard to figure out how they would work or affect low-income people.” Greenstein also slammed the plan for repeating standard Republican positions, ignoring the minimum wage, neglecting to address $3.7 trillion in programmatic cuts proposed by House Republicans in their budget outline, and for ignoring basic research about the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 6/7/16]

CBPP’s LaDonna Pavetti: “Work Requirements Don’t Cut Poverty.” Social scientist and CBPP vice president LaDonna Pavetti criticized the Ryan anti-poverty plan with a June 7 blog titled “Work Requirements Don’t Cut Poverty.” In it, Pavetti highlighted considerable research showing that the core of Ryan’s anti-poverty agenda actually does little to lift Americans out of poverty and can often make their circumstances even worse (emphasis original):

Most recipients subject to work requirements stayed poor, and some became poorer. Although recipients were likelier to be employed within two years of facing work requirements, their earnings weren’t enough to lift them out of poverty -- and in some programs, the share of families living in deep poverty rose. Only two programs of the 13 studied significantly reduced the share of families living in poverty, and in all of them, recipients facing work requirements were likelier to live in deep poverty than above the poverty line (see chart).

[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 6/7/16]

ThinkProgress’ Aviva Shen: Ryan’s Plan Seems “Designed To Make It Much Harder For People In Need To Access Federal Programs.” ThinkProgress senior editor Aviva Shen wrote a response to Ryan’s new anti-poverty agenda the day it was released. Shen argued that despite an apparent “change of heart” in the often cruel rhetoric Ryan once used to discuss poverty, the speaker was “sticking to his guns” on arch-conservative policy proposals that would “punish people who are genuinely struggling” under the weight of new restrictions and requirements forced upon benefit recipients:

Ryan has become the leading voice in Republican lawmakers’ crusade against welfare programs. In the past, he’s blamed poverty on a “culture problem” in “inner cities,” where he says black men are “not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” He has also argued that marriage is the cure for poverty, not government programs, and refused to allow any actual poor people testify at his hearings on poverty. He seemed to back away from some of the more racially loaded rhetoric in March, saying he was wrong to refer to people stuck in poverty as “takers.”

Despite the change of heart about his rhetoric, Ryan is apparently sticking to his guns on policy. Ryan’s previous poverty plans have targeted the federal safety net, and the new proposal seems just as fixated on the idea that people are abusing benefits. The proposal asserts that “for low-income families, it may not always pay to work,” echoing a longtime conservative theory that poor people choose not to get jobs because it’s more lucrative to rely on government benefits. [ThinkProgress, 6/7/16]

Slate’s Jordan Weissman: Ryan’s Agenda On Poverty Is Mostly “A Rehash” Of Old Ideas, But Some New Approaches Are “A Laugh Riot.” Slate senior business and economics correspondent Jordan Weissman also addressed Ryan’s anti-poverty agenda shortly after its publication. Weissman noted, “Most of the agenda is a rehash” of plans Ryan has pushed in the past based on “the welfare reforms of the 1990s.” Weissman added that Ryan’s attempt to brand himself as a poverty warrior is “a laugh riot,” particularly given that his new agenda includes a push for “craven” financial deregulation that would “make it easier for financial advisers to screw over their clients”:

But then, buried deep on the second-to-last page, is a bit so obviously craven that I haven't been able to stop chuckling about it for the past hour or so. In the name of fighting poverty and encouraging upward mobility, Paul Ryan and the House GOP want to make it easier for financial advisers to screw over their clients.

Specifically, Ryan and the GOP would like to abolish the Department of Labor's recently released “fiduciary rule,” which once it's fully implemented in 2018 will simply require that investment professionals act in their clients' best interests when offering advice on their retirement accounts. You may be shocked to discover that this is, in fact, a new thing. But traditionally, advisers have been permitted to consider their own bottom lines when deciding where to steer their clients' money, so long as the investments are “suitable” to the customers' needs. That's left the door open for massive and expensive conflicts of interest, since brokers have been allowed to push expensive, high-fee savings products that also happen to offer them a fatter commission, even when their client might just be better off with, say, a low-cost index fund.


The basic consumer protections offered by the fiduciary rule aren't going to deprive anybody of essential financial advice, and fighting it is an obvious sop to a powerful industry. Trying to cloak it in the language of an anti-poverty effort is as sad as it is hilarious. [Slate, 6/7/16]

MSNBC’S Steve Benen: Ryan’s Plan “Is Based On Faulty Assumptions.” MSNBC’s Steve Benen took apart Ryan’s poverty plan in a June 8 blog post, saying the so-called “Better Way” is “based on faulty assumptions and it ignores obvious anti-poverty measures such as the minimum wage.” Benen highlighted CBPP’s criticism of Ryan’s “vague” outline, added to Slate’s critique of the plan’s perplexing focus on financial deregulation as a poverty solution, and slammed the plan for adhering to “the same, stale, far-right ideas” as Ryan’s prior anti-poverty efforts:

The Speaker of the House has been eager, if not desperate, to show that he and his Republican conference are serious about governing – so serious that they’ve spent months crafting a detailed, six-point agenda that they’re rolling out this election year. More than five years after claiming the House majority, GOP leaders have declared they’re finally ready to demonstrate Republicans’ preparedness to lead.

But as it turns out, Part One of the “Better Way” platform – ostensibly the GOP’s best approach to combating poverty – is the same, stale, far-right ideas, coupled with an item from Wall Street’s wish list that has practically nothing to do with poverty. [, 6/8/16]

Vox’s Dylan Matthews: Ryan’s Poverty Agenda “Doomed To Fail.” Vox senior correspondent Dylan Matthews argued that Ryan’s plan “is doomed to fail” in a June 9 article highlighting how ineffective the speaker’s proposed expansion of work requirements would be at alleviating poverty. Matthews pointed to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps,” which Ryan has targeted for increased restrictions. Roughly 66 percent of SNAP participants are unable to work because they are children, persons with disabilities, retirees, or caretakers. Another 14 percent of participants are already working, but they still live in poverty and require nutritional assistance to make ends meet. That leaves a small minority (20 percent) of participants who are not working, but as evidenced by welfare reforms instituted in the 1980s and 1990s, some of those people will be left behind by work requirements rather than lifted out of poverty, through no fault of their own:

What's more, it's not clear exactly how effective additional work requirements would be at increasing earnings and cutting poverty among the minority of SNAP beneficiaries who could be working and aren't. Perhaps the best evidence we have on the question comes from experiments conducted in states in the late 1980s and early '90s, when the federal government gave out waivers to let state and local governments experiment with welfare-to-work approaches. Those experiments were usually done rigorously, with random assignment.


The best of them, in Riverside, California (long touted as a success story in welfare reform circles, and fairly so), raised the percentage of welfare recipients working by 5 percentage points by year five. That's good, but it was ultimately an increase from 39.9 percent to 44.9 percent. Huge numbers were left not working and were no longer eligible for benefits either.


The experience of national welfare reform bears this out, and suggests that though work requirements increase earnings and workforce participation on average, they simultaneously lead to an increase in the share of single mothers receiving neither welfare checks nor paychecks from jobs. [Vox, 6/9/16]

CAP’s Greg Kaufmann: Ryan’s Anti-Poverty Agenda Is A Proven Failure In His Home Congressional District. In a June 10 blog post for, Center for American Progress (CAP) senior fellow Greg Kaufmann pointed to the cities of Janesville and Racine, WI, as examples of why Ryan’s anti-poverty agenda cannot work. Both cities have lost industrial jobs to globalization, and workers dependent on employment in the service industry rely on the same anti-poverty programs Ryan plans to cut in order to augment meager salaries, which Ryan is opposed to increasing. Kaufmann quoted Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who argued that a better way to fight poverty would be to make investments in wage supports, child care, and job training programs that Ryan completely ignored in his proposal:

“If Paul Ryan wants to talk about poverty, he doesn’t have to go more than a mile from his house to talk with people who can tell him specifically how they found themselves living in their car, or without a job,” [community organizer Kelly Gallaher] said.

Representative Mark Pocan, whose district borders Janesville and who shares Rock County with Ryan, thinks that the ideas Ryan and other conservatives keep introducing “are really more stealth ways to cut programs that assist people in poverty.”

According to Pocan, the most important thing elected leaders can do in the fight against poverty is help people get jobs with family-supporting wages. That means investing in things like childcare, job training, apprenticeship programs, higher education, and infrastructure; raising the minimum wage, and supporting collective bargaining. [, 6/10/16]

Wash. Post: Ryan’s Poverty Agenda “Suggests He Sold His Soul Awfully Cheap” To Donald Trump And The “Fractious” House GOP. A bitingly critical editorial from The Washington Post slammed Ryan for back-peddling on some “ambitious” but “controversial” anti-poverty program reforms he proposed in 2014. The editorial suggested that Ryan “sold his soul awfully cheap” by publishing a plan full of “bromides” and light on policy, seemingly designed to curry favor with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and “a fractious House Republican caucus, a vocal minority of which has no interest in affirmative policymaking of any kind.” [The Washington Post, 6/11/16]

Wash. Post’s Catherine Rampell: Ryan Should Urge GOP To Expand Obamacare If He Cares About Poverty. Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell argued that if Ryan is truly concerned about welfare “cliffs” creating disincentives to work, he should work to encourage Republicans to accept Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act. Rampell noted that “about a half-million Americans who are below the poverty line” live in states that have rejected Medicaid expansion, leaving those people in a position where they are discouraged from working “lest they lose their health coverage”:

Nineteen states have held out on expanding Medicaid, leaving that detested “cliff” in place — and, arguably, discouraging about a half-million Americans who are below the poverty line from working or earning more money, lest they lose their health coverage.

This is a problem that should enrage conservatives such as Ryan, who have long considered work disincentives the preeminent problem with our social safety net.

But it is also a fixable problem. It just requires some leadership. If Ryan really cares about encouraging the poor to move up in the world — which his recent report indicates he does — he should urge state-level Republicans to swallow their pride, get over petty partisan differences and expand Medicaid nationwide once and for all. [The Washington Post, 6/14/16]

NY Times’ David Herszenhorn: Ryan’s Core Premise That The War On Poverty Has Failed “Is Substantially Undercut” By Independent Research. New York Times congressional reporter David Herszenhorn pointed to independent reports from researchers at Columbia University and the Congressional Research Service that “substantially undercut” the “bedrock premise” of Ryan’s poverty agenda, which is that the War on Poverty has been a multitrillion-dollar failure. The article quoted University of Wisconsin economist Timothy Smeeding, who criticized Ryan’s plan for relying on “broad generalities” about anti-poverty programs. It also quoted Columbia University sociologist Christopher Wimer, who argued that his own research has “sort of debunked” Ryan’s notion that “we fought a war on poverty, and poverty won.” One of Wimer’s study co-authors harshly criticized Ryan in March 2014 for misrepresenting the study’s core findings by cherry-picking the data set:

“On the war on poverty, the ‘we fought a war on poverty, and poverty won’ idea, I think our work has sort of debunked that,” said Christopher Wimer, the co-director of the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University.

His research shows that poverty in America has fallen 40 percent since the 1960s. “In the 1960s, most of the antipoverty programs we spent money on was actually cash,” he said. “Today, they come in the form of in-kind programs, food stamps or housing subsidies, or through the tax system, the earned-income tax credit, child tax credit or various other tax programs. Those simply aren’t counted.” [The New York Times, 6/14/16; Media Matters, 3/4/14]