An interesting exchange today between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and CNBC reporter John Harwood:
JOHN HARWOOD: One of the reasons why people have been – Democrats have been hostile to your ideas, and others have raised questions. Is the idea that they have taken from some of your public comments, that you think government help, per se, is the problem with the poor? The hammock is the problem and that the way to help people is actually take away government assistance.
PAUL RYAN: No, I think the hammock’s the wrong analogy.
JOHN HARWOOD: You have used it though.
PAUL RYAN: I know and I think that is wrong. I think what I worry about are government programs that actually disincentivize work. And the many cases, and I flesh this out in my report, a person can be worse off leaving government benefits because they lose a lot of money doing that going to work. We need to fix that.
And it’s the “wrong analogy” because it (a) sort of loosely suggests everyone receiving government benefits — single moms, the disabled, seniors, long-term unemployed — is an underserving loafer and moocher and (b) can lead to the conclusion that the best way to get someone out of the “hammock” is to tear it down, to shred the safety net. As Michael Strain has written:
Over the last several decades, employment in Western economies grew in both low- and high-skill occupations, but fell in middle-skill occupations. That’s because middle-skill, middle-class occupations are those that can be most easily replaced by technology. … Without middle-class jobs, many male workers have taken low-skill, low-wage jobs. And many men have simply chosen not to participate in the labor force — employment rates for less-skilled men in the U.S. have dropped significantly over the past three decades. This has coincided with a decline in real hourly wages for men without a college degree.
Smart public policy should encourage and support work through work requirements and wage subsidies. Doing just that is the intent of Ryan’s new anti-poverty plan.