The war on poverty isn’t fought and won with a monthly check from the government. In discussing the war on poverty at the Kemp Forum last week, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee spoke of the emotional and psychosocial deprivation that comes when government crowds out the family, a key variable in preventing poverty.
Huckabee cited statistics showing how a child born to married parents who have finished high school and are working has an 88 percent chance of never entering poverty. Reverse those variables, the former Arkansas governor said, and there is a 91 percent chance that child will experience poverty.
“The reversal is dramatic,” Huckabee explained. “We sometimes are even pilloried, those of us who say marriage matters, family matters, stable marriages and stable families matter. And it sounds like we’re coming at it just from trying to tell people how to live.”
“It’s an economic issue,” he continued. “You want to eliminate poverty? We can eliminate most of it by instilling in people the idea that there is a virtue. And I know that virtue is a politically incorrect word. But it is based on what this country is founded on, the idea that some things are right, some things are good and wholesome and virtuous and we should elevate and uphold them.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who moderated the conversation, said that while government can provide supply lines in the war on poverty, it should not be on the front lines. By spending trillions of government dollars on anti-poverty measures, Ryan said this effectively crowds out civil society leaders, who are better able to take a holistic approach.
Photo: Daniel Huizinga
“The reason we speak about family, the reason we speak about marriage is because that is a beautiful support structure that is there for a person to teach them, to connect them, to equip them with the skills so that, and this is what we do as parents, so that when your kids get up they have the tools they need to succeed,” Ryan said.
“But that’s missing in so many parts,” he added. “And this isn’t something that just hits people of certain income groups, whether it’s heroin or alcohol or drugs, it hits everybody. And it’s breaking families.”
Ryan asked Huckabee to discuss how Huckabee’s time as a pastor had influenced his time in government.
“Government can give you a sandwich, but government cannot give you a hug. Sometimes people need affirmation,” Huckabee said.
“We’ve made the huge mistake in this country that we should create this huge separation between faith and government, and we cannot function as a society,” he said.
Huckabee, who served as governor of Arkansas from 1996 to 2007, spoke of how he was able to bring reforms to welfare in the mid-1990s to his state. State autonomy was crucial.
“We were given a lot of flexibility of how we did it, and it worked because we knew our demographics,” Huckabee recalled. “We knew our people and we moved over half the people who had been on welfare, not just off welfare — that’s easy, you can just cut off the funds — but to get them to transition where they’re going to work every day. That’s the challenge, and we did that.”
“Government can give you a sandwich, but government cannot give you a hug. Sometimes people need affirmation”
Huckabee spoke of what Ryan referred to as the “poverty trap,” where families have little or no incentive to work and lift themselves out of poverty and instead hover around the basic threshold of government-subsidized living expenses that allow them to scrape by but not thrive. He said that structuring programs that way from a distant federal bureaucracy is harmful to working families.
“There is an industry of poverty that is built around the organizations, that if we have organizations and the advocacy groups, that that will resolve poverty,” Huckabee said. Referring to the federal War on Poverty that President Lyndon Johnson launched in 1964, he argued, “We didn’t really do much to move the needle. Part of the reason was we didn’t really attack some of the fundamental purposes and that’s the reason people can’t get out of the hole.”
Huckabee said beyond properly structuring work and assistance programs, broader tax reform could help bring back jobs for working families.
“I believe that there is an incredible opportunity for us in this country to reclaim that spirit of America, where people are rewarded for their work,” Huckabee said. “And when that happens and we give them opportunities, we’ll see the growth, not just of our economy, but the growth of our people being able move upwardly.”
“But I just think sometimes the government policies that we’ve created are created people who never spent a day poor,” he said. “And they don’t understand. And it’s one of the reasons why we need a new vision, a new approach.”
Carrie Sheffield is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @carriesheffield and on Facebook.