A Better Strategy on Poverty

David Brooks had an interesting article in Tuesday's New York Times about the different approaches taken by John Edwards and Barack Obama when it comes to the issue of poverty. Brooks is an astute political observer, and he didn’t mention any approaches taken by any Republican candidates, probably because no Republican has really focused that much on the issue. It is time for the Republican candidates to get in the game.

Poverty is a real issue in America. Poverty crushes the dreams of millions of Americans. Efforts to take care of the poor cost the Treasury billions of dollars, money that seems to get little results. Poverty encourages crime. Where there is poverty, the chances of disease, like TB, increases. 

Some may think that poverty is somebody else’s problem. But it is everybody’s problem.

And the federal government has done a lousy job of attacking this problem.

I think Republicans have a philosophy that, if applied correctly, can be successful in attacking poverty.

Jack Kemp used to call it a hand-up instead of a handout. But it goes beyond that.

The Republicans' philosophy stresses family values, law and order, the free market, and accountability.

Here is how it should work when applied to our poorest neighborhoods.

First, family values. More specifically, the epidemic of fatherlessness.

The statistics are overwhelming. If you grow up in a fatherless home, you are more likely to be poor and turn to crime. A study that looked at the relation between divorce rates and out-of-wedlock birthrates and violent crime between 1973 and 1995 found that nearly 90 percent of the change in violent crime rates can be accounted for by the change in percentages of out-of-wedlock births. Research shows that nearly 75 percent of children in single-parent homes will experience poverty before they are 11 years old, compared with only 20 percent of children in two-parent families. And yet, what is the government doing to attack the problem of fatherless homes?

Training programs, teaching kids how to be good fathers, should be supported. Roland Warren of the National Fatherhood Initiative goes to places where the men are, places like prison, to teach them how to be good and caring fathers. He should get the full support of the American people.

Second, law and order.

We need to get serious about fighting gangs and the drug trade — the most serious problem facing the inner city. There were 30,000 murders in America in 2004-2005, at least 50 percent of which were connected to drugs and gang activity.

We lose more each year to gangland murders in this country than we have lost in Iraq. Where is the outrage?

Third, the free market. Enterprise zones work. They should be extended and deepened. Small businesses that open in these enterprise zones should be exempt from all taxes.

Finally, accountability — especially when it comes to schools.

No Child Left Behind is having an impact, mostly because it puts school administrators on notice that incompetence isn’t good enough. But accountability should stretch beyond teachers and administrators. It should stretch to parents. When kids show up with guns or knives in the classroom, the parents should be punished too. The Annual Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools has identified "lack of discipline" as the most serious problem facing the nation's educational system. Each month approximately three percent of teachers and students in urban schools, and one to two percent in rural schools, are robbed or physically attacked. Nearly 17,000 students per month experience physical injuries serious enough to require medical attention. Kids can’t learn without a safe learning environment, and if they don’t learn, they can’t succeed in life.

Fighting poverty means more than promoting big government and higher taxes. The Republican philosophy of strong families, strong law enforcement, free-market principles and better accountability and discipline can make a real difference in improving the lives of poor Americans. We should start talking about how that philosophy is a better strategy to combat poverty.

More in Senate

Tea Party senator: Americans deserve better Defense bill

Read more »