Universal solutions offer hope for middle class and low-income families

The common line of reasoning around most poverty-fighting programs is that they are, by definition, designed to help those living in poverty. But Shaun Fremstad at Inclusion argues in his post today that in fact, program’s with univeral benefits have been at least – if not more – effective.

Fremstad’s starting point is Paul Krugman’s op-ed in the New York Times on Lynden Johnson’s “war on poverty”, which is (according to Fremstad):

…a good example of what I think of as the dominant anti-poverty paradigm, a way of talking and thinking about economic insecurity and deprivation that dates back to the mid-1960’s…leaves out an important part of the story, namely that even larger reductions in poverty took place in the decades before the War on Poverty, during a period some have called “The Great Compression”, when inequality fell and working class families saw their incomes grow at a greater pace than better-off families.

Poverty fell rapidly during this period as a direct result of New Deal and post-New Deal era progressive policies, including Social Security, the minimum wage, laws strengthening and formalizing the right to collective bargaining, that were much more ambitious and universal than the more targeted policies adopted during the War on Poverty.

We’ve got a lot to be proud of in Washington State on this score.

Our strong minimum wage law (indexed to inflation) follows in the footsteps of these measures by making sure workers don’t fall behind.

One out of four “poverty spells” (periods of time in which a family lives in poverty) begin with the birth of a child. But just like Social Security, family leave insurance will benefit workers from across the economic spectrum.

Looking ahead, two bills under consideration in the 2008 legislature would allow early childhood educators and their managers to collectively bargain from within the same union with Washington State over working conditions and other economic matters (workplace grievances are expressly excepted), helping ensure every child gets a strong and healthy start in life.

Such policies represent sensible solutions to the economic problems faced by working families all across Washington.

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