When President Donald Trump delivered his first address to Congress on Feb. 28, he laid out a positive vision of the country’s future. But, what was notable was what and who were largely left out of that vision.
There were lines about poverty, such as an acknowledgement of the 43 million Americans living below the poverty line and the need to lift millions from welfare to work. But, one of the largest federal programs for working poor families – the Earned Income Tax Credit – didn’t even earn a mention in his widely-watched speech.
A problem that keeps many poor and middle-class families up at night, how to pay for their children’s college education, was also absent.
While Trump did address another family worry by pledging “to make child care accessible and affordable,” his emerging plan appears targeted toward middle and upper-income households, as TalkPoverty reported.
Even when the new president appealed for bipartisan cooperation he overlooked an area of common ground in criminal justice reform. There is interest among both parties in addressing problems with mandatory minimum sentencing.
Overall, what was largely missing from the president’s vision were opportunities and policies to build bridges from welfare to work. There was no mention, for example, of job training or raising the minimum wage.
Instead, when the president talked about helping tens of millions of Americans living in poverty, he often focused on two distinct areas: violence and immigration.
“But to break the cycle of poverty, we must also break the cycle of violence,” the president told Congress and the nation.
Enforcement of immigration laws was presented as a sort of panacea to alleviate poverty. It would raise wages and aid unemployed workers, the president said, and “help struggling families, including immigrant families, enter the middle class.”
“It’s a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially. Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon,” Trump told the joint session of Congress.
Yet, there is a growing fear the Trump administration will cut the public resources that the poor rely on to pay for the president’s proposed $54 billion increase in military spending, tax cuts, repeal of the Affordable Care Act and protection of Social Security and Medicare, according to Demos, a progressive think tank in Washington, D.C.
“Last night, Trump spoke eloquently about a future America where we have developed new cures to illnesses which plague us, where millions are lifted out of poverty and where all Americans prosper and grow. His proposed budget, however, works against all of these goals. His cuts will make it much more difficult for average Americans to prosper,” Algernon Austin, a senior analyst at Demos, wrote on the organization’s blog.
While not surprising, the president’s choice of themes – enforcement and violence – instead of opportunities, community-led solutions and a comprehensive policy approach, raised questions about where poor families will fit into the new administration’s vision of America.
This is far from Trump’s last opportunity to address the challenges low-income families face and help create opportunities for all people in the country. The new president’s budget, scheduled to be released later in March, will provide actual policy details and an even clearer view of his administration’s priorities, and where poor families sit on that list.
But since the president’s congressional address was a preview of that budget plan there are now troubling questions about who will prosper under the new administration’s policies, and who will be left behind and pushed deeper into poverty.
Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Equal Voice News, which is published by Marguerite Casey Foundation. This news analysis is part of ongoing coverage about “Making It in Trump’s America.” The top image was made on Feb. 28 by Jim Lo Scalzo via The Associated Press.
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