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A Holistic Approach to Poverty Prevention

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
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April 4, 2022 12:01 pm

A Holistic Approach to Poverty Prevention

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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April 4, 2022 12:01 pm

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Dr. Vance Ginn to discuss poverty in America, and why we need a more holistic, less government-focused approach if we are to truly improve poverty rates in our country.

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Welcome to Family Policy Matters, an engaging and informative weekly radio show and podcast produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. Hi, this is John Rustin, President of NC Family, and we're grateful to have you with us for this week's program. It's our prayer that you will be informed, encouraged, and inspired by what you hear on Family Policy Matters, and that you will feel better equipped to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, state, and nation. And now here is our host of Family Policy Matters, Tracey Devette Griggs. Thanks for joining us today for Family Policy Matters. Despite trillions of dollars spent in waging a war on poverty, these efforts have barely nudged the needle on long-term poverty relief.

Are we missing some crucial element in this discussion? And is it time to reevaluate how we address poverty in the public policy arena? Well, Dr. Vance Ginn is the chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and is policy director for a multi-state poverty relief initiative. He previously served in the Office of Management and Budget at the Executive Office of the President. We're grateful to have him with us today to explore these questions and more. Dr. Vance Ginn, welcome to Family Policy Matters. Well, thank you.

It's a pleasure to be with you this morning. You have been known to say, we think about poverty all wrong. So why do you say that? Well, I think what we've looked at typically is how much in material goods people have, how much income that they have. And what we've done essentially since the Great Society of LBJ was we put in place a number of programs that have been expanded over time, whether it be SNAP with food stamps, TANF, Medicaid, all these different safety net programs. And if you look at them in real terms, so inflation adjusted terms, we've spent about $24 trillion since the mid 1960s just on these types of programs.

And we're spending about a trillion dollars a year across the United States on these programs as well. And you would hope that we would have seen a much larger decline in poverty rates since then, but we really haven't. And even if you could look at it before 1965, when a lot of these were put in place, there was already a downward trend in the poverty rate.

This just kind of continued and then it flattened out over the next 40 plus years. And so what we're looking at is that we're looking at poverty all wrong because we're measuring it just by income and by material things. And really, we need a more holistic approach that brings in the community, that brings in opportunity and really more hope of what people really need for the future. And I think by looking at it in a different way, we'll not only better understand poverty and what people are going through, but also be able to come up with better solutions that are more holistic to helping out the people that are involved.

OK, so when you say that poverty or alleviating poverty is more about basic human needs than money, what do you mean about that? It goes back into what's the quality of life that these individuals have that are the recipients of these safety net programs. And oftentimes what you'll see is that, you know, it's good that they're able to pay for food, pay for housing. These are things that the safety net programs help them with.

I think that's something that's helpful there. But are they getting on a path to financial self-sufficiency thereafter? Too often what we see is that these safety net programs end up being more of what I call a hammock, where you get in the hammock, you lay in there and you end up getting trapped into the system instead of what I think what we want to have out of these safety net programs are more like a trampoline, where you bounce back into a system or a situation of financial self-sufficiency. That way these individuals aren't going back into the level of poverty and back onto the safety net as often as they are today, if at all.

I mean, I think that we'd like to see them not to go back on these programs and have more self-sufficiency for their family and being able to help them overall. And that's what we're looking at when we think about case-based management, where you have nonprofit communities helping out individuals that are connecting them more with society, with social capital and that sort of thing. Why should Christians pursue public policy that alleviates poverty? Well, as a Christian, you know, whatever I think about this, I think it's one of our duties that has been taught to us about in the Bible and by Jesus of saying, look, we need to help those that are in need and helping out the poor.

And so I think it's upon us to be able to help our fellow men, our neighbors around us. And whenever you're thinking about it from that perspective, I don't think that it's so much that we need to have government always be the first line of our first resort to help out these people. I really think it needs to come back to the individuals of people helping out people, the community helping out people, things of that nature, where the first line of defense really should be about civil society, a flourishing civil society, jobs and things of that nature and education and training and people helping out people. And then at the last resort really should be government. I think, again, when we think about poverty all wrong is that we're also coming up with the wrong solutions of having government oftentimes be the first line of defense instead of the last line of defense where we're really putting in our Christian beliefs and the things that we hold dear to our neighbors around us to really put those things forward to helping each other out, not just first resorting to government programs.

So let's talk about the primary causes of poverty here in the US. That's another great question. There's been a lot of research that's been done in this space. And whenever you look at it, it really gets into an area that I like to talk about called the success sequence. And we can expand on this some more later.

But I think what really what it is to boil it all down. This was done by some good researchers at the Brookings Institution a few years back. And what they really looked at was they said, look, if you graduate high school and get a full time job thereafter and then get married before you have kids in that order, you're 97 percent chance of not being in poverty. And so there's not causation. It's just correlation. Right. I like to put that out there. But at the same time, it's indicating that there is a success sequence to not going into poverty.

And so what does that mean? Well, that means that what are some of the indicators that we can look at that are keeping people in poverty? Well, it's the opposite of the success sequence. That's why I bring it up now is, you know, if you don't get a high school diploma, you're much more likely to be in poverty. It's hard to get higher paying jobs and things of that nature.

So it makes it more difficult for the person. If you don't get a full time job, you're more likely to be in poverty. If you get a part time job, you're not working as many hours.

So therefore, you're not going to get paid as much at the end of the week or the month and so forth. And so that's going to put you in the lower income levels of what we consider to be poverty by the different metrics that we have to measure poverty. And then if you have a kid out of wedlock or before you get married.

Right. Then you're also the single parent, more likely to be in poverty. And in fact, single mothers are the ones who tend to be most in poverty. I mean, it's a it's a pretty astonishing the sort of rates that you see, almost half of them single moms are in poverty. And so the situation of not having enough education, not having a full time job and not having a two parent household here, mother and father. Those are things that are going to keep you in power, put you in poverty and ultimately keep you in poverty unless we can overcome some of those issues, which I think oftentimes a lot of the safety net programs contribute to some of the issues because we have what's called, you know, marriage penalties and things of that nature that are within our safety net system, within our and also within our tax code that kind of keeps people incentivized to not get married. And so these are also contributing to higher and higher and higher poverty, number of people poverty over time. I mean, you oftentimes find that people are in poverty and just don't know how to get out.

They're in a situation. You know, I grew up in a pretty, pretty low income area in South Houston, Texas. And I was, by the grace of God, you know, able to get a be a first generation college student and get a PhD in economics and really continue to move up. And I'm hopefully going to help to change the direction of my family for the future. But not everyone gets those same opportunities. And that's one of the big things that we're looking at here, whether it be the success sequence or other research, is to really show that opportunity is so important. And we need to make sure that we have as many opportunities as possible for people to overcome the situations that are that happen in their life. So you also talk about the idea of work having dignity. Why is that a concept that's important for us to consider? Work really brings about the human dignity. I think it's a key component of who we are, not only as the Christian.

I think it's very important. God said, be fruitful and multiply. You know, I think part of that being fruitful is work and having that work ethic that's there goes back to as far as that. But I think even people who may not share the same faith as we do have that dignity that comes with work of being productive. I mean, I think there's also something psychologically of being able to do something and get something out of life that's meaningful. Just bring so much human dignity and allowing purpose. I think it really goes along with purpose as well. That allows for you to feel like, you know what, I'm making a difference, maybe not only necessarily just in my own life, but people around me. And having that connection really brings about more opportunities for people to feel successful, to have hope and ultimately get the income, right?

That's coming along with that so they can meet their basic necessities and hopefully have even more than that, you know, over time. So if we agree that the government program approach to the war on poverty is failing, do we have alternatives that you have not yet mentioned? Yes, we do. We recently joined the Texas Public Policy Foundation joined in this three state effort that we're calling the Alliance for Opportunity.

And it's with the Pelican Institute in Louisiana and the Georgia Center for Opportunity in Georgia, of course. And what we all have is we're all three state think tanks, more from the conservative libertarian sort of side of the right side of the political spectrum. And we really wanted to come at this and say, look, we're not here to cut programs and kick people off the programs. I don't think that's what we really want. Oftentimes the left will chastise us. That's what we want to do.

But that's not really what it is. We want people to have self-sufficiency and to be able to have that human dignity and purpose and everything else that comes with the job and not being in poverty and being dependent on government, these safety net programs. And so what we've been looking at are ways to really start to shed light on what these programs are doing, where the money is going. So we've been suggesting independent efficiency audits, someone from outside of government, like a private auditing firm, to come in and start to audit these different programs, see if they're actually doing what they're intended to do. And because too often what we find is that the money is going into other areas that were never intended and that it's going to a lot of bureaucratic bloat.

We like to call it administration, I should say, I guess. And then also you have IT and things of that nature, which are going to be a part of the equation of where the money is going to go, but not to the extent that it is today. We're also looking at more case-based, community-based case management to where the safety nets are not just tied to a government employee that's basically pushing papers. They don't have time really to see the holistic approach of how a person is doing, but the people in the nonprofit community are already doing that.

So why not attach them to what's going on there, whether they need AA meetings or if they need other things, or just having, again, that social capital of someone out in the community would really help out. We're also looking at improving workforce development. What are the needs or the demands of the employers that are out there? Let's make sure we're connecting that with the workers that are coming out. And not just a four-year pipeline of a university, but career and technical education we think is so important.

Community college is so important, not nearly as expensive, but there's so many good jobs that are available that are well-paying jobs that we really need people to go into. We're also in favor of things like apprenticeships. I think that's another key part of all of this to really get people connected to the workforce. But then also when you're looking at criminal justice type reforms, you know, a lot of people that are formerly incarcerated, it's difficult for them to get a driver's license when they get out. So if they don't have a driver's license, how are they going to get to work? And so what we're saying is, look, let's speed up this process of giving them more opportunities to get a driver's license, assuming that the reason why they're incarcerated wasn't because of that, right?

It's got to be within that sort of balance. But overall the vast majority of people should be able to get a driver's license so they don't turn back to that life of crime that they once had. Also reducing occupational licensing I think is a key part of this. And then really reducing regulations so you have more job creation and everything else. And I think by doing this in a more holistic way, we will get better results.

So we'll have more of a long lasting self-sufficiency instead of just the temporary payments, transfer payments that people receive while they're on these safety net programs. Great. Good suggestions. So we're about out of time, unfortunately, but Vance, again, where can our listeners go if they want to follow your work on this topic and learn more about the Alliance for Opportunity? Thank you again for the opportunity today, speaking of opportunity, and at the Texas Policy Foundation at You can also find me on Twitter if some of your viewers are on Twitter at advancegin. And then the Alliance for Opportunity, we have a website with what we call a roadmap with a background of each one of the areas that are affecting people in poverty, but also a roadmap of policy initiatives that we're really trying to outline for folks.

And that's at, and I would point everyone there. Great. Dr. Vance Ginn, chief economist at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Alliance for Opportunity, thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters. Thank you.

Have a blessed day. You've been listening to Family Policy Matters. We hope you enjoyed the program and plan to tune in again next week. To listen to the show online and to learn more about NC Family's work to inform, encourage and inspire families across North Carolina, go to our website at That's Thanks again for listening and may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-12 01:52:49 / 2023-05-12 01:59:22 / 7

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