By Stephen H. Padre
Vox, a news website founded by former Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein, has published an interview Klein conducted with Hillary Clinton on June 22 in Raleigh, N.C., following a major speech on her economic vision.
During the extensive interview, Clinton addressed extreme poverty and the working poor, two aspects of hunger that Bread is concerned about.
Klein prefaces the transcript of the interview (and also makes the video available) by noting, “It will give you a sense of how Clinton thinks, how she reasons, how she works through policy questions.”
Beginning last fall, Bread for the World, as part of the Circle of Protection, requested of all presidential candidates a video statement on what they would do to address poverty both in the United States and around the world as president. Clinton, now as her party’s presumptive nominee, submitted her video. Her counterpart, Donald Trump, as his party’s presumptive nominee, has not responded to repeated requests from the Circle of Protection for a video.
The following excerpt from the transcript of the interview with Clinton highlights her stance on some of the issues that Bread is concerned about:
Ezra Klein: Let’s start with poverty. Scholars have estimated that the number of American families living in extreme poverty, under $2 in cash income, has skyrocketed in the last 20 years.
You have about 1.5 million families and 3 million children in this kind of poverty. Given how many children are now in that condition, should we be following the model of countries — like Sweden, Germany, and now Canada under Trudeau — that have a universal child allowance to cut or eliminate child poverty?
Well, this is a very personal and important issue to me — because, as you know, I started out my work as a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund. And I have been focused on child poverty and what we can do to alleviate it for a very long time…
…we’ve got a big problem, and it’s a problem that’s a reflection on our political as well as our economic systems. And I do think we should focus on how we’re going to support more families, and there are a number of inputs. But trying to create more financial support is something that we should look at. I’m not ready to adopt a plan that comes from some other country, because we have to look to see how we would do anything in our federal system — and how it would be workable and what the cost-benefit analysis might be.
But while we’re looking at how we lift incomes — which is the defining economic challenge that we have for working, middle-class, and poor families — we need to do much more to provide the proven interventions in early childhood education that help families, even poor families, know more about how to better prepare their kids. We need to do more with nutrition — and we’re making progress with health care thanks to SCHIP [the State Children’s Health Insurance Program] and the Affordable Care Act.
So it’s not just a decision about whether or not to increase the child tax credit or some other means of providing a greater financial safety net. It’s also what we can do to really support families. And I think we have to move on both tracks.
Klein: But to ask a big-picture question about that policy shift: Something a lot of poverty scholars argue to me is that we made a very big change toward trying to support the working poor — welfare reform was, of course, part of that. It went, from the numbers I’ve seen, from bringing a million of these families out of poverty to around 300,000 in more recent years. Then there was the expansion of the EITC.
Do you think we do too little now to support the poor who, for whatever reason, cannot find or cannot keep a job?
Clinton: I do. I know there’s a big debate — and it’s an important debate — about welfare reform. Because when welfare reform was passed, there was an expectation — certainly on my part, and I think on the part of many who had supported it — that there would be a requirement that states would have to be contributing to the broadest possible safety net, particularly in economic downturns.
So we wouldn’t help the working poor, particularly through the EITC — which I think is one of the best anti-poverty programs that we have devised — at the expense of the poor. We would be providing a continuing safety net for the poor. And that’s one of the programs that I was referring to when I said after 2001, there were a lot of decisions made that basically did not carry on what had been not just the spirit but the requirements in the law, because we had set the base payment at the highest possible rate and expected states to do that.
So we are back to a serious problem of poverty, and I think we have to do much more to target federal programs to the poorest, where intergenerational poverty is once again a cycle. Congressman Jim Clyburn has a creative idea called the 10-20-30 approach, where you would put a percentage of federal funds — 10 percent of federal funds — in those communities that are most impoverished and have been for 30 years.
So I think we’ve got to address really systemic, generational poverty differently. We still have to lift up working people. We have to make it worth everyone’s while to work. We have to create more good jobs. We still have to have the training pipeline there. But we are now, unfortunately, back having to face poverty that we thought we had a better approach toward ending than it turns out — given the change in administrations and attitudes — that we did.
Stephen H. Padre is Bread’s managing editor.