The plight of America's poor families has been the subject of countless studies and billions of dollars in annual aid. Now, the Republican Party is unveiling a new vision for tackling poverty once and for all.
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday unveiled his party's new economic agenda, which includes proposals for overhauling the country's welfare programs with the goal of reducing poverty. The central thesis, which is a well-worn conservative tenet, is that the poor can be pushed out of impoverishment by tying work requirements to government aid.
The GOP's plan was unveiled at a time when presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is coming under fire for lacking a credible conservative policy platform.
"This task force recommends that federal safety-net programs expect work-capable welfare recipients to work or prepare for work in exchange for receiving benefits. That's the only way they can escape poverty, and states and local governments should help recipients realize their potential," Ryan's report on antipoverty initiatives said.
The poverty rate for Americans is little changed since President Lyndon Johnson began the War on Poverty in 1964, while spending on programs for low-income people has grown about 7 percent per year, according to the GOP's report.
But critics say the GOP's plan could send poor families even deeper into poverty, given that many able-bodied adults who aren't working are struggling with a number of other issues, such as lack of affordable child care or the stigma of a prior arrest or incarceration.
About one-third of adults now have some sort of prior arrest or conviction record, which increases the chance that an employer will immediately overlook them as potential employees.
Ryan's proposal is short on details about how poor Americans with convictions or prior arrests would find employment. It doesn't address how poor single parents would be assisted with finding low-cost child care, other than to simplify the number of child care programs and to focus on results.
That ignores the reality of many poor Americans' lives, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
In a response to the GOP plan, the progressive think tank noted that parents who want to work often aren't able to because they can't find affordable child care. Requiring work in exchange for benefits even if a parent can't find line up day care could mean those children will "end up in highly stressful, unstable situations that can negatively affect their health and their prospects for upward mobility and long-term success," the group said.
In other words, the cycle would simply begin again for those children of poor parents.
Single parents -- especially single mothers -- are much more likely to live in poverty than are married parents. One way to help single women with children to get back into the workforce would be to expand affordable or subsidized child care, not cut back on programs. Even middle-class families struggle with the cost of child care, given that it exceeds the cost of college tuition in 33 states and Washington, D.C.
Policymakers "should institute employment policies that open doors for individuals with criminal records or other personal challenges and expand subsidized jobs for the long-term unemployed and those with significant work limitations who otherwise can't secure employment," the CBPP said.
Another issue is whether work requirements for aid recipients actually deliver the type of results that the GOP is aiming for. Evidence suggests that programs with work requirements had a modest benefit in their early years, boosting employment by between 4 percent to 15 percent, although those gains faded over time, the CBPP said.
One issue that conservatives and liberals are on agreement: Too many Americans are living in poverty or teetering near the edge.