The Case for a Conservative Anti-Poverty Agenda in Tennessee


August 23, 2016 4:13PM

For too long, conservatives have taken a back seat in regards to the dialogue and initiatives aimed at stemming the tide of poverty. Why? There are many reasons, but I believe the chief among them is an unwillingness to acknowledge that the failure for some individuals to climb the economic ladder isn’t always the result of a lack of will or motivation. Those on the left would claim that, “of course it’s not their fault- it’s the fault of the free market.” Those on the right subsequently go on the defensive, explaining why the free-market can solve everyone’s problems. But while some are busy explaining, the free market has become increasingly less free.

Many in seats of power have gradually reclined into seats of comfort, while a vigilant defense of individual liberty wanes away. Rather than begrudging the left for socialist agendas that enslave large swaths of our population to lives dependent on welfare checks, lack of employment opportunities, poor healthcare, and bad schools, perhaps we should be begrudging the right for failing to offer alternative solutions.

Conservatives tend to forget that education, healthcare, and criminal justice are just as much free-market issues as jobs and the economy. In fact, they are economic drivers. When we don’t apply the same principles of individual liberty and limited government to these areas we are creating a multi-generational breeding ground for poverty. If you’re unconvinced, take a look at what the National Center for Children in Poverty found to be the case for families, and especially children, in the Volunteer State:

– 17% of children in the TN foster care system are placed in homes outside their family (more than the national average of 14%).

– There are over 8,000 children in foster care across the state.

– It costs the state 10 times more to place a child outside the family, in group homes or centers, than it does to place them with a family caregiver.

– 1 in 9 children across the state have or had a parent in the prison system within the last year.

– 26% of children across the state live below the poverty level.

– 32% of children living under the poverty level live in households where neither parent has any form of employment.

– 65% of children living beneath the poverty level live in households where neither parent has a high school degree.

– More children live in poverty in Tennessee today than did during the Great Recession.

Clearly, big-government solutions have not been the answer. For too long, those on the right have ceded this ground to those who would continue relegating individuals to a life of dependency on failing government programs. It’s time that free-market proponents reclaim the narrative. This is where the Beacon Center is going in 2017 and we hope that those on both sides of the political aisle will join us.