Sessions Delivers Address On Poverty And Unemployment In America

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, delivered the following prepared remarks on the Senate floor yesterday addressing the issue of persistent, long-term unemployment:

Today, President Obama delivered remarks on the growing problem of poverty and chronic unemployment that has occurred during the five years of his presidency. Just this week, his Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, said that ‘the rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer, and the middle class are under siege.’

And Washington Democrats, led by the President, are now proposing increased federal unemployment assistance and new wage controls to treat the consequences of a failed economy.

These words and actions represent an admission that the White House economic agenda has been a disaster for poor and middle class Americans.

Worse still, the President and his party remain fully committed to the policy regime that has failed. These policies have failed not just for the last five years but for the last 50 years. They will never work.

$16 trillion has been spent fighting poverty since the war on poverty began 50 years ago. Yet, where do we stand today? 47 million Americans are on food stamps, nearly 92 million are outside the labor force, and 46 million are living in poverty. In low-income communities, the pain is especially severe:

  • In the city of Baltimore, one in three residents are on food stamps.
  • In Chicago, 51 percent of the city’s children live in a single-parent family.
  • In Detroit, almost one in three households had not a single person working at any time in the last year. The city’s violent crime rate is among the worst in the country. More than half of all Detroit children live in poverty.

The welfare bureaucracy that the Left is determined to defend is failing our fellow Americans. We must do better. No longer can we define compassion by how much we spend on poverty, but how many people we help to lift out of poverty. 

The amount of money state and federal governments spend on the federal welfare bureaucracy each year amounts to more than $1 trillion. If all these funds were converted to cash and mailed to every household in poverty, it would equate to $60,000 per household.

Yet, as the President now admits, chronic poverty and a widening income gap is the new normal. Isn’t it time we broke from decades of policies that are proven not to work? 

Imagine how much better we could do if we combined the dozens of overlapping welfare programs into a single credit, with better oversight and standards, focused on the goal of helping people become financially self-sufficient. We need fresh approaches.

Yet all we get from this White House are the stale policies of yesterday. What is the agenda the President persists in pushing? Consider the cornerstones of the President’s economic agenda: 

  • A government health care takeover that destroys private sector jobs.
  • Hostility to American energy.
  • Heavy taxes and regulations that make it impossible for U.S. workers to compete in a global market.
  • A lawless immigration policy that undermines American workers and their wages.
  • A weak trade policy that does not defend the American workers’ legitimate interests.
  • A welfare bureaucracy that penalizes work.
  • Massive spending, borrowing, and debt that reduces growth and destroys economic confidence.

These policies have been the order of the day for five years. They have been tried unsuccessfully here and abroad for decades.

Since President Obama has entered office, we’ve added an incredible $7 trillion to the debt. But what do we have to show for it? Real wages are lower today than they were in 1999. Take-home pay has fallen for five straight years. Average household wealth is 60 percent lower today than it was in 2007. 1.3 million fewer people are working than in 2007—even though the population has grown 14.5 million. Let me repeat that. 1.3 million fewer people are working than in 2007—even though the population has grown 14.5 million.  

If we continue down this road, I fear that we will sentence an entire generation of young Americans to poverty and joblessness.

Majority Leader Reid said this week that ‘we should realize that today there is only one job available for every three people seeking a job. Think about it.’

I agree, we absolutely must think about it. And my first thought is, since three people are looking for every one job open, then why has the President embraced an immigration bill that would double the flow of guest workers who will be able to take jobs all over America? As David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom said, ‘we can’t allow immigration to be a substitute for training our own workforce.’

We need to help struggling Americans get off of welfare, off of unemployment, and into good-paying jobs.

We have a loose labor market, not a tight labor market. Byron York recently wrote an excellent column showing that the same companies signing letters demanding more guest workers are laying off American workers by the thousands.

Who do we work for?

I know who I work for, and it’s the hardworking people of Alabama—it’s not these ‘masters of the universe’ demanding more workers from Congress when millions of Americans are unemployed.

America is not an oligarchy. House Republicans need to tell the President firmly: we work for the American people. We reject any immigration plan that puts special interests before working Americans. We are going to defend the working people of this country.

A small group of CEOs does not get to set immigration policy for our country. We will not enrich the political class at the expense of the middle class.

If we want to reverse middle class decline, we need a new economic vision.

Here are concrete steps we can take to restore opportunity for the American people without adding a penny to the national debt:

  • Produce more American energy.
  • Turn the welfare office into a job training center.
  • Streamline the tax code to produce more growth.
  • We need to eliminate every Washington regulation that is not needed. These are regulations that kill jobs and kill competitiveness.
  • Enforce trade rules that defend the legitimate interests of U.S. workers.
  • Enforce an immigration policy that serves the national interest.
  • Make the government leaner and more accountable, doing more with less.
  • Balance the federal budget: restoring confidence and sparing our children from a lifetime of debt.

These are all positive steps that are true to our constitutional heritage and our legacy of freedom and opportunity. These are all steps that will create more jobs and more growth without borrowing more money.

And these are all steps that will lift millions out of poverty and help struggling Americans realize the dream of financial independence.”