On a moral level, most Americans agree that we should help the poor, but how exactly we go about it has become one of the most divisive issues in politics — and that’s saying a lot these days. The divide between right and left has been increasing in the past three decades, causing political gridlock and, in 2013, the shutdown of the federal government.
That’s when social psychologist Jonathan Haidt decided it was time to try something new. Haidt had spent years studying the moral foundations of our political ideology. In his research he had found that we all believe in many of the same basic principles — things like compassion and fairness — and thought that maybe by using some of those shared values as a starting point, people on the right and left could begin to see eye to eye.
Haidt convened a group of policy people from across the political spectrum to talk about issues of concern to each side, and discovered that one issue everyone really cared about was poverty. The group worked together for more than a year to produce a report, released last week, entitled Opportunity, Responsibility and Security: A Consensus Plan for Reducing Poverty and Restoring the American Dream.
While the group did agree to solutions, there were sticking points. For example, like the vast majority of Americans, the group agreed that the minimum wage should be higher — but they couldn’t agree to a number.
But looking at data that shows that children of single mothers are poorer and have a harder time climbing the social ladder than others, experts from both sides of the aisle agreed that promoting marriage (traditionally more a concern of the right), and making birth control available to all (traditionally a concern of the left) are both essential to reducing poverty.