Washington may be politically polarized, but two studies, the first on poverty and now one on hunger, reflect growing bipartisan agreement on the nature and recommended approach to these societal ills. Fortunately, this comes about just as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) turns to his reform agenda. In an interview with Katie Couric, Ryan said, “This is a party that has ideas on fighting poverty . . . I believe fundamentally that we can offer better ideas as conservatives by applying our principles to the problem of poverty to showing better solutions.” Republicans and lawmakers would do well to look at both of these reports.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Robert Doar, who was instrumental in both studies, writes on the release of the hunger report:

There was agreement on the Commission that the best defense against hunger is earnings from employment, and that our government programs, including SNAP, should do more to help low-income Americans find work. We recommended that SNAP case workers refer more beneficiaries to employment programs, and that states be given more flexibility to experiment with their SNAP Employment and Training funds. We also think USDA should report more information on whether states are succeeding in moving SNAP recipients into work. . . .
The report also contained an important discussion of the root causes of hunger. We noted the importance of work, the negative consequences that come with single parenthood, and the significance of personal responsibility, among others. This added a fuller understanding of the causes of hunger than is often seen in reports on this issue.

The report also came up with a more effective and accurate definition of hunger (“one or more members of the household had to reduce food intake because they did not have enough money to purchase food”). We can then know the extent of the problem and determine whether the problem improves along with economic recovery. It does not. (“The percent of households experiencing hunger increased from 4.1% in 2007 to 5.4% in 2010, and the rate has remained elevated (5.6% in 2014) — even as the economic recovery enters its sixth year and despite a large increase in food assistance spending by the federal government.”)

AD
AD

Together the reports have a few take-aways. First, the measure of our compassion cannot be the growth of welfare and food programs; it has to be the emergence of independent households where able adults find work (and the esteem that goes with holding down a job) and two-parent families provide the most stable environment for child-rearing. It is significant that now liberals believe this.

As did the report on poverty, the new hunger study recognizes that there is no single root cause of poverty and that family structure is critical. The highest incidence of hunger — by far — comes in families headed by a single mother. (“The hunger rate for households headed by a single mother (12.8%, or 1.3 million households) is four times the rate for households headed by a married couple (3.2%, or 804,000 households). For households headed by a single father, the rate (7.0%, or 228,000 households) is more than twice the rate of households headed by people who are married.”)

But that is by no means the only factor that causes poverty and hunger. “U.S. households experience hunger because of limited income due to a variety of factors, including low or underemployment, family instability, low educational attainment, exposure to violence, a history of racial or ethnic discrimination, personal choices, or a combination of these,” the report states. “These factors can play a large role in hunger and cannot be addressed solely through the public nutrition assistance programs or through charitable giving. Understanding the root causes of hunger is essential in order to eliminate hunger.”

AD
AD

The implications of this are sobering. There is no magic key to turn that eliminates hunger or poverty. Spending more on support programs does not get at the causes of poverty and therefore is of limited utility. Promoting education reform, incentives and assistance to work and keep families intact is not cheap and cannot be accomplished by a one-size-fits-all centralized bureaucracy; it is, however, the only logical manner to assist those who do not fully participate in the U.S. economy and therefore do not enjoy either prosperity or the personal satisfaction one derives from personal success.

AD
AD