Give a man a bootstrap, and he can pull himself out of poverty

Sometimes I think, not at all self-servingly, that Governor Shumlin ought to hire a snarky blogger — to provide a bit of perspective, a bit of sour in the dough, and as a preventative to doing stupid stuff like…

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed an executive order Monday creating a new council to combat poverty … the Governor’s Council on Pathways Out of Poverty will have between 10 and 30 members and meet three times a year.

Uh, er… a POOP Council? Really, now.

I do have some more substantive comments on the Governor’s new POOP. Back in the 1990s, my home state of Michigan had a conservative Republican Governor by the name of John Engler. One of his strokes of rhetorical brilliance was to give the Department of Social Services a new name: the Family Independence Agency. Because, y’know, we’re not in the business of giving handouts to the undeserving poor; we’re giving people a chance to achieve Family Independence!

Stupid shit, which Engler’s successor Jennifer Granholm quickly undid. And Governor Shumlin is dipping into Engler’s tainted pool of anti-welfare jargon with this “Pathways Out of Poverty” POOP.

I’m not arguing with the idea that we’d like to see as many people achieve independence and security as possible. But, as Our Lord and Savior once said, “the poor you will always have with you.” Especially since one of the principal products of our 21st Century economy is poverty and financial insecurity.

You want evidence? Take a look at the Public Assets Institute’s new report, “More Jobs, Clustered in Low-Wage Sectors.”

The [November] unemployment rate inched down to 4.4 percent, mainly because fewer Vermonters are looking for work. At the same time, employers reported 2,200 more Vermonters on the job than in October, with most of those newcomers in traditionally low-wage service sectors.

A nice shiny chart, displayed after the jump, illustrates this disturbing reality.  

All those low-paying jobs put a smiley face on our unemployment rate, but they do little or nothing to give people a Pathway Out Of Poverty.

Now, that chart is a noe-month snapshot. But it’s part of a longer-term trend — as shown in PAI’s year-end report “State of Working Vermont 2013,” which finds that “fewer Vermonters were working in 2012 than in 2007. And private employers were providing fewer jobs, most concentrated in low-wage sectors.  Also, “the number and the percentage of Vermonters in poverty had increased,” as had the number receiving food stamps (up a stunning 86% in five years) and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The Governor’s new Council will have to be awfully darn creative to buck these trends and provide real Pathways Out Of Poverty. Methinks it’s more likely to produce a honeywagon-load of POOP.

In addition to his new Brown Ribbon Committee, Shumlin also announced a brace of anti-poverty initiatives worth a grand total of $2.2 million. Funding source TBD, since the Gov is determined to flatline next year’s budget. Human Services Secretary Doug Racine described the initiatives as “more aggressive than efforts put forth in other states,” and “a huge initiative [that] will make a huge difference that you aren’t going to be seeing in the rest of the country.”

Gosh, Doug. Mighty big (or should I say “huge”) words for a couple mill. I know that’s a lot of scratch for your average working-class stiff, but it seems like a spit-in-the-wind for the fight against poverty. Can two million dollars — and that’s generously assuming Shumlin comes up with a funding scheme that’s acceptable to the Legislature — really “make a huge difference”? Somehow I doubt it.

Look, it’s nice and all. But don’t oversell what is, in reality, a very modest proposal.

And I wish good luck to the curiously variable 10-to-30 members of the Governor’s new POOP, I really do. They’re gonna need it.  

9 thoughts on “Give a man a bootstrap, and he can pull himself out of poverty

  1. Sadly, I think you are exactly right; and perennial nice-guy, Doug Racine, having finally given up any hope of really making a difference;  and having bought into Shumlin’s brand of political sausage-making, is hoping that applying a great big smiley-face to this particular load will somehow make it so.

  2. Until it inevitably gets abandoned for a new toy, this apology for a program will no doubt become universally known as “POOP.”

  3. I suggest that we try to be realistic.

    In September, Digger reported that Steve Klein from the Joint Fiscal Office was projecting a $55 million budget gap for the current fiscal year, 2014, which we’re just halfway through. That’s a lot of money for our small state, yet in the face of that big gap Governor Shumlin has pledged almost two and a half million in new funding for programs that serve the poor. When you consider the federal match we’re probably looking at more like four million.

    You’re right, it’s “a lot of scratch for your average working-class stiff”. If you look at how much it will mean for each of the programs getting the funding it looks like a big step to address some of the problems they’re facing.

    Many of us would like to see more, but Governor Shumlin is entitled to credit for making a commitment like this before the session even starts. The Legislature will be facing a lot of pressure to cut this year, but you don’t make a dent in the problems of the poor without committing new resources. This is a big step in the right direction.

  4. One way to pull yourself out of poverty is to be born to millionaires.  Peter pulled himself out of poverty with his umbilicus.  Let that be a POOP lesson for you, poor Vermonters.

    Wanna stay out of poverty?  Try to take advantage of down-on-their-luck neighbors in land deals, although that doesn’t always work so well.

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