Paul Ryan speaks on poverty and upward mobility in America: ‘Poverty is winning’

Font Size:

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan argued Wednesday that President Barack Obama’s policies have caused upward mobility to stagnate and poverty to rise.

“Upward mobility is the central promise of life in America — but right now, America’s engines of upward mobility aren’t working the way they should,” Ryan said at Ohio’s Cleveland State University, according to prepared remarks.

Ryan argued that the government should adopt policies that foster opportunity and economic growth, instead of dependency.

Ryan noted that 46 million people in America are living in poverty — the highest number in generations — and that food stamp rolls have increased by 15 million in the last four years. One in four students fails to graduate from high school, Ryan said, while the government spent more than a trillion dollars in means-tested welfare last year alone.

“In this war on poverty, poverty is winning,” Ryan said. (RELATED: Federal government spent more than $1 trillion on welfare-related programs in last fiscal year alone)

“With a few exceptions, government’s approach has been to spend lots of money on centralized, bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs,” he added. “The mindset behind this approach is that a nation should measure compassion by the size of the federal government and how much it spends.”

The chairman of the House Budget Committee also took on the Randian label that critics have attached to his political outlook.

“[T]o hear some tell it, we think everybody should just fend for themselves. But that’s just a false argument – a straw man set up to avoid genuine debate,” he said. “The truth is, Mitt and I believe in true compassion and upward mobility – and we are offering a vision based on real reforms for lifting people out of poverty.”

Ryan pushed the idea of a “balance” between government and private charity, where the community acts to fill in the gaps between the government and the individual.

“There’s a vast middle ground between the government and the individual. Our families and our neighborhoods, the groups we join and our places of worship – this is where we live our lives,” he said. “They shape our character, give our lives direction, and help make us a self-governing people.”

However, Ryan said, a Romney administration would also strengthen the government’s federal social safety net.

“For starters, a Romney-Ryan administration will clearly restore those parts of the welfare-reform law that have been undone or weakened. We will do this for the sake of millions of Americans who deserve to lead lives of dignity and freedom,” he said, notably returning assistance power back to the states who can “tailor welfare to the unique needs of their citizens.”

Ryan added that they would apply the philosophy to other programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, where the “federal government would continue to provide the resources, but we would remove the endless federal mandates and restrictions that hamper state efforts to make these programs more effective.”

He further advocated for education reform and school choice.

“Sending your child to a great school should not be a privilege of the well-to-do. Mitt Romney and I believe that choice should be available to every parent in our country, wherever they live,” he said. “Education reform is urgent, and freedom is the key.”

Ryan also acknowledged that, at times, the Republican message about bringing strength to low-income Americans has been clunky.

“My party has a vision for making our communities stronger – but we don’t always do a good job of laying out that vision,” Ryan admitted.

“Many of those living in poverty today were in the middle class just a few years ago,” he said. “We can help them regain the ground they’ve lost, with a focus on growth all across the American economy.”

Follow Caroline on Twitter

Caroline May