Centrism and bipartisanship are not exactly the order of the day in American politics. Nor, alas, do evidence-based approaches to serious matters of economic and social policy dominate the current presidential campaign. Indeed, one measure of the political process’s dysfunctionality is that the contagion of polarization has even spread to the Washington think tank community.
A refreshing exception to all of the above is a new report on poverty and social mobility by a working group assembled under the auspices of the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution, Washington’s venerable center-right and center-left policy shops, respectively. As its title — “Opportunity, Responsibility, and Security” — suggests, the paper tries to identify the values both right and left still agree on, in spite of everything.
The report usefully starts with an objective summary of actual economic conditions, the most troubling findings of which are the recent decline in labor force participation of young black men and the stark connection between single-parent households and diminished life prospects for children. It then proposes ways to put the common values of left and right into operation against disturbing trends, such as rising child poverty and declining intergenerational class mobility.
More concrete, and promising, is the report’s call for increasing the earned-income tax credit (EITC) for childless adult workers. This wage subsidy for low-income job-holders has proved effective at both combating poverty and promoting family stability.
Both President Barack Obama and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisconsin, have supported versions of it in the past. Specifically, the Obama administration is pushing to make permanent a provision, first enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus bill, that enabled married, two- income couples to receive the full EITC even if their combined income exceeded that of a single working parent by $5,000.
We can’t think of any policy more consistent with the spirit of the AEI/Brookings report than this protection against an EITC “marriage penalty.”