The war on poverty was a costly mistake.
I've known this for a long time (as well as many conservatives), but the New York Times recently decided this news was fit to print. A front page story on poverty in rural Kentucky detailed the failure of the effort. "Federal and state agencies have plowed billions of dollars into Appalachia," it wrote, yet the area "looks much as it did 30 years ago, when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty, taking special aim at the rural decay."
When the journalist, Michael Janofsky, visited Owsley County, Kentucky, he found over half of the adults illiterate, half unemployed, and a poverty rate of nearly 50 percent. The government has been trying to treat the despair with welfare programs for years: 66 percent of the inhabitants receive federal assistance including food stamps and SSI disability payments. This is part of the area's problem.
"The war on poverty was the worst thing that ever happened to Appalachia," Janofsky quoted one resident as saying. "It gave people a way to get by without having to do any work." Local officials told Janofsky that "many parents urge their children to try to go to special education classes at school as a way to prove they are eligible for [SSI] disability benefits." Terrible.
Now why did the war on poverty fail, my fellow forum members? What was wrong with the programs that the nation spent over $5 TRILLION attempting to solve the problems of the poor, only to come up empty?
The economic theory of poverty led to a single underlying principle for welfare programs...since the needy just lacked goods and services to become productive members of the community, all you had to do was give them these things. You didn't need to see that they stopped engaging in the behavior that plunged them into poverty. You didn't need to ask them to apply themselves or to work or to save or to stop using drugs or to stop having babies that they can't support or to make any other kind of effort to improve themselves. No, of course not- why would we want to do that?! So these welfare programs embodied something-for-nothing giving... HANDOUTS!
The handout feature didn't just give away cash and materials like food and housing, but it was also incorporated in programs that provided training, rehabilitation, and education. So, recipients did not have to make ANY significant sacrifices to be admitted and didn't have to make ANY significant effort to stay in them! The program organizers figured that all these people needed was opportunity. Nope. The VERY FIRST thing that they need is MOTIVATION (what a concept!)...they lack the ability to sacrifice and to discipline themselves. So what do the program administrators do? Lower standards, of course! If you can't meet the standards, lower them (A prinicple applied in our public schools as well)! That'll make everything better. This let education/training programs to become more giveaways and wastes of tax dollars. (Disclaimer: I know some of you on the forum have used these programs and I doubt you fit the above discription. What I am talking about is the people who seem to be "stuck" in poverty, not those that actually seem to get out of it.)
Another example of a handout approach applied to a welfare program, you ask? Head Start. The idea behind HS is to give poverty-level preschoolers a social and educational environment that would help them succeed in school later on. In HS, it is vital that anything learned be reinforced at home by the children's parents (or parent in most cases). HS's promoters insist that parent participation is CRUCIAL to the success of early intervention(1). So, shouldn't parental involvement be a REQUIREMENT of the program? Well, the idea of a requirement goes against the handout principle... Most parents have NO involvement with the HS program and they use it mainly for a baby-sitting service- funded by TAX DOLLARS! APALLING!
For using the handout method, the war on poverty activists fail to notice (or fail to CARE, which is probably more accurate) that they were ignoring over a century of experience in social welfare. 19th century charities analyzed the effects of different types of aid (funny, our government hasn't ever done that...). What did they find? They found that giving handouts hurts the poor. It weakens them by undermining their motivation to improve themselves and encourages self-destructive vices (we all know which ones those are...) by softening penalties for irresponsible behavior! Also they found that handouts are self-defeating- people became dependant on them and new people were attracted by them.
So what was the correct way to help the needy? Ask something in return for what is given to them. They didn't give them money, rather they helped them get a job. Really the teach-a-man-how-to-fish theory that has been mentioned here before.
In the 1996 welfare reform, most lawmakers finally got the point that handouts are harmful and money-wasters. What they haven't grasped yet is that government agencies cannot provide the personal uplift these people need to get back on their feet. Going back to the 19th century charity workers, Mary Richmond, one of the founders of American social work, condemned public relief: "The most experienced charity workers regard it as a source of demoralization both to the poor and the charitable. No public agency can supply the devoted, friendly, and intensely personal relation so necessary in charity(2)." Basically these government agencies aren't good at much of anything except giving handouts.
We MUST put government welfare programs aside. There is no reason our government should be operating these silly and dangerous programs. No, we need to promote the personal and voluntary help that makes for a truly effective social assistance. If these people EVER want to get out of poverty, it isn't going to happen under our current government (unless, of course, one obtains a winning Powerball ticket).
What I propose: the repeal of ALL handout programs (welfare, food stamps and the like) by the government. Our tax dollars are being given away to people who don't apply themselves, work, save, stop using drugs, stop having babies that they can't support or make any other kind of effort to improve themselves... truly horrific. These people must go to private programs (as I have said before, the Catholic Church is only second to the government in social assistance programs here in Washington State) where something is expected of them. Get them back to responsibility, get them back to morality. And get them back on their feet. What if Mr. Jones doesn't meet the expectations put in place by the organization? He doesn't get help anymore. If Mr. Jones doesn't want to put any effort into helping himself, NO ONE else can help him. And he can continue the life of poverty he is so used to, except this time he can't expect a government check in the mail. Will that wake him up?
So what can we do? Write our Congressmen! Tell your Congressmen (House members, Senators, and state legislators as well) and our new president that you want these programs that promote irresponsibility and throw away our tax dollars repealed. Tell them you don't want to pay for something that isn't doing any good at all, except providing a day-care service in the case of Head Start. We CANNOT let our government give handouts. Its not fair to the taxpayers. Its not fair to the people receiving the handouts.
(1) Edward Zigler, Sally J. Styfco, and Elizabeth Gilman, "The National Head Start Program for Disadvantaged Preschoolers," in Zigler and Styfco, eds., Head Start and Beyond: A National Plan for Extended Childhood Intervention (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 4.
(2) Mary E. Richmond, Friendly Visiting Among the Poor: A Handbook for Charity Workers (Montclair, N.J.: Patterson Smith: 1969 ), pp. 151-52
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And, of course, contact President Bush after the 20th at www.whitehouse.gov.