Chapter Sixteen:
Current Proposals Considered

As poverty and income inequality worsen, economic-security advocates are presenting a wide variety of proposals to reduce or eliminate poverty. These proposals usually rely on indirect measures, such as economic growth, job training, or neighborhood-based community development. As discussed in Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen, these indirect measures, however valuable in and of themselves, will never be sufficient to guarantee economic security for all.

Some antipoverty proposals, however, do affirm direct federal action to increase personal incomes and/or expand economic opportunity. This chapter considers some of these proposals and contrasts them to the National Economic Security Program (NESP), which is also based on the affirmation of federal responsibility. These proposals are divided into two categories: those that propose ending poverty, and those that propose reducing poverty. The list of proposals considered here is not complete, but should suffice to clarify how NESP is distinctive.

A. Targeted Programs

First of all, it is instructive to analyze an element shared by many antipoverty proposals in both categories - that is, the recommendation that antipoverty programs should be only for poor people. This approach may not be as warranted as it first appears to be.

In 1993, the National General Assistance Working Group, for example, released a National Jobs and Income Support Platform endorsed by the National Coalition for the Homeless and 22 other local, state and national groups. This statement affirmed:

This group also called on the federal government to:

  1. become the employer for no and low income single people when no private-sector jobs are available;
  2. include job opportunities for low and no income singles in any job-creation initiative;
  3. supplement income when jobs do not pay enough to provide for basic needs of an individual;
  4. increase SSI for those who cannot work;
  5. raise the minimum wage;
  6. expand the Earned Income Tax Credit program;
  7. minimize bureaucratic barriers to entitlement programs.

Though this proposal affirms many of the same principles that underlie NESP, it differs from NESP in that it is less specific, it excludes retired persons and the farming community, and it fails to identify funding sources. More germane to the subject of this section, however, the jobs proposal in this platform is specifically designed for "low and no income" people.

This approach is not unusual; it has often been adopted by antipoverty programs that establish eligibility criteria so that only members of special populations qualify. The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program, for example, "targeted" the long-term unemployed. And President Clinton's proposed guaranteed community-service job for welfare clients is another example: only welfare recipients would qualify.

But targeted programs pose a number of difficulties. Partly because they are reserved for relatively less skilled workers, targeted programs tend to offer substandard wages. This approach encourages local governments to use these new positions to cut back on existing, more costly positions. In addition to contributing to a general lowering of wages and consumer purchasing power, this practice provokes opposition from unions, which makes them less viable politically.

In addition, members of the general public are less likely to support targeted programs than they are to support universal programs for which all or most people qualify, like Social Security. Programs that are "for the poor" or any other identified minority tend to be stigmatized as "welfare," which weakens their ability to garner political support.

Establishing special qualifications also imposes costs, both financial and social. Screening applicants adds costly bureaucratic red-tape. Moreover, the screening process tends to be demeaning and stigmatizing to applicants, who must prove that they are sufficiently disadvantaged to qualify for special treatment.

Rather than directly targeting disadvantaged populations, antipoverty programs can instead benefit those individuals indirectly. A federal economic-security program, such as NESP, can fund entry-level jobs at standard wages that will attract qualified lower-income applicants, but generally will not attract more affluent applicants. Most middle- and upper-income people do not apply for entry-level jobs that pay only seven or eight dollars an hour plus benefits. In addition, most middle-income people are not qualified for certain jobs for which many low-income people are particularly well-qualified, such as peer-counseling positions in drug-rehabilitation programs. A new federal-jobs program can emphasize jobs of this sort: entry-level jobs and the provision of services to lower-income communities. This approach will thus benefit primarily low-income job seekers.

Some middle-income people will seek new community-service jobs, partly because they offer more personal satisfaction that is typically the case with private-sector employment. Moreover, the new jobs program will also finance some jobs that pay more, perhaps as much as ten dollars an hour. These jobs will likely provide relatively more opportunities for middle-income people. In any case, everyone will know that the jobs safety-net affords universal protection and provides an option for everyone, including parents who want to work part-time or young adults who want to leave home. In this way, a jobs program can expand the potential base of political support by providing opportunities for a majority of the general population.

To some degree, this universal approach can still target certain populations by the nature of the public services that are funded. By funding peer-support programs for recently homeless people seeking employment, for example, formerly homeless people will most likely qualify for positions that require specialized skills. Nevertheless, under this scenario, to some extent, the "cream-of-the crop" will be the first hired, whereas a targeted program can theoretically reach less skilled people more quickly. But even during the first stage of implementation, many low-income people will get public-service jobs. And a large jobs program will open up jobs for less skilled people in the private sector as already employed individuals leave jobs open when they transfer to public-service work. Most importantly, however, as progress is made toward full employment with the steady increase in funding for public-service jobs, soon there will be a good job for everyone. The key is to build compelling support for the principle of guaranteed employment opportunity, and then to move toward that goal as quickly as is feasible.

A new jobs program with entry-level jobs at or near seven dollars an hour, as proposed by NESP, will thus directly benefit disadvantaged people by offering them entry-level jobs, with the opportunity for future advancement as they establish a work record. And federal funding for local jobs will also benefit disadvantaged communities by improving needed public services, such as park and recreation staff in lower-income neighborhoods.

Taking all these factors into consideration, it seems that a jobs program open to all holds more potential than do traditional targeted programs, if only because universal programs can more easily be sustained politically. If we start with advocating targeted programs, we are limiting our prospects. By adopting a universal approach, we can more effectively and more quickly build political support for guaranteeing the human right to living-wage employment. The federal government should steadily make available to state and local governments more money for ordinary, traditional public-service jobs.

B. Proposals for Reducing Poverty

Most federal antipoverty proposals only call for reducing poverty. But some of these share with NESP support for an active role for the federal government in the direct enhancement of economic well-being.

1. Clinton's Secret War on Poverty

Although he has seldom discussed it openly, President Clinton has advocated and supported certain measures to reduce poverty. In general, Clinton has done very little for the poor. As political writer Michael Lind wrote in The New Republic:
Clinton did his best to chase the rightward-drifting center. Remember, this was the most conservative Democrat since Grover Cleveland.... Indeed, Clinton's stillborn neoliberalism looked much like the emerging Republican consensus.
Nevertheless, Clinton has at times addressed poverty and the threat of poverty. In particular, he won a substantial increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit, though he largely hid this item in his budget proposal and hardly ever commented on it.

For a brief period in 1993, Clinton addressed the issue of economic insecurity with eloquence. On one occasion, he promised his audience, "I have got to lay a foundation of personal security for the working people of this country and their families in order to succeed as your president." In the days following that speech, the administration stepped up its planning for what The Washington Post called

a new security network to deal with the anxieties - real or imagined - of millions of middle­class working families who have been buffeted by turbulent economic change for more than a decade.
Clinton subsequently repeated the theme in a number of speeches.

As summarized by the Post, the outline of his new system involved four elements:

  1. Health care. The president has proposed a new system of national health care to ensure that all Americans have access to medical treatment at an affordable cost. This would give workers the security of health-care protection even if they lost their jobs.
  2. Education. To provide more skills (and security) for those who never go to college, the administration has proposed major reforms for public education. The legislation would include national test standards and improved public school curricula. The administration also wants to make it easier for people to get low­interest government loans to further their education.
  3. Pensions. To boost security for retirees, the administration has proposed toughening the requirements for companies that make pension promises to their employees so that the firms set aside money to pay for those promises [and make them] portable, so workers can take them from job to job.
  4. Training. To help cope with the job losses, the administration proposes to consolidate the current hodgepodge of government assistance programs for workers who lose their jobs into a single program of "adjustment" assistance to help retrain people who have lost work, regardless of the reason. This would combine unemployment payments with training to help individuals survive financially while they receive training for a new job.

Making pensions and health care portable would constitute direct federal action to expand economic opportunity. But despite his ambitious rhetoric concerning "a foundation of economic security," Clinton's specific proposals fall short of any significant change. Most notably missing is direct job creation. Clinton instead perpetuates the myth that improved education is the key to the future (see Chapter Thirteen). Moreover, his emphasis on taking care of "working Americans" (thus excluding "non-working Americans") is standard divide-and-conquer rhetoric, gaining the allegiance of the middle-class and the working poor while turning them against those who are not working. Clinton frequently appeals to the "middle class." In one mid-1995 speech, he used the phrase twenty-four times. But he seldom talks about the poor or poverty. In early 1996, while confronting the Republicans on budget issues, Clinton indicated some interest in adopting a new tactic when he said, "We want to grow the middle-class and strengthen the underclass." If pursued consistently, this approach could help unite lower- and middle-income people, rather than divide them.

A bias against the unemployed poor is also revealed in Clinton's plan to "end welfare as we know it." He basically assumes that the real problem with welfare is personal, for his proposal relies primarily on extensive job training. With no clear indication that he would fight for it, Clinton did initially propose to guarantee a job to welfare clients who "play by the rules" and engage in two years of job training. But the jobs proposed by Clinton would have paid no more than $4.25 an hour and former welfare recipients would have lost free child care after one year. This approach would thus fail to "make work pay" as an alternative to welfare. This workfare approach amounts to involuntary servitude and is clearly unacceptable. (Ironically, if welfare actually succeeded in helping clients get living-wage jobs, it would encourage people to go onto welfare to get jobs.)

During the 1995 negotiations over welfare reform, Clinton reportedly insisted that "states provide either employment or continued assistance for people who comply with program rules and still cannot find jobs." But he failed to build support on the issue by taking the battle to the public, even though polls showed strong opposition to terminating welfare for poor families unable to find employment. True to his image of "Slick Willie," Clinton continued to waffle by also indicating support for the Democratic Senate leadership proposal, which would have automatically terminated benefits after five years. And when the Senate passed a bill in mid-September ending the sixty-year-old federal guarantee of aid to all children who need it, Clinton embraced this legislation, even though it contained no provision for community-service jobs for those unable to find employment. Ignoring the reality that the country is already horribly divided between the super-rich and the poor, Clinton excused his posture by saying, "I thought that welfare reform had become a symbol for the country and I didn't want it to become a symbol of division."

As suggested by this record, Clinton eventually signed the "welfare reform" bill passed by Congress, though most of his Cabinet and about half of the Democrats in Congress urged him to veto it. With this act, which provided no job guarantee for those forced off welfare, the federal government threw millions of Americans more deeply into lives of poverty. At the same time, Clinton quickened the process of reversing the New Deal -- a "devolution" he embraced in his 1996 State of the Union Address when he proclaimed, "the era of big government is over.

During his 1998 State of the Union message, Clinton claimed credit for moving two million Americans off welfare over the course of the previous year. He did call for some mild measures to assist former welfare recipients when he declared:

We must all do more, providing child care, helping families move closer to available jobs, challenging more companies to join the welfare-to-work partnership, increasing child support collections from deadbeat parents who have a duty to support their own children…restoring some benefits to immigrants who are here legally and working hard….
But concerning his promise to guarantee parents denied welfare publicly-funded jobs, Clinton was silent.

2. More Welfare

Some proponents of reducing poverty favor increasing welfare - that is, publicly funded income-support payments to able-bodied adults without requiring work in return. In a May, 1995 article in The New Yorker titled "The Ultimate Block Grant," Michael Kinsley argued for this guaranteed-income, or negative-income-tax, approach:
...alleviate poverty by the simple expedient of giving people money, with no strings attached. The payment would be based on low income and nothing more. It would gradually shrink as income rose. It could be administered as part of the income-tax system instead of as a costly welfare bureaucracy.
Think of it as the ultimate block grant. If state governments know better than the feds how to help poor people, because they are closer to the people themselves, perhaps the people themselves know even better than the states.

Kinsley recounts, sympathetically, that George McGovern's 1972 proposal along this line would have replaced both welfare and personal income-tax exemptions with a tax credit. Adjusted for inflation, McGovern's guaranteed annual income would be $3,200 for a single person or almost $10,000 annually for a three-person family. An income of this scale would barely suffice to buy enough food to stay alive, which presumably is why Kinsley only claimed that it would "alleviate poverty."

But the more serious problem with this strategy is that there is so little support for it among the general public. Kinsley seems to believe that his proposal is more viable politically than trying to guarantee the right to employment. Kinsley pointed out that adding work requirements is more expensive than just giving welfare and asked, "Would taxpayers who complain about welfare bums be happy to pay more for welfare, provided that those bums were put to work?" He answered, "Work requirement enthusiasts like President Clinton thought so. Apparently, they were wrong." But Kinsley offered no evidence in support of that conclusion.

Most public opinion polls consistently show strong support for providing publicly funded job opportunities to welfare recipients. Especially if the issue were framed in terms of taxing the super-rich in order to hire the unemployed to meet pressing needs, all indications are that the alternative approach adopted by NESP is more promising politically than are proposals for a guaranteed income free of any work requirement.

3. The Common Sense Budget

Each year, the House Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus has offered the Common Sense Budget. The Citizens Budget Campaign has supported and promoted this alternative. Their 1992 proposal called for cutting the military budget in half and increasing taxes on the wealthy to finance $330 billion in new federal spending over four years in the following areas: jobs, the economy and infrastructure; housing; health care; education; environment; families and children; and agriculture. During the first year alone, this plan would have created one million new jobs.

This proposal would greatly expand economic opportunity and would be a major step toward establishing economic security for all. But it does not affirm this principle as a fundamental human right; so it does not educate the public on this issue and thereby build momentum in that direction. The first page of their proposal does touch on the issue of guaranteed employment when it asks: "What would life in the U.S. be like if we had ... Good jobs for everyone." But this affirmation is indirect and weak. Neither does it explicitly address the economic needs of the retired and disabled. In these ways, it differs from NESP in certain fundamental respects.

4. The Campaign for New Priorities

Another similar approach to those just considered is the Campaign for New Priorities. Their brochure states their purpose as follows:
This year, the United States will spend almost $300 billion on the military. But half of this budget will be used to defend Europe and Japan against a threat the President says no longer exists. If we invested this money - almost $150 billion - at home we could:
  • insure that every child comes to school healthy enough to learn;
  • provide skills training for the 75% of young people who do not complete college;
  • begin to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure;
  • build bullet trains, electric cars and mass transit vital to our future;
  • rebuild the supply of affordable housing and put workers back to work;
  • sponsor the research and development in alternative energy and emerging industries.

Thus, this campaign, like so many others, is sensible but presents an unfocused "laundry list" of needs without prioritizing the expansion of economic opportunity for low- and middle-income Americans. Moreover, it falls into the trap of emphasizing education and training, without addressing the unyielding issue: training for what jobs? The only reference to job creation is within the framework of building housing and rebuilding the infrastructure - both of which tend to employ relatively high-skilled workers. And there is no affirmation of reducing poverty, abolishing poverty, or establishing the human right to economic security.

5.Full Employment Proposals

Closer in nature to the National Economic Security Program (NESP) are proposals that the federal government insure full employment. This approach stops short of advocating the abolition of poverty, partly because employment programs fail to address the needs of the retired and disabled. In addition, full-employment proposals often make no provision to assure non-poverty wages. Nevertheless, a recent resurgence of such proposals is an encouraging development.

In a February, 1994 op-ed column in The New York Times, Theda Skocpol and William Julius Wilson argued:

Jobs must be available to all adults who can work, and they must have wages, benefits and protections that are suitable for families.... We urge the President to make the commitment to work ironclad by helping local governments create public jobs when private-sector jobs are lacking.
Skocpol and Wilson also insisted that "work should be defined to include parental time spent with children" and proposed that a national minimal child-support benefit equal to half the wages from a full-time minimum-wage job should be provided mothers for such work if an absent father were unable to provide the support.

Demands for full employment are rooted in a movement with a rich history. Following Word War Two, in particular, popular pressure led to the introduction of the Employment Act of 1946 that initially affirmed the "right to a useful and remunerative job." But this key phrase was deleted before this federal legislation was finally adopted. In the 1970s, the Humphrey-Hawkins bill was the focus of a renewed, broad-based full-employment coalition.

Based in New York, New Initiatives for Full Employment (NIFE) emerged in 1993 to revive these efforts. Their initial call for action declared:

NIFE members believe that high unemployment is neither 'natural' nor inevitable, and that full employment is a political as well as an economic issue. NIFE sees full employment as key to reducing the host of social ills that beset our society - from crime and welfare dependency to gender and racial discrimination. NIFE regards a guarantee of employment as a basic human right, one that supports other economic and political rights. Full employment would reduce the inequities of today's labor market, as well as create the conditions for a healthy economy.
NIFE is a promising project. Efforts such as this should help build the economic-security movement. But their focus on full employment excludes the needs of retired and disabled persons. The NIFE program also differs from NESP in that it is less specific.

Another full-employment proposal under current consideration is H.R. 1050, "A Living Wage, Jobs for All Act." The purpose of this bill, introduced by Congressperson Ron Dellums and co-sponsored by more than 20 representatives, is "to establish a living wage, jobs for all, policy for the United States in order to reduce poverty, inequality, and the undue concentration of wealth and power."

Primarily written by Professor Bertram Gross, this bill affirms the right to:

As a policy bill, this legislation requires that each federal agency conduct its work in a manner that establishes the rights enumerated in the bill. H.R. 1050 also stipulates a number of detailed requirements concerning the nature of federal budgets and requires the President to submit budgets to Congress that adhere to the principles established by this legislation. The Congressional Joint Economic Committee would then be directed to submit an annual plan to fully implement the goals of H.R. 1050 and Congress would be bound to allocate the necessary funds.

H.R. 1050 thus differs from the National Economic Security Program in that it affirms general principles but does not propose a specific program for how to achieve those objectives. In addition, it embraces a number of proposals that are not directly necessary in order to establish economic security for all. And its focus on "full employment" constitutes a strategy that is not quite the same as concentrating on "ending poverty" or "establishing economic security for all."

6. Common Agenda Coalition

Another effort to address national economic policy is the Common Agenda Coalition, which is led by Jobs with Peace, the National Priorities Project, Campaign for New Priorities, Peace Action and American Friends Service Committee. In May, 1995, this organization issued the following program:
1. Create more jobs and a stronger economy. The lack of decent jobs is at the root of the problems of our cities. We need national legislation which will:
  • Improve job quality and opportunity by:
      -Raising the minimum wage above poverty standards.
      -Providing ongoing education and job training so that we can compete in the global economy, increasing the opportunity for all to attend college.
      -Banning the permanent replacement of striking workers.
  • Rebuild our infrastructure and our manufacturing base by:
      -Substantially increasing spending for schools, mass transit, highways and bridges, and investing resources in sustainable technologies.
      -Converting research and development from military to civilian needs.
  • Lay the foundation for a sustainable economy by:
      -Requiring companies to reduce toxic chemicals at the source and requiring industry and the federal government to convert to pollution reduction equipment and recycled production materials.
      -Giving preference to mass transit funding above highway construction.
      -Providing research and development funds for new technologies, such as the information superhighway, high-speed rail, solar and wind power.
2. Strengthen and protect our children and families.
This can best be done by ending poverty, which should be the goal of any welfare reform legislation. Among the strategies are:
  • Reduce the need for welfare by:
      -Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit.
      -Instituting a universal, single payer health care system.
      -Increasing job training opportunities.
  • Insure that recipients work for wages, not for welfare.
      -Any public sector work program must provide pay and benefits equal to other workers doing the same work, without displacing current jobs.
  • Assure an adequate safety net for our families and children.
      -All families in need should be eligible for WIC, decent, affordable housing and access to quality day care, including full funding of Head Start.
3. Rebuild our communities.
We must keep and increase decent jobs, services, and local resources within our communities if they are to become more secure.
  • Strengthen neighborhood economies.
      -Provide funds to help neighborhoods.
      -Increase affordable housing and homeownership.
  • Provide every child with an equal chance to learn and grow by:
      -Increasing funding for education, and providing capital funds to rehabilitate the thousands of schools that are old, overcrowded, outdated, and unsafe.
  • Focus on crime prevention.
      -Ensure that youth have job, education, and recreation opportunities.
      -Provide drug treatment to those needing it.
      -Ban assault weapons, and make it harder, not easier to buy guns.
4. Pay for these priorities by cutting military spending. Military spending should reflect post-Cold War realities. Military experts have called for cutting military spending between 40 percent and 75 percent over the next ten years, because, quite simply, there are no serious military threats today or in the foreseeable future. We can recapture hundreds of billions of dollars in that period were we to:
  • Eliminate weapons systems that have proven to be ineffective.
  • Stop producing weapons that were designed exclusively for use against the USSR.
      No country will provide a comparable threat this year or in the next decade.
  • Bring U.S. troops back home and close overseas bases.
      We don't need military bases in over 70 countries around the world.
5. Balance the budget by restoring equity to the federal tax code.
Tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals substantially increased the deficit since 1980. We should:
  • Tax investment income at the same level as earned income.
  • Restore tax rates to pre-Reagan levels.
  • Eliminate loopholes that benefit only large corporations and wealthy individuals.
      Doing so could produce over $60 billion a year in savings.
6. Change the system of campaign finances. Skyrocketing costs of election means candidates rely more and more on big contributions. In the election of 1992, one third of 1 percent of all Americans gave contributions of $200 or more. That small group of people bought and controls the system. We can change that by:
  • Increasing voter participation.
  • Substantially reforming campaign finance regulations.
  • Speaking up and demanding to be heard.

Except for the unqualified endorsement of a "balanced budget," this program is sensible, as far as it goes. But it does not affirm that the federal government should guarantee the human right to employment, much less living-wage employment. And the reference to "ending poverty" apparently refers only to welfare recipients, since the program only says that "ending poverty ... should be the goal of any welfare reform legislation." Abolishing poverty, however, will require much more than reforming welfare legislation. Increasing income-support payments for the retired and disabled, for example, as addressed by the National Economic Security Program (NESP), are necessary measures not included in the Common Agenda Program. But perhaps the most significant difference between the two proposals is that NESP is both more concise and more concrete. The Common Agenda approach is common in progressive circles: the laundry list. By including twenty-eight points in its program, the result is a long proposal that lacks a clear theme and is hard to digest. And by including only general principles, the result is often broad platitudes that are virtually meaningless, such as "raising the minimum wage above poverty standards." Whose poverty standard? These ambiguities weaken this proposal.

7. The Alliance

In the August 14/21, 1995 issue of The Nation, Ronnie Dugger, founding editor of The Texas Observer, called for a meeting on November 10-13 of that year to organize a broad national coalition "to end corporate rule" and build a broad progressive coalition similar to the People's Party of the 1890s. Dugger's article elicited an enthusiastic response. At the November meeting, the group of respondents adopted the provisional name of "The Alliance." Along with his invitation, Dugger presented seventeen proposals for consideration by that new coalition. The following dealt with expanding economic opportunity:

  • Single-payer national health insurance such as the Canadian plan, with automatic universal coverage.
  • A doubling of the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation.
  • A full-employment (3 percent unemployment) antipoverty policy rooted in a thirty-five-hour workweek with four- to-six-week vacations; equal pay for equal work.
  • A huge public-investment program, including the creation of a community-owned, community controlled public nursing-home system and a new profession of caring for handicapped and neglected people.

These proposals also fail to constitute a call for establishing economic security or abolishing poverty. Moreover, the use of the "3 percent" formula for defining full employment is grossly inadequate, for the government only counts as unemployed those people who are actively looking for work. This book is based on the assumption that calling for "economic security for all" is morally required and offers the potential of rallying a broad coalition. From this perspective, Dugger's approach needs to be strengthened.

8. Jobs Bills

Other forces present proposals for alleviating poverty through direct job creation. In early 1993, for example, the United States Conference of Mayors urged President Clinton to seek twenty-seven billion dollars for more than 7,000 "ready to go" construction projects that would hire 400,000 workers. These projects had already received local approval in more than 500 cities and only needed federal money to build and renovate schools, jails, housing, streets and highways, bridges, sewers, and waste-water treatment plants.

At the same time, the National League of Cities put forth a ten billion dollar proposal relying on reductions in military spending to finance public-works projects, community-development block grants, and summer youth employment.

On a smaller scale, the National Urban League regularly calls on the federal government to create jobs directly, especially through restoring the nation's physical infrastructure. In 1993, the organization promoted a "Marshall Plan for America" that proposed fifty billion dollars over ten years for job creation, education and training.

Also, the House Progressive Caucus, led by Congressman Bernie Sanders, introduced two pieces of legislation that would reduce poverty. The first would raise the minimum wage to $5.50 an hour, and the second would establish a federal jobs program. As described by Sanders:

The legislation would authorize $30.6 billion in funding for upgrading the nation's physical infrastructure in each of the next two years. It would also authorize spending $11 billion in additional human capital expenditures - including job training, Head Start, education and health care - in each of the next two years. It would grant tax relief to ordinary people by exempting the first $2,000 in income from FICA taxes, a benefit worth $300 to working Americans. The Jobs Bill would basically be paid for by two new taxes on the wealth, taxing capital gains at the same rate as normal income, and levying a small tax on sales of stock. The Jobs bill would directly create over one million new well-paying jobs, and with multiplier effects would end up creating significantly more new jobs than that.
These proposals rely heavily on construction projects that generate fewer jobs than do human-service programs. Public-works projects of this sort are generally capital-intensive and involve higher-paid union jobs. In this regard, they differ from NESP, which emphasizes lower-paying, entry-level human-services jobs that enable more jobs to be created with the same amount of money.

The Progressive Caucus bill is less top-heavy with construction jobs. This bill is a positive sign and indicates the kind of bill that the economic-security movement could focus on to build membership and educate the general public. This approach aims to generate momentum for economic justice by demanding one-shot expenditures of federal funds to create public-sector jobs.

C. Proposals for Ending Poverty

In 1989, on the 25th anniversary of President Johnson's War on Poverty, referring to Johnson's goal of ending poverty, CBS Evening News reported, "No one thinks that now." CBS News overstated the point. The previous year, for one example of a group that continued to advocate the end of poverty, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops had stated in a widely publicized pastoral letter titled Economic Justice for All:
We call for a new national commitment to full employment..., and we call for concerted efforts to eradicate poverty. The fulfillment of the basic needs of the poor is of the highest priority.... The most urgent priority for domestic economic policy is the creation of new jobs with adequate pay and decent working conditions. We must make it possible as a nation for every one who is seeking a job to find employment within a reasonable amount of time.
But CBS was close to the mark with its claim that "no one" in 1989 believed that it was possible to abolish poverty. "Poverty programs don't work" was a cliché of the era. Most experts and commentators agreed with the judgment expressed in a 1988 Wall Street Journal book review: "American social programs to eliminate poverty have paradoxically produced greater and greater numbers of poor people." President Reagan summed up it on the campaign trail: "We fought a war on poverty, and poverty won."

By June, 1994, however, the pendulum had swung. Increasing numbers of people with a voice that could be heard were asserting that the wealthiest country in history can provide everyone with basic necessities.

1. Broad Affirmations

A 1994 computer search of articles in major U.S. newspapers using "end poverty" or "eliminate poverty" as keywords uncovered the following items published during 1993 and the first six months of 1994:
  • A group of students and welfare advocates in Newark calling themselves Solutions to End Poverty Soon (STEPS) marched on City Hall protesting plans to fingerprint welfare recipients.
  • A letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch called for "an increase in efforts to eliminate poverty, ignorance, child abuse, the breakdown of the family and a violence-saturated entertainment media."
  • In Kentucky, a group of poor farmers and welfare advocates announced, "We don't want to beat the drum to end welfare as we know it. We're beating the drum to end poverty as we know it."
  • A letter to the editor of The Seattle Times proposed a plan for utilizing natural resources that could "wipe out the national debt, eliminate poverty, and provide full employment."
  • A Twin Cities report described the local efforts of Oxfam America to "end poverty and hunger."
  • A guest editorial in USA Today by Robert Rector argued, "Last year, Americans spent $306 billion on welfare, three times the amount needed to eliminate all U.S. poverty."
  • The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky reported on plans to send busloads of demonstrators to Washington, D.C. as part of "a renewed commitment to end racism and poverty" on the 30th anniversary of the Jobs and Justice rally led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • The Washington Post reviewed a book by Theresa Funiciello titled Tyranny of Kindness: Dismantling the Welfare System To End Poverty in America.
  • An op-ed piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune in support of Hillary Clinton's commented on the "culture of poverty" ran under a headline that read: "Handouts don't work: Spending more won't end poverty; we have to modify behavior."
  • In a tirade about crime, Chicago columnist Mike Royko complained about "academics (who) have been saying we must eliminate poverty, illiteracy and unemployment and create joy."
  • The St. Petersburg Times asked teenagers, "If you had the power to change anything in the world, what would you change?" One of the responses published was: "Eliminate poverty."
The computer search also found articles that dealt with ending poverty for specific groups of individuals:
  • The Twin Cities Star Tribune ran an article on President Clinton's proposal to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit under the headline: "Promise that tax credit will end poverty for all working families disputed."
  • Leaders of inner-city gangs joined together under the umbrella "National Truce Movement" and declared their intention "to seek peace in the streets by working to end racism and poverty in urban areas."
  • The Sacramento Bee described President Clinton's welfare reform program as a plan to "end poverty 'for Americans who want to work.'"
  • A Chicago Tribune article about a lecture concerning the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) was headlined, "End to CHA poverty needed, author says."
In addition to these newspaper articles:
  • On the McNeil/Lehrer Newshour in early 1994, Theresa Funiciello argued for "ending poverty" for all Americans rather than merely trying to get families off welfare and into jobs.
  • In a December, 1993 fundraising letter, the Institute for Policy Studies, a prominent progressive think-tank based in Washington, D.C., stated:
      We argue that if the President were willing to cut military spending and impose taxes on the wealthiest Americans, he could eliminate the deficit and enact long-overdue programs for full employment, universal health care, and ending poverty.
This letter also affirmed "guaranteeing a decent job for every American." In early 1995, the institute, with a five-point response to the Republican "Contract With America," echoed this thrust when it insisted: "federal programs can end poverty."
  • In its July/August 1995 issue, Dollars and Issues highlighted on its cover an article titled, "Can We Still Win the War on Poverty?" that answered the questions in the affirmative. This article concluded:
      Improving the low-wage labor market, through such measures as a higher minimum wage, changes in labor law to support union organizing, and direct government job creation, would be preferable to relying primarily on expansion of the social welfare system.
  • In a Labor Day, 1995 op-ed piece, writer Holly Sklar recalled President Franklin D.'s proposal for an "Economic Bill of Rights" and concluded:
      It is time to stop building more prison cells, and instead build the foundation of income security, child care and education. It is time to adopt an updated Economic Bill of Rights.
  • The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church affirmed:
      We recognize the responsibility of governments to develop and implement sound fiscal and monetary policies that provide for the economic life of individuals and corporate entities, and that ensure full employment and adequate incomes with a minimum of inflation.... Every person has the right and responsibility to work ... and to receive adequate remuneration.
  • Jerry Brown's 1992 campaign for President called for "a Roosevelt style Civilian Conservation Corps for millions of Americans and proposed the following "family bill of rights":
  1. Every American has the right to a living wage.
  2. Every American has the right to health care.
  3. Every American has the right to decent shelter and to be free from hunger.
  4. Every American has the right, indeed the responsibility, to obtain an education.
  5. Every American has the right to be secure in their old age.

These developments indicate that the cynicism of the Reagan era is fading. There is growing interest in the notion that the United States can provide basic necessities for all of its people. These affirmations share the same spirit that inspired the National Economic Security Program (NESP), which was presented in Chapter Nine. NESP differs from these broad affirmations primarily in that it is more specific.

2. Specific Proposals

In addition to these general declarations, a number of advocates have presented more specific proposals for ending poverty. It is interesting to see how these proposals differ from NESP.

a. Citizen's Budget Campaign

The Citizen's Budget Campaign is a broad coalition of national organizations - including the National Council of Churches, Bread for the World, and Friends Committee for National Legislation - that has advocated for a major realignment of federal spending priorities. As stated in their literature, the overall objectives of this campaign are:
  • Increased investment in meeting human and environmental needs, and in programs that are essential to the support of communities and families.
  • Significant cuts in military spending and reductions in foreign military assistance programs, along with support for programs which help to convert military production to civilian production.
  • U.S. support for international programs which promote community-based, just and sustainable development for people in countries and regions that need international assistance.
  • Reducing the federal deficit.
  • Additional revenues generated fairly by increasing corporate and upper-income taxes as needed.
Thus, this broad statement proposes increased public-service employment, but fails to explicitly affirm the human right to basic economic security. Nor do these points of unity clearly refer to the need to reduce poverty, much less abolish it.

In one of many position papers on specific issues, however, the Citizens Budget Campaign does explicitly call for "ending poverty" and presents some fairly specific ideas for how to achieve this goal. For "working-poor families," the campaign proposes:

  • removing incentives that encourage U.S. companies to move overseas;
  • offering tax breaks to companies that compensate their workers fairly;
  • providing wage supplements to lift working families out of poverty.
For "living poor" families, including single mothers, the elderly, and the retired, the campaign proposes:
  • income-support programs;
  • food programs;
  • emergency shelter and subsidized housing;
  • job training and placement services;
  • child-care assistance;
  • flexible employment policies;
  • preventative programs, such as pre-natal care, improved education, and family medical-leave legislation.
These proposals generally make sense. But there are certain holes, such as not discussing the need for expanded child care, health care, and affordable housing for the "working poor." But most seriously, this document does not propose a massive increase in public-service employment. This omission is aggravated by the fact that the proposals for increasing employment opportunities - removing and adding tax breaks - are extremely inadequate. This proposal also differs from NESP in that it is stated in terms that are more general than most of those in NESP. Nevertheless, it does move in the same direction.<

b. More Welfare - Again

Other advocates call for ending poverty by expanding current welfare programs. One example is the "Program To End Poverty Through Income and Job Opportunities" issued in April, 1994 by the Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law, based in New York and Washington. As summarized by the Handsnet computer network, their extensive proposals featured:
calls for improved access to living-wage jobs, assured child care, protections against displacing current or laid-off workers in its Public Service employment program, and a meaningful way to evaluate JOBS programs. It urges federal assistance for all in need including full coverage of two-parent families under AFDC and a federal floor for cash benefit levels. It rejects artificial time limits on benefits, workfare type programs and a host of other punitive measures based on myths, stereotypes, and lies.
So long as the right to living-wage employment is not secured, such proposals for increased welfare are necessary. In the 1960s, community organizations in Chicago called themselves Jobs Or Income Now (JOIN). Ever since, other organizations have periodically adopted this position: if there are no living-wage jobs, then we must have welfare. According to this formulation, welfare is not the ideal objective, but a stop-gap measure to help people survive.

The Center's proposal does not make this distinction, however; it merely argues for more welfare. Moreover, the center's program does not truly envision the end of poverty, as expressed in its title, for its proposals are largely limited to people receiving AFDC or General Assistance. And its proposed public-service jobs are temporary jobs, of no more than 24 months in duration. Nevertheless, this program illustrates interest in the idea of ending poverty and presents a number of valuable specifics for improving the current welfare system.

In conclusion, this review of other proposals for direct federal action to reduce or eliminate poverty illustrates how the National Economic Security Program (NESP) varies from other approaches. NESP is specific and comprehensive, but it focuses exclusively on what it necessary to establish economic security for all. Surely NESP can be improved. But it does seem that this general approach offers advantages worthy of serious attention by those who are concerned about these issues.

Sources for this chapter included the following, in order of appearance.
For more specific references, contact Wade Hudson at

Michael Lind, "What Bill Wrought," The New Republic, 5 December 1994, 19-22.

Frank Swoboda, "As Fears of Job Loss Grow, So Do Calls for a Safety Net," The Washington Post, Compuserve on-line edition, 17 October 1993.

Frank Rich, "The Middle Ground," The New York Times, 8 July 1995, 15.

Alison Mitchell, "Clinton Cast the Budget Battle As a Test of the Nation's Equity," The New York Times, 13 January 1996, A1.

Robert Pear, "A Welfare Revolution Hits Home, But Quietly," The New York Times, 13 August 1995, Week in Review, 1/5

Richard L. Berke, "Dole and Gramm Clash on Revising Laws on Welfare," The New York Times, 16 July 1995, A1/A10.

Todd S. Purdum, "Clinton Plans To Lift Public Out of 'Funk,'" The New York Times, 24 September 1995, A1/A16.

Michael Kinsley, "The Ultimate Block Grant," The New Yorker, 29 May 1995, 36-40.

"A Federal Budget to Rebuild Our Communities," National Priorities Project.

"It's Time to Reinvest in America," The Campaign for New Priorities.

Theda Skocpol and William Julius Wilson, "Welfare As We Need It," The New York Times, 9 February 1994, A19.

Bertram Gross, "Rethinking Full Employment," The Nation, 17 January 1987, 45.

"Full Employment Network Forms," CAP News, August 1993, 2.

Creating a Common Agenda: Strategies for our Communities - Executive Summary, Common Agenda Coalition and the National Priorities Project, May 1995, 10/11.

Ronnie Dugger, "Real Populists Please Stand Up," The Nation, 14/21 August 1995, 159-164.

Martin Tolchin, "Mayors Press Clinton on Promise to Rebuild Nation," The New York Times, 25 January 1993, A9.

"Rescue Plan for Cities Presented to Clinton Team," San Francisco Chronicle, 30 November 1992, A4.

"Urban Leaguer Sees Hope for Cities Under Clinton," San Francisco Chronicle, 27 January 1993, A4.

"Sanders Scoop," Sanders for Congress, July 1994, 1/2.

Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1986, xii.

"Welfare Proposals Protested," The Star-Ledger, 29 April 1994.

Joseph C. Sommer, The Columbus Dispatch, 11 June 1994.

M. David Goodwin, "Growing Up Poor, Advocates For Poor Pushing Legislature to End Poverty," The Courier-Journal, 26 December 1993.

"Going for the Gold; Create Wealth, Don't Stifle It," The Seattle Times, Letters, 24 November 1993.

"Fraser, Scheibel Will Be Honored," Star Tribune, 13 November 1993.

Robert Rector, "Don't Exaggerate Poverty," USA Today, 12 October 1993, 12A.

"Deadline for Washington Rally Near," The Courier Journal, 18 August 1993, 5B

Douglas J. Besharov, "Welfare As We Don't Know It," The Washington Post, 4 July 1993, 4.

Joseph Perkins, "Handouts Don't Work," San Diego Union-Tribune, 12 February 1993, B13

Mike Royko, "City Murder Rate Begs for Solutions," Chicago Tribune, 2 February 1993, 3.

Shane Wilkes, "Talk Back," St. Petersburg Times, 21 January 1993, 7.

"Promise That Tax Credit Will End Poverty for All Working Families Disputed," Star Tribune," 20 February 1993, 9A.

John Mashek, "Gang Members Vow to Fight Urban Ills," The Boston Globe, 5 February 1993, 3.

Leo Rennert, "President Vows for Push For Reform of Welfare," Sacramento Bee, 20 February 1993, A1. Andrew Gottesman, "End to CHA Poverty Needed, Author Says," Chicago Tribune, 19 January 1993, 4.

Michael Shuman letter, December 1993.

"Take Back the Future: A Call for Progressive Renewal (Draft 2.1)," Institute for Policy Studies, April, 1995.

Marc Breslow, "Can We Still Win the War on Poverty?", Dollars and Sense, July/August 1995, 8-11/40.

Holly Sklar, "We Need a New Economic Bill of Rights," San Francisco Examiner, 4 September 1995, A17.

"Social Principles of the United Methodist Church," General Board of Church and Society.

"Who We Are," Citizens Budget Campaign.

"Still Poor After All These Years," Citizens Budget Campaign, December 1992.

Handsnet Weekly Digest.

"True Welfare Reform¾A Program To End Poverty," Center on Social Welfare Policy and Law, 12 April 1994.

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