It was just a little over two months ago that the Census Bureau reported the very good news that real median household incomes had increased by 5.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, and that the poverty rate had fallen by 1.3 percentage points. The bureau also told us that the percentage of people without health insurance coverage had continued to decline substantially.
That upbeat report is likely to be the last burst of good news that the poor will see for quite some time. Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and the bellicose tribunes of the hard right are in complete charge of the federal government. Their hostility to such crucial antipoverty efforts as the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, food stamps, and substantial increases in the minimum wage is hardly a secret.
With both houses of Congress under Republican control, big tax cuts (heavily weighted toward the richest among us) are a virtual certainty. As a result, trillions of dollars in revenues will likely be lost and Congress will be on the hunt for spending cuts to offset them. Social programs will be among the first items in their sights.
We’ve already seen something of a blueprint for what’s coming: Paul Ryan’s wish list was in his 2015 budget proposal. Nearly 70 percent of its heart-stopping spending cuts would have come from programs designed to help moderate- or low-income people. Last spring, Ryan came up with another proposal—this one specifically addressing poverty. He recommended, among other things, cuts to unemployment assistance, a phase-out of the Head Start program, and rollbacks in the federal Pell Grant program, which provides desperately needed assistance to low-income students pursuing higher education.
Ryan’s poverty plans seem peculiarly designed to increase the hardships faced by the poor.
Trump’s approach will likely align with Ryan’s, since his fundamental take on poverty is that people are poor because they are not willing to work. In an interview with Sean Hannity last year, Trump was asked if he would be able to lift America’s 50 million poor people out of poverty.
“I would,” said Trump. “I would create incentives for people to work. People don’t have an incentive. They make more money by sitting there doing nothing than they make if they have a job.”
That, of course, was ominous. The man who is now president-elect did not seem to know that the majority of those who are poor in America are children, people with disabilities, and seniors. Nor did he seem to understand that many adults who are poor actually have jobs and are working every day. There are also millions of people in America who are jobless but frantically seeking work, and millions more who are working part-time but would much rather have full-time employment.
Trump has never given any indication that he knows much or cares much about the poor. Early in his campaign he seemed to be strongly against a higher minimum wage, one of the most important weapons in the anti-poverty arsenal. A year ago, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, Trump said, “Our taxes are too high, our wages are too high, everything is too high.” And in one of the GOP primary debates, when asked if he would raise the minimum wage, he replied, “I would not do it.”