Notes on "Presidential Politics and Poverty" at The Urban Institute

Friday, September 26, 2008 | Margy's Blog & Updates

Or… “The Mobility Agenda gets a shout out”

by Research Associate Jonny Finity

On Tuesday, EJ Dionne – distinguished Washington Post journalist, renowned political analyst, and Brookings Institution Senior Fellow – addressed a crowd for the 2008 Paul Offner Lecture at The Urban Institute on “Presidential Politics and Poverty.” 

Mr. Dionne talked at length about the role government plays – and should play – in supporting “the least among us.” He suggested that many government programs in the last several decades have seen great success: Medicare, Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Head Start, the Job Corps, the GI Bill, student loans, and – despite its problems – Medicaid.

In spite of these successes, Mr. Dionne remarked, the policy debate over poverty issues is far from over, particularly when it comes to public perception.  He shared some insights citing The Mobility Agenda‘s own Margy Waller, on a different kind of goal (though one that works toward shared objectives) that everyone can support: 

We want to live in a place where all have the opportunity and resources necessary to contribute and participate fully in our economy and democracy. We all fare better when no one is left to fall too far behind and the economy works for everyone. Right now our communities have become too dependent on corporations that don’t pay well and don’t provide benefits like health care or paid sick days. As a result, there are over 40 million jobs (1 in 3 in our economy!) that pay under about $11 an hour. If we want a strong economy for all, we have to address job quality too. If we want people to participate in our civic life - volunteering in schools and on ball fields – then we need to make sure that everyone has what they need to do that. Because whenever too many fall too far behind the rest, our whole society is diminished. 

These comments couldn’t be timelier, as the economic crisis unfolds and the media and politicians nationwide clamber for a redefinition of “poverty.” It is true that the current definition of poverty is flawed and outdated. But the fact remains, that to define poverty is to divide society. It creates a chasm between “us” and “them”, and creates a culture of sympathy and – equally as often – blame. To address the problems attributed to poverty, we need to focus on the bigger picture: a picture in which all of use are included.


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Dear Paul Krugman

Thursday, February 14, 2008 | Margy's Blog & Updates

Paul Krugman idealizes the democratic process in Clinton, Obama, Insurance (Feb 4, 2008). If Congress adopted policy on merit alone, we would already have guaranteed, quality, affordable health care in this country. And gun control too.

There’s every reason to conclude that proposals sounding like they limit choice —by including something called a “mandate”, for example — will trigger public concerns about government interference and administrative competence. Indeed, even focusing on the “universal” aspect of health care proposals makes people who already have it think about what they would have to give up for others to get it.

We’ve recently had a brief debate about whether words matter in campaigns. Careful consideration about the public conversation that can create the space and public support for guaranteed health care in the future is exactly what’s called for now.