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VT's New Pathway Out of Poverty: Well-Meaning POoP, but What Does It Mean?

Vermont Gov Peter ShumlinSometimes I think, not at all self-servingly, that Governor Shumlin ought to hire a snarky blogger — to provide a bit of perspective, a bit of sour in the dough, and as a preventative to doing stupid stuff like...

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed an executive order Monday creating a new council to combat poverty ... the Governor's Council on Pathways Out of Poverty will have between 10 and 30 members and meet three times a year.

Uh, er... a POoP Council? Really, now.

I do have some more substantive comments on the Governor's new POoP. Back in the 1990s, my home state of Michigan had a conservative Republican Governor by the name of John Engler. One of his strokes of rhetorical brilliance was to give the Department of Social Services a new name: the Family Independence Agency. Because, you know, we're not in the business of giving handouts to the undeserving poor; we're giving people a chance to achieve Family Independence!

Engler's successor Jennifer Granholm quickly undid it. And Governor Shumlin is dipping into Engler's tainted pool of anti-welfare jargon with this "Pathways Out of Poverty" POoP.

I'm not arguing with the idea that we'd like to see as many people achieve independence and security as possible. But, as Our Lord and Savior once said, "the poor you will always have with you." Especially since one of the principal products of our 21st Century economy is poverty and financial insecurity.

You want evidence? Take a look at the Public Assets Institute's new report, "More Jobs, Clustered in Low-Wage Sectors."

The [November] unemployment rate inched down to 4.4 percent, mainly because fewer Vermonters are looking for work. At the same time, employers reported 2,200 more Vermonters on the job than in October, with most of those newcomers in traditionally low-wage service sectors.

A nice shiny chart, displayed after the jump, illustrates this disturbing reality. 

All those low-paying jobs put a smiley face on our unemployment rate, but they do little or nothing to give people a Pathway Out of Poverty.

Now, that chart is just a snapshot. But it's part of a longer-term trend — as shown in PAI's year-end report "State of Working Vermont 2013." The PAI pointed out that "fewer Vermonters were working in 2012 than in 2007. And private employers were providing fewer jobs, most concentrated in low-wage sectors. Also, "the number and the percentage of Vermonters in poverty had increased," as had the number receiving food stamps (up a stunning 86 percent in five years) and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The Governor's new Council will have to be awfully darn creative to buck these trends and provide real Pathways Out Of Poverty.

In addition to his new Brown Ribbon Committee, Shumlin also announced a brace of anti-poverty initiatives worth a grand total of $2.2 million. Funding source TBD, since the Gov is determined to flatline next year's budget. Human Services Secretary Doug Racine described the initiatives as "more aggressive than efforts put forth in other states," and "a huge initiative [that] will make a huge difference that you aren't going to be seeing in the rest of the country."

Gosh, Doug. Mighty big (or should I say "huge") words for a couple mill. I know that's a lot of scratch for your average working-class stiff, but it seems like a spit-in-the-wind for the fight against poverty. Can two million dollars -— and that's generously assuming Shumlin comes up with a funding scheme that's acceptable to the Legislature — really "make a huge difference"? Somehow I doubt it.

Look, it's nice and all. But don't oversell what is, in reality, a very modest proposal.

And I wish good luck to the curiously variable 10-to-30 members of the Governor's new POoP, I really do. They're gonna need it.  

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