Paul Ryan Loves Talking About Poverty, but He Keeps Getting the Basic Facts Wrong
But for all Ryan’s rhetoric on poverty, he’s also the author of a series of budgets that would absolutely wreck programs for the American poor, inflicting massive human suffering on the nation’s most vulnerable residents. It’s never been exactly clear how Ryan would resolve this tension, but his appearance on Face the Nation suggests he’s going to try to make his poverty programs work with his budgets’ which is to say he’s going to argue that taking trillions away from the poor is somehow actually good for them.
It doesn’t help that the first policy statement he makes is an out-and-out lie:
After a 50-year war on poverty and trillions of dollars spent, we still have the same poverty rates.
This sentence suggests that either Paul Ryan has absolutely no clue how poverty rates work, or he does know and is actively deceiving viewers. First of all, the specific claim in question isn’t even technically accurate. The poverty rate was 19 percent in 1964, when the War on Poverty was announced. In 2013, it was 14.5 percent. We do not have the same poverty rates we did then. Ryan is just wrong.
But even that dramatically understates the progress that has been made. The official poverty rate is a travesty of a statistic, and using it at all in this context is irresponsible. It’s literally based on food prices in 1955. But more relevantly for these purposes, it excludes the very anti-poverty programs Ryan is talking about. It excludes in-kind transfers like Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers, as well as tax-based programs like the EITC. Blasting those programs because they don’t show up in the poverty rate is like arguing that Netflix shows have zero viewers by pointing to cable ratings.