Hope for the underclass: Why Paul Ryan keeping his job as speaker is a victory in the war on poverty

Ryan is an avowed anti-poverty warrior who believes faith, community and work will elevate the poorest Amercians

By Carrie Sheffield
Published November 16, 2016 10:30PM (EST)
Paul Ryan   (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Salon)
Paul Ryan (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Salon)

Speaker Paul Ryan’s unanimous nomination yesterday for speaker of the House, a post he is all but certain to retain, is a bit of welcome news for families living in poverty. With the new Republican mandate, Ryan can finally put in place the anti-poverty agenda he has been developing since his 2012 vice presidential run.

Since the summer of 2014, I’ve written for the website OpportunityLives.com, which has published a documentary series called "Comebackabout Ryan’s work meeting with anti-poverty leaders across the country. I’ve come to know firsthand many of these anti-poverty warriors who understand Ryan’s approach and its power to lift our fellow Americans that will now be unleashed.

Liberals often say that conservatives don’t have a plan to fight poverty, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. And conservatives understand that the failed approaches that Hillary Clinton advocated for would exacerbate and expand poverty by continuing the culture of reliance on a sprawling, distant federal bureaucracy. Ryan wants to give as much local control as possible to anti-poverty warriors, to put the human element back into this endeavor, and empower private charity and faith-based institutions that can restore our depleted national social capital.

Faith, family, community and work are the forces that lift people out of poverty, not blank-check entitlements, occupational licensing and regulatory red tape that stifle the formation of small businesses, especially those owned by people of color.

I’m also excited to see that Peter Thiel is involved with the Trump transition. Thiel understands the toxic spiral of student loans created by the federal government that traps so many students in debt for useless degrees. This also creates a caste system that dooms too many non-college-educated people to poverty. There are many opportunities here for reforming this downward spiral by expanding skills-based training; these have been supported by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Tim Scott.

On a cultural level, conservatives also have long been beating the drum for stable family formation, the strongest variable in whether a child is able to rise above his or her class of birth.

“We care about restoring the American idea,” Ryan told me during an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year. “The condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life. We are the only country founded on an idea. That’s the idea. That’s what it’s all about.”

This basic truth seems to be lost on liberals who are crying for ever more expansive government rather than the simple, powerful presence of a two-parent household. Honest scholars like Isabel Sawhill, formerly of the administration of former president Bill Clinton and now with Brookings Institution, are starting to recognize what conservatives have been saying since the collapse of the low-income family began with the 1960s' cultural shock.

The shock of an incoming President Donald Trump might just be the jolt we need to set the country back on the right track. We can only hope.

Carrie Sheffield

Carrie Sheffield is a Salon Talks host, founder of Bold and adviser to Lincoln Network. She previously wrote editorials for The Washington Times, covered politics for POLITICO and The Hill and analyzed municipal credit for Goldman Sachs and Moody's Investors Service.

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Elections 2016 Paul Ryan Poverty