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US House Speaker Unveils Plan to Fight Poverty

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., listens at left as Bishop Shirley Holloway of the House of Help City of Hope speaks during a news conference in the Washington neighborhood of Anacostia, where Ryan proposed an overhaul of U.S. poverty programs, June 7, 2016.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan has unveiled a plan intended to alleviate poverty in America.

The program would revise food, housing and other anti-poverty program, increase work requirements and give states more flexibility about how to distribute federal money.

Speaking Tuesday in Washington, Ryan said, "What you are getting here is a new approach at fighting poverty, at reigniting this beautiful concept of upward mobility at going at root causes of poverty."

But some Democrats, academics and experts dismissed Ryan's proposal.

"Sadly, beneath the sugary rhetoric of the poverty proposal unveiled today, Republicans are advancing the same callous, trickle down policies they've been pushing for years," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California.

Melissa Boteach of the Center for American Progress said: "Speaker Ryan's blueprint is unfortunately a plan to exacerbate poverty and inequality, because what you are seeing is different lipstick on the same pig."

Ryan's plan calls for the creation of incentives for states to improve aid programs, for more beneficiaries to get jobs, and for employers to provide them.

It also suggests the consolidation of some federal food and housing programs, although it does not specify how it would occur or which programs would be involved.

But poverty expert Sandra Danziger of the University of Michigan said many of Ryan's proposals such as his work requirement will not be effective.

"Seventy percent of families who are poor have someone who is employed in the household," she said. "It is not a matter of work requirements, it is a matter of making the jobs work better and looking at the benefits that people have."

There were 46.7 million people, or 14.8 percent of the U.S. population, living in poverty in 2014, the latest year for which data is available, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It was the fourth year in a row the number of people in poverty in America was not statistically different from the previous year's. But between 2013 and 2014, poverty increased for two groups: people with a college degree and married-couple families.

Children fare worst

For U.S. children, the Census Bureau said the poverty rate in 2014 for children under age 18 was 21.1 percent, higher than any other age group.

"While poverty at any age imposes hardship, I have a particular concern about poverty among children, particularly young children," said Julia Isaacs, a poverty expert at the Urban Institute, a Washington-based research group.

"Poverty in childhood is troubling, partly because we do not like to think of children facing hardship, but also because of the long-term negative effects of growing up in poverty," she added.

Danziger said a "very dangerous" phenomenon has been occurring during the past 20 years or so: the growth of "extreme poverty." In 1996, she said 635,000 people in the United States were living at a level of $2 per day. By 2011, she said the number had grown to 1.5 million.

The World Bank has set the global poverty line at $1.90 a day, and says 900 million people globally live under its poverty line.

Ryan's anti-poverty proposal, titled "A Better Way, is the first of a series of larger agenda items he will introduce as a way to offer voters a coherent policy message across key legislative areas for 2017. Proposals on regulation, constitutional authority, healthcare and tax reform are expected in the coming weeks.