Wonkbook: A conservative War on Poverty?

January 9

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(Photo by Frederic J. Brown/Getty)

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 10 percentage points. That's how much the supplemental poverty rate, the most accurate official measure of poverty, fell between 1967 and 2012, largely as a result of government transfer payments. It now stands at 16 percent.

Wonkbook's Graph of the Day: Which government programs have done the most to reduce poverty? Which don't do much at all?

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Republicans want to be poverty warriors; (2) the Fed is OK with saying goodbye; (3) Obamacare, now in calm waters; (4) appropriators gonna appropriate; and (5) governors gone wild.

1. Top story: A new War on Poverty?

One in three Americans slipped below the poverty line between 2009 and 2011. "The "official" poverty rate was 15 percent in 2012. That number gives the impression that poverty is a bright line, that roughly one sixth of the country is poor and the rest are not poor. But that's a bit misleading. As a new report from the Census Bureau shows, a much, much larger subset of people slip in and out of poverty all the time. For instance: Between 2009 and 2011, nearly one third of the country — 31.6 percent — fell below that official poverty line for at least two months. By contrast, only 3.5 percent of the U.S. population remained poor for that entire period." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Explainer: Everything you need to know about the war on povertyDylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

Rubio: War on Poverty has been lost. "Among the changes to the system Rubio proposed was a plan to consolidate federal funding for anti-poverty programs into the one agency and give those funds to the states. The key to addressing poverty, Rubio emphasized in his high-profile speech, is decentralizing. “These Flex Funds would be transferred to the states so they can design and fund creative initiatives that address the factors behind inequality of opportunity” closer to home, Rubio said...He also said he would introduce legislation to replace the earned income tax credit with a “federal wage enhancement for qualifying low-wage jobs.”" Jackie Kucinich in The Washington Post.

Primary source: The full text of Rubio's speech as prepared for delivery.

Longread: "The Height of the Net," by Oren Cass, who was Mitt Romney's domestic-policy director. It's worth reading it now, because you'll be hearing about it, and its arguments, again and again from Republicans. National Review Online.

Farm bill talks nearing conclusion with about $9 billion in food stamp cuts. "Plans call for eliminating about $9 billion in funding for food stamps — formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — over the next decade, according to several aides familiar with the negotiations who are not authorized to speak publicly about the details. The cuts are a compromise between a proposed $4 billion reduction approved by the Democratic-led Senate in June and nearly $40 billion in cuts approved by the GOP-controlled House as Republicans sought to overhaul eligibility requirements for SNAP. Aides said House and Senate lawmakers sought cuts to SNAP by focusing on what they call the “heat-and-eat” loophole." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

...What is 'heat-and-eat'? "If a state gives a resident as little as $1 a year in heating assistance, it allows that person’s household to automatically qualify for an average of $1,080 in additional food stamps annually from the federal government. That’s what 14 states, including New York and California, and the District of Columbia have done." >Alan Bjerga in Bloomberg.

White House picks first five economic ‘Promise Zones.' "The official said chosen areas are: San Antonio, Texas; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; Southeastern Kentucky; and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. The White House has said the initiative will focus on reducing crime in high-poverty areas, attracting private investment to replace "distressed" housing with "mixed-income" housing, ensuring that more students graduate from high school and providing tax incentives to stimulate economic growth." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

@damianpaletta: Sen Rubio proposes consolidating ALL federal anti-poverty money into one agency, which would direct money to states with flexibility.

‘Great Society’ agenda led to great — and lasting — philosophical divide. "On the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a War on Poverty, Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a battle over whether its 40 government programs have succeeded in lifting people from privation or worsened the situation by trapping the poor in dependency...With battles underway over extending long-term unemployment benefits and raising the minimum wage, leaders of both parties are feeling a new urgency to address the issue of rising income inequality, as well as the economic insecurity that many in the middle class are feeling. But to a large degree, that means coming to terms with a political legacy that reaches back to the 1960s." Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post.

Two classic reads from that fight, via Dylan Matthews: "The Other America," by Michael Harrington; "Our Invisible Poor," by Dwight Macdonald. The New Yorker.

Why progress against poverty has slowed. "Low wages should be a national concern, as globalization and technology have tag-teamed to devastate the buying power of families who struggle annually to pay the bills and raise their children. But the pesky poverty rate isn't just a measure of low wages. It's sticky high partly because the government's best efforts to get cash to working families have been offset by the fact that Americans are—for a variety of reasons—working less." Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.

...And why you should forget about the concept of the 'poverty rate.' "[F]or such an influential and obsessed-over number, there's widespread agreement that the government's standard poverty measure is deeply flawed, and it almost certainly understates how much the social safety net has improved U.S. living standards over time...The poverty line itself is sort of the shag carpet of economic indicators—a poorly-aged, 1960s throwback. It was first set during the Johnson administration at three times the cost of a basic diet because, at the time, the typical family was thought to spend about one-third of its income on food. Since then, it has mostly been adjusted for inflation rather than our changing spending habits, which today are geared less towards groceries, and more towards things like housing and healthcare...Our current approach to calculating poverty is so full of holes that, for the past few years, the Census Bureau has produced an alternative number known as the "supplemental poverty measure" or "SPM"—which is bone-dry government speak for "the statistic you should really be paying attention to."" Jordan Weissman in The Atlantic.

@CEABetsey: Research shows childhood poverty is self-perpetuating-- solve it now and save $500 billion in foregone income, cost of crime & health costs

Eric Cantor and Bill de Blasio exchange fire over schools and educational opportunity. "Calling school choice the best route out of poverty, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor took aim at New York City’s new mayor on Wednesday for his cooler stance toward public charter schools and warned that Republicans may hold congressional hearings on the education policies of Democrat Bill de Blasio’s administration. In a speech at the Brookings Institution, Cantor (R-Va.) said that New York made great progress in offering choice to students under former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), who grew the number of public charter schools from seven to 123 in 12 years." Lyndsey Layton in The Washington Post.

The head of the U.S. Chamber of Congress doesn't think income inequality is a real thing. "Thomas J. Donohue, the longtime chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sounded like an income inequality skeptic at his annual State of American Business address in Washington on Wednesday. When a reporter observed at a news conference after his 36-minute talk that he seemed to be calling the whole concept of income inequality into question, he responded with a non sequitur, applauding what the Obama administration is doing in pushing trade agreements. “If there is inequality,’’ Donohue said, well then, the White House is addressing it all wrong...Martin Regalia, the chamber’s chief economist, said income inequality is “not as bad as many of the statistics show — you have to use the right numbers.”" Melinda Henneberger in The Washington Post.

@Goldfarb: Repeat after me: Poverty, inequality, mobility, wage stagnation, unemployment, and growth are all different things!

Big business says only education can fix inequality. It’s just not sure what that means. "Donohue wondered, in his speech, why Americans weren't more upset about the state of their education system. "Where is the outrage? Where is the urgency?" he lamented...One would think, given his assessment of the magnitude of the problem, that Donohue would have a detailed set of proposals for reform. But when reporters followed up in a news conference, asking what kinds of change he'd like to see, Donohue rambled vaguely...Donohue's "training" mantra is more about deflecting attention from solutions that are hard for companies to stomach toward those that aren't their responsibility to deal with." Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.

BARRO: There is no Republican antipoverty agenda. "Republicans aren't really having a policy discussion about poverty at all. They're having a messaging discussion. Some want to pick up Jack Kemp's "baton" of talking about social mobility and free enterprise. Social conservatives want to talk about the importance of families to alleviating poverty. Rand Paul wants to add more "anti-government broadsides" to the message. What all these Republican approaches have in common is that they aren't policy ideas at all, or they're policies that won't do anything about poverty. The one exception I can see is Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)." Josh Barro in Business Insider.

WILCOX: If you really care about ending poverty, stop talking about inequality. "Inequality itself is not a particularly potent predictor of economic mobility...Harvard economist Raj Chetty, a principal investigator at the Equality of Opportunity Project, has pointed to economic and racial segregation, community density, the size of a community’s middle class, the quality of schools, community religiosity, and family structure, which he calls the “single strongest correlate of upward mobility.”" W. Bradford Wilcox in The Atlantic.

YGLESIAS: How marriage fights poverty. "If you look up the Federal Poverty Guidelines you'll see that the way it works is that one person is poor if he or she earns less than $11,490. But due to household economies of scale, the FPG says that for two people to be non-poor they need to make $15,510 not $22,980. Indeed, the poverty line for a family of three is only $19,530—less than double the poverty line for one. Basically poverty is $11,490 for the first person plus $4,020 for each additional person...Which is to say that marriage "lifts" families out of poverty not by increasing their incomes but by reducing what the federal government assumes their expenses to be." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

@mattyglesias: Shorter conservatism: Fight poverty by encouraging marriage by enforcing legal discrimination in who can get married.

YORK: Caring about poverty is a waste of political energy for Republicans. ""President Obama almost never talked about poverty in the last election. He just didn't mention it. Instead, in speech after speech, rally after rally, commercial after commercial, Obama and his fellow Democrats targeted the great American middle class, wracked by economic anxieties and concerned about maintaining its style of life in a terrible economic downturn. For Democrats, the election was middle class, middle class, middle class...[T]he new strategy ignores the (at least rhetorical) lesson of the Democrats' recent successes: When it comes to winning votes, it's all about the middle class." Byron York in The Washington Examiner.

DOUTHAT: How Republicans should talk about poverty. "If you were to build a rhetorical frame around some of the better policy ideas floating around on the right-of-center these days, it probably wouldn’t be neatly divided into a “message on poverty” and a “message for the middle class.” Instead, it would talk about how this new right-of-center agenda would offer the same kind of thing to Americans below the poverty line as it does to Americans anxiously holding on to their place in the middle class: Not a conservatism of “compassion” (that Bush-era frame was always a mistake, even when the substance was decent), but a conservatism of respect, in which benefits and tax credits are tied to effort, responsibility, family, work, in ways that apply up and down the income ladder." Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

Debate: The National Review has rounded up many conservative perspectives on the War on Poverty. Read more here.

COHN: Lessons from the front. "To summarize and (grossly) simplify, programs designed simply to provide money or benefits have worked well, particularly for the elderly and children. Programs designed to realize more complicated goals, like developing better skills, haven’t. A shift in the structure of benefits, in order to reward work and penalize dependency, boosted the supports for the employed but took away some for the unemployed." Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic.

KONCZAL: How to win support for fighting poverty. "[P]rograms that are seen as being rights given to all citizens or that are related to work are more widely embraced. They enjoy stronger funding, broader support, and are enjoyed without stigmatization compared to programs related to needs...Meanwhile, if we quickly want to provide income support, programs like expanding and updating a child tax credit will likely go far and also be politically popular enough to win bipartisan support. This could guarantee a minimum income for families with children, a result which is both feasible and effective for providing support." Mike Konczal in The New Republic.

CROOK: Obama's misguided theory of social injustice. "The president’s rhetorical departure thrills progressive Democrats. It folds poverty, lack of opportunity and the supposedly ill-gotten gains of the rich into a unified theory of economic injustice. This theory aligns with the way progressives see the world. They also feel it’s good political marketing. Which of these claims is more energizing: The poor stay poor as the rich get richer, or the poor stay poor because the rich get richer? Progressives are right that poverty, opportunity and fairness each deserve close attention, and conservatives are wrong in preferring (with rare exceptions) to ignore all three. But Democrats are wrong to bundle the issues together." Clive Crook in Bloomberg.

Music recommendations interlude: Bruce Springsteen, "Used Cars," 1982.

Top opinion

RUBIN: Sound fiscal policy would be more spending now, less on entitlements later. "Such a regime should be enacted now to stabilise, or preferably reduce, the ratio of debt-to-gross domestic product over 10 years, and protect discretionary spending. Implementation, designed in ways difficult to undo, should be deferred for a limited period to allow for recovery. Fiscal discipline could provide room for reasonable stimulus to create jobs." Robert Rubin in The Financial Times.

KLEIN: What liberals don't get about single payer. "A health-care system that followed international best practices would direct the government to set rates. Or it would let insurers band together and negotiate rates collectively -- a practice called “all-payer rate setting.” But it wouldn’t need to eliminate private insurers. It’s good for consumers to have a choice of insurers, who have real incentives to innovate and devise better ways to keep customers healthy and costs down. It’s health-care providers -- not insurers -- who have too much power in the U.S. system." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

GIFFORDS: Gun control must rally on. "Enhance enforcement by passing a law making gun trafficking a serious crime with stiff penalties. Make it illegal for all stalkers and all domestic abusers to buy guns. Extend mental health resources into schools and communities, so the dangerously mentally ill find it easier to receive treatment than to buy firearms. And even as we lay the groundwork for expanding background checks, pass strong incentives for states to ensure the background-check system contains the records of the most dangerous and violent among us." Gabrielle Giffords in The New York Times. 

DIONNE: Marijuana injustice needs to end. "I have come to believe that we should legalize or at least decriminalize marijuana use. The way we enforce marijuana laws is unconscionable. The arrest rates for possession are astoundingly and shamefully different for whites and African Americans. The incongruence between what our statutes require and what Americans actually do cannot be sustained." E. J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

MEYERSON: Obamacare is working. "A larger share of Californians will be able to afford regular medical check-ups than Texans. A smaller share of Californians is likely to be bankrupted by the expense of major medical treatment than Texans. When the law’s tax penalties take effect, a smaller share of Californians will be subject to the penalties that come with the individual mandates than will Texans. In the coming years, a smaller share of California hospitals will face financial risk for indigent care than hospitals in Texas, where fewer of the sick and poor will be covered by Medicaid." Harold Meyerson in The Washington Post.

Old fashioned interlude: Recipes from 1888.

2. Central bankers still want to be as boring as dentists

The Fed has signed off on a gradual unwinding of its bond-buying effort. "The Federal Reserve’s decision in December to taper its bond-buying campaign reflected increased confidence in the economy and continued uneasiness about the stimulus effort, according to an official account of the December meeting...“Participants generally anticipated that the improvement in labor market conditions would continue, and most had become more confident in that outlook,” the account said. “Against this backdrop, most participants saw a reduction in the pace of purchases as appropriate at this meeting and consistent with the committee’s previous policy communications.”" Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

...The fear of an asset bubble has gotten real enough to push away economic problems that are here today, like the output gap. "Federal Reserve officials in December turned their attention to the risk of dangerous financial bubbles emerging as they scanned a brightening economic outlook and formulated a plan to gradually wind down their bond-buying program this year. While officials agreed that threats to financial stability were modest, the issue was at the center of wide-ranging discussions about emerging threats to the economy..."Several [Fed officials] commented on the rise in forward price-to-earnings ratios for some small-cap stocks, the increased level of equity repurchases, or the rise in margin credit," the minutes showed. "One pointed to the increase in issuance of leveraged loans this year and the apparent decline in the average quality of such loans."" Jon Hilsenrath and Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.

Explainer: 5 things we learned from the Fed minutesNeil Irwin and Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

U.S. private sector adds more jobs than expected. "U.S. businesses added jobs at a quick pace last month, notably in construction, according to a tally of hiring released Wednesday. Private-sector payrolls increased by 238,000 positions in December, according to the national employment report compiled by payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. and forecasting firm Moody's Analytics." Kathleen Madigan in The Wall Street Journal.

Maybe the U.S. economic recovery isn’t that disappointing, after all. "We're doing pretty well! Or at least, pretty well by the standards of countries emerging from banking crises. Of 100 systemic banking crises in the United States and around the world, Reinhart and Rogoff found that it takes an average of eight years for per-capita GDP to fully recover. Of the 12 countries directly hit by the global financial crisis that began in 2007, the United States and Germany have both returned to their pre-crisis levels of per-capita GDP." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

U.S. oil exports have been banned for 40 years. Is it time for that to change? This paper by Blake Clayton of the Council on Foreign Relations lays out the basic case: The energy landscape today is very different from the 1970s. Domestic production of crude oil is now on the upswing, thanks to shale fracking and other improved drilling techniques in places like North Dakota's Bakken formation or Texas's Eagle Ford Formation. Right now, Clayton notes, the export ban is actually hurting these upstart producers. Companies in North Dakota and Texas are producing lighter, sweeter types of crude oil and can't find enough refiners to process it. That's because many Gulf Coast refineries are set up to process heavier types of crude." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

<strong">Memes of memes interlude: Headlines Against Humanity.

3. Has Obamacare made it into calm waters?

Insurers push Obamacare payment deadline to late January. "Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois and three more BCBS plans that are part of the privately held Health Care Service Corp chain have moved the first payment deadline to January 30 from January 10. All of the plans are sold through the federal website HealthCare.gov, which had a December 24 deadline for customers to enroll and be guaranteed coverage by January 1 in 36 states. Others, including Aetna Inc, said they were still considering this Friday to be the payment deadline." Caroline Humer in Reuters.

Massachusetts wastes a third of all health spending. "Main drivers of excess spending included patients returning to hospitals for preventable reasons and emergency-room visits that better primary care could have warded off, the state's Health Policy Commission concluded, citing data from 2012. The commission estimated between $14.7 billion and $26.9 billion in wasteful spending that year, representing between 21% and 39% of total health expenditures...The Massachusetts commission was formed under a 2012 state law designed to control health-care costs by setting a target for growth in health spending and allowing penalties when providers exceed the target." Jon Kamp in The Wall Street Journal.

Interview: Michael O. Leavitt, HHS Secretary under President George W. BushJulie Appleby in Kaiser Health News.

Great news for Obamacare: Americans are bored with it. "Those who have watched other insurance expansions come and go offer two theories. One is that the coverage people signed up for is, by and large, working. And it's a whole lot less exciting to write about things that work as they're supposed to than things going haywire, as was the case with HealthCare.gov's initial rollout. This is the more optimistic theory of Obamacare boredom: The law is working, thus leaving us reporters with few screw-ups to write about...Another possibility is that the problems just haven't cropped up quite yet." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Self-explanatory interlude: A pointless but beautiful diagram a day keeps nobody away.

4. Appropriators gonna appropriate

Appropriators fight to beat clock. "Lawmakers scrambled Wednesday to maintain their momentum and complete writing an omnibus spending bill by Friday. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), however, acknowledged that some sort of short stopgap measure will now be likely to avoid a Jan. 16 shutdown...Yet Rogers said negotiators are clearly making progress, with eight of the 12 parts of the omnibus done." Erik Wasson in The Hill.

Senators debate extension of unemployment benefits. "The Senate on Wednesday haggled over competing proposals to extend unemployment benefits for the longtime jobless, with negotiators searching for a compromise that could extend the insurance program for a longer period than currently envisioned. Republicans, who provided a key bloc of six votes to keep the legislation alive Tuesday, offered several different proposals for offsetting budget cuts that would match the more than $6.4 billion it would cost for a three-month extension of the benefits program. Democrats continued to oppose the alternative budget cuts to justify such a short extension, but they opened the door to finding cuts if the extension was longer." Paul Kane in The Washington Post.

The IMF has become a bargaining chip in this year's appropriations game. "Who’d have guessed it but there’s the International Monetary Fund in the middle of the omnibus bill talks — a potential bargaining chip for House Republicans but also a symbol of divisions in the party given the right’s suspicion of such international organizations...The IMF quota increase for the U.S. is $63 billion. But the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the added cost is just $315 million since the money is not new but is being reallocated within funds already approved in 2009 and scored then by the CBO. On the world stage, the transaction looms bigger — for the fund itself and Washington’s leadership role...In this case, the IMF quota increase and reforms stem from a deal that the U.S. shaped itself in talks with the G-20 nations in Seoul in November 2010. Three years later, the pact can’t be fully implemented because Washington has a veto share of the vote in the IMF and has yet to meet its part of the bargain. President Barack Obama bears some blame for dragging his feet and not asking for the money until after his 2012 reelection was secured. Time is now running short, and with it, the patience of allies." David Rogers in Politico.

<strong">Pixel art interlude: "Nighthawks" edition.

5. Governors gone wild

Chris Christie faces scandal over traffic jam in Fort Lee, N.Y. ordered by his aides. "The mystery of who closed two lanes onto the George Washington Bridge — turning the borough of Fort Lee, N.J., into a parking lot for four days in September — exploded into a full-bore political scandal for Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday, when emails and texts revealed that a top aide had ordered the closings to punish the town’s mayor after he did not endorse the governor for re-election. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Mr. Christie, emailed David Wildstein, a high school friend of the governor who worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge. Later text messages mocked concerns that school buses filled with students were stuck in gridlock: “They are the children of Buono voters,” Mr. Wildstein wrote, referring to Mr. Christie’s opponent Barbara Buono." Kate Zernike in The New York Times.

Primary sources: The damning emailsThe New York Times. Christie's press statementThe Washington Post.

Christie’s problem is that he’s really, truly a bully. "Christie inhabits a rare space in American politics: He's a bully. He's followed around by an aide with a camcorder watching for moments in which Christie, mustering the might and prestige of his office, annihilates some citizen who dares question him...He's someone who uses his office to intimidate people and punish or humiliate perceived enemies...What's dangerous for Christie, though, is that now every political reporter in the country will begin believing rumors of his punishments and hunting down evidence of his retaliation. And things Christie was able to do before to wide applause — like berate a schoolteacher and then have his staff upload it to YouTube — will begin feeding a very different kind of narrative. Chris Christie rose because he's a bully. It might be why he falls, too." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

About that bullying meme. "One of the key raps on Christie is that he's a "bully" and that he engages in naked power politics. That rap hasn't hurt him with voters — until now — because they perceived Christie as bullying people who deserved to be bullied and using strong-arm political tactics to make New Jersey's government work better. Christie's governing style led to bipartisan agreements on budgets and employee benefits reform, and the targets of his ire were unpopular: teachers' unions and distrusted municipal officials. But now we're seeing an example of Christie's team doling out punishment in a way that was both incompetent and petty. This isn't just about the Christie administration engaging in unseemly retributive politics; it's about them being bad at it." Josh Barro in Business Insider.

Christie just blew his chance at being president in 2016. "Several things come together to make this scandal especially devastating to Christie. One is that it’s very easy for voters to understand: He punished a town because its mayor endorsed his rival. There are no complex financial transfers or legal maneuverings to parse. Second, it fits into a broader pattern of behavior...Why would they circle around a candidate teeming with corruption scandals, when they could instead nominate a more conservative alternative with a more attractive personal image? What reason, at this point, does any Republican have to nominate Christie?" Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

Why Christie's story still doesn't make sense. "Here's what I don't buy. Let's stipulate that this hare-brained scheme was hatched by Christie's staff and appointees without his knowledge. Therefore, he didn't know about the lane closures or their motivations before Sept. 13, when Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye (a New York appointee) started complaining about them. There have been 117 intervening days, during which Christie accepted the resignations of two of his Port Authority appointees who are caught up in this scandal. I assume he and his top staff have had a lot of conversations during that time, trying to figure out exactly what happened in Fort Lee. Did his people really manage to keep him in the dark for that entire time such that he's shocked today?" Josh Barro in Business Insider.

Maine’s governor wants to make it easier for children to work. "Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) said Tuesday that state regulations governing child labor are hurting the state’s economy, according to the Portland Press Herald. “We don’t allow children to work until they’re 16, but two years later, when they’re 18, they can go to war and fight for us,” LePage said at an agricultural trade show, according to the paper. “That’s causing damage to our economy. I started working far earlier than that, and it didn’t hurt me at all. There is nothing wrong with being a paperboy at 12 years old, or at a store sorting bottles at 12 years old.” Easing restrictions on child labor — which date back to 1847 in Maine — instills a better work ethic among the state’s children and provides a learning opportunity for those who may not be cut out for school, LePage argued." Niraj Chokshi in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

One in three Americans slipped below the poverty line between 2009 and 2011Brad Plumer.

Big business says only education can fix inequality. It’s just not sure what that meansLydia DePillis.

Chris Christie’s problem is that he’s really, truly a bullyEzra Klein.

Everything you need to know about the war on povertyDylan Matthews.

The Fed had no idea if the taper would terrify marketsNeil Irwin and Ylan Q. Mui.

Great news for Obamacare: Americans are bored with itSarah Kliff.

Kale was so much bigger in the 1990sLydia DePillis.

Maybe the U.S. economic recovery isn’t that disappointing, after allNeil Irwin.

U.S. oil exports have been banned for 40 years. Is it time for that to changeBrad Plumer.

Et Cetera

Longread: How the NSA almost killed the InternetSteven Levy in Wired.

House Republicans are putting together an immigration-reform proposalAshley Parker in The New York Times.

From Harvard, a cheaper storage batteryMatthew L. Wald in The New York Times.

Alaska could become the third state to legalize marijuana—as soon as AugustNiraj Chokshi in The Washington Post.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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Timothy B. Lee · January 8