Tackling income inequality and poverty, or at least talking about it, has become a priority for leaders in both parties, as politicians respond to the increasingly populist bent of the American electorate. Lawmakers have quite a long way to go, according to a new report that details the dismal record Congress amassed on issues related to poverty in 2014.
The annual scorecard released Wednesday by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law is, on the whole, unsurprising: Congress failed to make progress on much of anything last year, and poverty was no exception. The priorities of an organization named for George McGovern's running mate fall squarely in line with those of the Democratic Party. Accordingly, most Republicans in Congress received low grades while Democrats got high ones—pretty much the opposite of what you'd find in the annual scorecards of the conservative Club for Growth. Representative Paul Ryan, for example, received no credit for his efforts to develop conservative policies targeted to the poor; he scored an F based on votes he took in the House.
Yet even as it reinforces the partisan divide in Congress, the Shriver Center report also illustrates an important dynamic. Lawmakers representing states with the highest poverty rates in the country—mostly in the South—have the worst ratings, while delegations representing wealthier states in the Northeast have the best grades on the scorecard. Another way of looking at this is that Republicans predominantly represent poorer states, while Democrats represent wealthier states. "That seems like a real paradox to me," said Dan Lesser, who oversaw the scorecard for the Shriver Center.