This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.And of course, as can be expected, the moonbat blogosphere is raging over his column, accusing him of being a heartless Ebenezer Scrooge who hopes that the poor die off quickly and decrease the surplus population.
Some young people here don’t join the military (a traditional escape route for poor, rural Americans) because it’s easier to rely on food stamps and disability payments.
Antipoverty programs also discourage marriage: In a means-tested program like S.S.I., a woman raising a child may receive a bigger check if she refrains from marrying that hard-working guy she likes. Yet marriage is one of the best forces to blunt poverty. In married couple households only one child in 10 grows up in poverty, while almost half do in single-mother households.
Most wrenching of all are the parents who think it’s best if a child stays illiterate, because then the family may be able to claim a disability check each month.
“One of the ways you get on this program is having problems in school,” notes Richard V. Burkhauser, a Cornell University economist who co-wrote a book last year about these disability programs. “If you do better in school, you threaten the income of the parents. It’s a terrible incentive.”
About four decades ago, most of the children S.S.I. covered had severe physical handicaps or mental retardation that made it difficult for parents to hold jobs — about 1 percent of all poor children. But now 55 percent of the disabilities it covers are fuzzier intellectual disabilities short of mental retardation, where the diagnosis is less clear-cut. More than 1.2 million children across America — a full 8 percent of all low-income children — are now enrolled in S.S.I. as disabled, at an annual cost of more than $9 billion.
That is a burden on taxpayers, of course, but it can be even worse for children whose families have a huge stake in their failing in school. Those kids may never recover: a 2009 study found that nearly two-thirds of these children make the transition at age 18 into S.S.I. for the adult disabled. They may never hold a job in their entire lives and are condemned to a life of poverty on the dole — and that’s the outcome of a program intended to fight poverty.
This is why, as much as I often disagree with wingnuts, I loath moonbats even more: they much rather attack their political opponents rather than debate them. Wants to curb illegal immigration? You hate immigrants! You wants to curb abortion? You hate women! You wants to curb welfare fraud? You hate poor people!
Any sane person would tell you that no one hates the poor. Nobody thinks that poor people choose to be poor or deserve to be poor. What people do argue is that some poor people choose to remain in poverty, rather than attempt to escape it, in order to abuse the welfare system. This is not the fault of poor people, but rather, a broken welfare system built upon good intentions, but prone to producing unintended consequences.
As Kristoff's column highlights, the federal government's "War on Poverty" has been just as successful at fighting poverty as its "War on Terror" has been successful at fighting terrorism or its "War on Drugs" has been at fighting drug abuse, which is to say not very successful at all. This is not opinion. This is fact!
The old saying goes that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. We ought to provide aid to those who are less fortunate than us, but we also need to encourage and empower them to lift themselves out of their situation. We ought to have an economic system that promotes upward social mobility through hard work and education; instead, we have a welfare system that promotes indolence, minimum wage laws that promote joblessness, and an education system that promotes ignorance.
Nobody blames the poor for being poor. Unless their poverty is the direct result of bad decision-making (which is sometimes, but not always, the case), nobody chooses to be poor. However, people do have a choice to remain poor, and if they choose to do so just so they can rely upon government assistance rather than their own labor, then they are to blame for their own poverty. And if they choose to stunt their children's education in order to continue to rely on said government assistance, then there is no reason to have empathy for them.
Anyone who ignores the unintended consequences of our current welfare system are the real ones who have contempt for the poor!