Poverty and Unemployment Are Fueling Voter Anger

There's a deafening silence on both sides when it comes to new economic ideas.

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You may have seen the headlines this week from 2009 census figures showing a record one in seven Americans now lives below the poverty line. These figures are from the first year of the Obama presidency, when he promised his stimulus plan would keep unemployment below 10 percent. And while the President is fond of pointing out that he inherited the 2008 economic crash, everyone agrees that he owns the non-recovery afterward. 

The Washington Post’s reports that we now have four million fewer wage earners than we did before the recession, in the Bush administration, and for the first time since the government began tracking health insurance, the number of people who have coverage has declined—either because they lost their job with benefits or employers stopped offering coverage in the recession. Then there’s this little gem buried among the stats:

With midterm elections less than two months away, the statistics bare the reality fueling much of the anger toward Washington.

There’s the understatement of the year. And it explains so much about why official Washington doesn’t get it when it comes to explaining some of the most recent primary election results. The statistics “bare the reality” of what’s going on: more people in poverty than we’ve had in a half-century, fewer and fewer earning an income and paying taxes, increasing home foreclosures and uninsured Americans. (How many school-age families had to send in cleaning supplies to their kids’ schools this fall, because local budgets couldn’t afford it?  I’m sure there were families who couldn’t afford it either.) Americans are tightening their belts big time, but the federal government isn’t. The administration continues to propose more spending, and the Republicans seem to only want to talk about holding the line on higher taxes. No one is talking about spending cuts at all, which is fueling the disconnect with voters looking (and voting) for leaders who are willing to do what needs to be done. Say what you want about the Tea Party movement and some of its candidates, but they represent a wide swath of voters who have valid concerns about the size and scope of our government.

The disconnect with primary voters lies in the Obama administration’s insistence on blaming the old “failed policies” of the Bush administration, and Republicans blaming the new “failed policies” of the Obama administration.  The truth is, there hasn’t been a new idea in years—from either side—when it comes to not just alleviating poverty but creating prosperity and limiting government. Remember some of the great proposals from back in the day: Jack Kemp’s enterprise zones, the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings spending caps, Ronald Reagan’s supply-side economics, even Bill Clinton’s welfare reform? With a few exceptions, (such as Paul Ryan’s congressional office), there’s a resounding silence from the policy shops in Washington these days when it comes to connecting with pro-growth, rising-tide-lifts-all-boats wealth creation policies that voters want. They don’t want to hear President Obama’s ideas on “spreading the wealth around,” as he put it in 2008, they want to hear about creating wealth—whether they are the working poor, the middle class, or business owners. 

There’s a big difference between alleviating the poverty we see around us by redistributing wealth and penalizing success, and proposing policies that allow Americans to pursue the dream of starting their own businesses, stimulating prosperity and innovation, and lifting the community around them. That’s what voters across the board are hungry for, and as the Post put it, what’s fueling much of the anger towards Washington.

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