Poverty In America

Below are the U.S. Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines:

This is a chart from The Heritage Foundation showing changes in the poverty rate since 1959:

As you can see, the War on Poverty actually slowed down the decrease in the poverty rate that had begun in 1950.

This is a chart from Pew Research showing how the American family has changed:

First of all, living in poverty in America is not the same as living in poverty in any other part of the world.

The Heritage Foundation reports:

Because the official Census poverty report undercounts welfare income, it fails to provide meaningful information about the actual living conditions of less affluent Americans. The government’s own data show that the actual living conditions of the more than 45 million people deemed “poor” by the Census Bureau differ greatly from popular conceptions of poverty.[7] Consider these facts taken from various government reports:[8]

  • Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, at the beginning of the War on Poverty, only about 12 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
  • Nearly three-quarters have a car or truck; 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.[9]
  • Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite television.
  • Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and a quarter have two or more.
  • Half have a personal computer; one in seven has two or more computers.
  • More than half of poor families with children have a video game system such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
  • Forty-three percent have Internet access.
  • Forty percent have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
  • A quarter have a digital video recorder system such as a TIVO.
  • Ninety-two percent of poor households have a microwave.

I think it’s time to examine closely the impact of the War on Poverty. One of the differences between business and government is that in business when something doesn’t work, you fix it. In government when something doesn’t work, you simply add more money to it. It is obvious which solution is more effective.

The goal of any poverty program should be to help people develop self-reliance and get out of the poverty program. Obviously that is not happening–we have generations of welfare recipients. Another goal of any poverty program should be to support the family unit. Obviously our current welfare programs do not do that. It’s time to reevaluate and redo our poverty programs–they are breaking the budget and not accomplishing their goals.

In March 2013, The Brookings Institute posted the following three rules to avoid poverty:

First, many poor children come from families that do not give them the kind of support that middle-class children get from their families. Second, as a result, these children enter kindergarten far behind their more advantaged peers and, on average, never catch up and even fall further behind. Third, in addition to the education deficit, poor children are more likely to make bad decisions that lead them to drop out of school, become teen parents, join gangs and break the law.

In addition to the thousands of local and national programs that aim to help young people avoid these life-altering problems, we should figure out more ways to convince young people that their decisions will greatly influence whether they avoid poverty and enter the middle class. Let politicians, schoolteachers and administrators, community leaders, ministers and parents drill into children the message that in a free society, they enter adulthood with three major responsibilities: at least finish high school, get a full-time job and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.

Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class (defined as earning around $55,000 or more per year). There are surely influences other than these principles at play, but following them guides a young adult away from poverty and toward the middle class.

Those three rules should be the foundation of any poverty program.

Where We Were And Where We Are

Walter Williams posted an article at Townhall today about welfare.

The following information about Walter Williams is posted on his Facebook page:

Born in Philadelphia in 1936, Walter E. Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from California State University (1965) and a master’s degree (1967) and doctorate (1972) in economics from the University of California at Los Angeles.

In 1980, he joined the faculty of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and is currently the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics. He has also served on the faculties of Los Angeles City College (1967-69), California State University (1967-1971) and Temple University (1973-1980). From 1963 to 1967, he was a group supervisor of juvenile delinquents for the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

More than 150 of his publications have appeared in scholarly journals such as Economic Inquiry, American Economic Review and Social Science Quarterly and popular publications such as Reader’s Digest, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. He has made many TV and radio appearances on such programs as Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose,” William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line,” “Face The Nation,” “Nightline” and “Crossfire.”

Walter Williams is one of the leading economists in America.

These are some highlights from his Townhall article:

Before the massive growth of our welfare state, private charity was the sole option for an individual or family facing insurmountable financial difficulties or other challenges. How do we know that? There is no history of Americans dying on the streets because they could not find food or basic medical assistance. Respecting the biblical commandment to honor thy father and mother, children took care of their elderly or infirm parents. Family members and the local church also helped those who had fallen on hard times.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, charities started playing a major role. In 1887, religious leaders founded the Charity Organization Society, which became the first United Way organization. In 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America started helping at-risk youths reach their full potential. In 1913, the American Cancer Society, dedicated to curing and eliminating cancer, was formed. With their millions of dollars, industrial giants such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller created our nation’s first philanthropic organizations.

He further observes:

Before the welfare state, charity embodied both a sense of gratitude on the behalf of the recipient and magnanimity on the behalves of donors. There was a sense of civility by the recipients. They did not feel that they were owed, were entitled to or had a right to the largesse of the donor. Recipients probably felt that if they weren’t civil and didn’t express their gratitude, more assistance wouldn’t be forthcoming. In other words, they were reluctant to bite the hand that helped them. With churches and other private agencies helping, people were much likelier to help themselves and less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior. Part of the message of charitable groups was: “We’ll help you if you help yourself.”

The article concludes:

There is virtually no material poverty in the U.S. Eighty percent of households the Census Bureau labels as poor have air conditioning; nearly three-quarters have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more. Two-thirds have cable or satellite TV. Half have at least one computer. Forty-two percent own their homes. What we have in our nation is not material poverty but dependency and poverty of the spirit, with people making unwise choices and leading pathological lives, aided and abetted by the welfare state. Part of this pathological lifestyle is reflected in family structure. According to the 1938 Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, that year 11 percent of black children and 3 percent of white children were born to unwed mothers. Today it’s respectively 75 percent and 30 percent.

 There are very little guts in the political arena to address the downside of the welfare state. To do so risks a politician’s being labeled as racist, sexist, uncaring and insensitive. That means today’s dependency is likely to become permanent.

Restoring the work requirement to welfare is a partial answer to the problem. However, the real answer is to restore the family, the moral values we have lost, and the value of parenting.

In March 2013, The Brookings Institute posted an article titled, “Three Simple Rules Poor Teens Should Follow to Join the Middle Class.”

These are the rules:

Let politicians, schoolteachers and administrators, community leaders, ministers and parents drill into children the message that in a free society, they enter adulthood with three major responsibilities: at least finish high school, get a full-time job and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.

Encouraging children to follow these rules is the way we could actually end the welfare state.