Highlights Ron’s work fighting poverty through community-based solutions like the Joseph Project
In case you missed it, Ron Johnson and Paul Ryan wrote an op-ed together in USA Today about fighting poverty “person to person.” They also highlighted Ron’s work fighting poverty and working to create more jobs through community-based solutions like the Joseph Project.
You can read the full op-ed here or below:
Paul Ryan and Ron Johnson: The feds are losing the war on poverty
By: Paul Ryan and Ron Johnson
August 30, 2016
Three times a day, a Chevy van full of Milwaukeeans pulls out of a church parking lot and makes an hour-long drive to Sheboygan County, Wis., where they go to work. In Milwaukee, one says, he’d be washing dishes for $8 an hour, maybe $9, and the hours would be sparse. In Sheboygan, he’s making $15 an hour at an auto parts factory. When he works overtime, which is often, he makes $22 an hour.
That van represents the difference between poverty and opportunity. It’s part of the Joseph Project. The name is from the title of a book, “The Triumphs of Joseph,” by Bob Woodson, a man who has inspired both of us to rethink how America can address poverty.
The Joseph Project is an effort of churches and businesses to connect people who need good jobs with businesses that need good employees. The churches host week-long classes that teach “soft skills,” like how to interview or dress for the office. They organize a carpool to bring them to employers. Since it started last year, with classes taught by the staff of Sen. Johnson, the project has been thriving. It has placed scores of people, 70% of whom are still at their jobs. Last month, the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation paid to add two more vans.
This is how you fight poverty: person to person. The Joseph Project is an example of what community leaders are doing across Wisconsin and America. They are developing homegrown solutions based on their neighbors’ unique needs — in this case, after noticing a shortage of workers in one place, a shortage of work in another. But to expand opportunity, the federal government needs to stop competing with these social entrepreneurs.
Washington treats these entrepreneurs as it treats almost any successful enterprise — as a threat. Each year, it spends nearly $800 billion on more than 90 different programs to fight poverty, with almost no coordination or any consideration of an individual’s needs. It should be no surprise that upward mobility is no better now than when we started the War on Poverty in 1964. But it should be a scandal that today, if you were raised poor, you’re just as likely to stay poor as you were 50 years ago.
A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. What the federal government should do is direct resources to communities, let them try different ideas, then hold people accountable for results. This more organic approach will empower people, giving them dignity rather than dependence.
First, make sure it always pays to work. When it makes more sense to stay on aid instead of taking that job, it undercuts community leaders and demoralizes people trying to support themselves. It’s striking how Joseph Project participants tell us they desperately want to work but feel trapped by the system. It’s moving how they respond to opportunity: “This program is like a second birth,” one said. We must ensure our safety net never stops people from achieving the dignity of work.
Second, harness the talents of community leaders. Allow states to combine federal programs and customize benefits. This would allow them to coordinate with initiatives like the Joseph Project. Make housing benefits portable, so you can move to neighborhoods with more jobs.
Third, demand results. Washington measures success by how much money it spends. Instead, we should measure it by how many people the programs help. In exchange for giving states flexibility, we should also collect more data on their efforts to see what works.
Forty-six million Americans are in poverty today. Yet at our country’s heart is the idea that earning one’s success is crucial to human happiness. If the American idea is not true for everybody, then it is not true at all. That’s why we believe Republicans should take this issue head-on. We need the federal government to ditch the top-down solutions and take a bottom-up approach. Would it save money? Sure. But ultimately, this isn’t about saving money. It’s about saving lives.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is a U.S. senator.