Help The Poor, Help The Middle Class

Bill Scher

Isaiah just hit upon something important when, in discussing the new anti-poverty program from Center for American Progress, he wrote:

Conservatives succeeded in taking the nation’s eye off the ball on the issue of poverty by couching it as an issue of “us vs. them,” … But that offers progressives an opportunity to reframe the poverty debate as a “we’re-in-this-together” move toward a more equitable and prosperous society.

How can we pull off such a frame? By making common cause between the impoverished and the middle-class.

Where’s the common ground? Start with today’s column from New York Times’ David Leonhardt, “What’s Really Squeezing The Middle Class.”

Leonhardt argues that we don’t know enough about volatility in the economy to say for sure that’s contributing to the squeezing. But widening inequality is indisputable. He concludes:

In an economy where volatility was the main problem, you might want to protect jobs by making it harder for companies to cut them. In an economy where inequality was the problem, you would want to protect people. You would help them pay for health insurance, retirement, their children’s education and other basic needs when the market, left to its own devices, was not doing so.

And if your resources were limited, wouldn’t you start with the problem you were sure that you had?

Then, look at the CAP anti-poverty plan, which calls upon our government to help us with education and retirement: the promotion of early education, more financial assistance for college tuition, and expanded tax incentives that encourage saving for education and retirement.

Finally, bring in Jacob Hacker’s Health Care For America plan, which would provide universal coverage with good quality and affordable cost.

Together, we have the elements of a package that can simultaneously lift up the poor and strengthen the middle-class — helping everyone with education, health care and retirement, and reversing our widening inequality.

Instead pitting us against each other, we’d be making common cause.

Because it’s not just about poverty, and about “them.” It’s about an economy that works for all of us.

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