America's Poor Shouldn't Expect Much Help From Congress

The focus of America has been on marriage equality, gun control, and immigration reform over the last few weeks. One issue that continues to trouble this country and has connection to each issue currently captivating our attention is poverty. The anti-poverty movement has failed to gain the right traction in the public discourse, but could an anti-poverty contract change that? An anti-poverty contract has the potential to help the millions of Americans in poverty, but due to the political climate in this country it more than likely will not help anyone.

What is an anti-poverty contract? As explained by Greg Kaufmann of The Nation, it is a simple, clear, and concise anti-poverty agenda. Like many progressive movements in recent years, the anti-poverty movement has many groups and many different policy agendas. What a contract of this nature would do is simplify the agenda to a few points that relate most directly to people, making it easier for the many groups to unite around some common themes.

Kaufmann gives some examples of what could be in a contract: raising the minimum wage, paid sick and family leave, affordable childcare, and ending childhood hunger. These choices certainly would rally the base, but from a political standpoint, the inclusion of raising the minimum wage and forcing companies to provide more paid leave would prevent it from gaining quality traction in Washington.

Just like "amnesty" and "citizenship" have become dirty words in the fight for immigration reform, so has "raising wages" and "paid leave" become toxic from the perception on a negative impact on businesses. Combine that with the perception of more government handouts when it comes to childcare subsidies and you have the recipe for a contract going nowhere.

It does not matter that up to 44 million people have no paid sick days and either stay home with no pay and risk losing their job or go to work sick, including restaurant workers (how is that food tasting?). It does not matter that families on waiting lists for child care subsidies are losing their jobs because of a lack of child care, as demonstrated by Helen Blank of the National Women’s Law Center.

The political division in Washington has created a climate that will not support what they perceive as attacks on small businesses or more government handouts. The benefits that come with paid sick and family leave and child care assistance are nullified by their toxicity for business and government spending. An anti-poverty contract has the potential to help the millions of Americans living in poverty by focusing on the issues most contributing to poverty, but our political climate makes it nearly impossible for the contract to have any real impact.