War on Poverty’s collateral damage
By Damon Cline
Are we winning the war yet? Is victory even possible?
Those are questions about the ongoing “War on Poverty” Americans should ask before allowing Washington to continue dumping money into welfare programs that simply do not work.
Aside from reducing poverty among the elderly, nothing about America’s poor has significantly changed in the 50 years that federal bureaucrats have burned through an unconscionable $20 trillion in the name of compassion.
Many would argue there is nothing compassionate about confiscating from the public an amount equivalent to the national debt with nothing to show for it.
“We may have made the lives of the poor less uncomfortable, but we have failed to truly lift people out of poverty,” writes Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes with Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “…Self-sufficiency has hardly budged since the 1960s. That’s because most welfare programs are designed simply to provide material goods rather than to empower individuals.”
More than 100 anti-poverty programs provide everything from food and housing to child care and utility payments to those deemed to qualify. Yet very few of the bureaucrat-run initiatives require recipients to work – something policy analysts say would reduce poverty, encourage self-sufficiency and preserve the nation’s precious safety net for those who truly need it.
In the global context, America’s poor are extraordinarily well-off: roughly half of poor households own a computer, 98 percent have a TV and two-thirds have cars. And despite all the talk of “food insecurity,” America’s low-income population has disproportionate rates of adult and child obesity.
Wellesley College Professor Robert L. Paarlberg notes that less than 1 percent of American households face “very low food security” on a typical day, yet 18 percent currently receive food stamps, a benefit of the welfare program known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, or SNAP.
Washington-based conservative group The Heritage Foundation notes that the most rapid growth in SNAP recipients has been what the government terms “ABAWDs,” or able-bodied adults without dependents. An estimated 5 million work-capable adults are on the dole.
The Obama administration’s removal of work requirements enacted in the 1990s has caused total SNAP enrollment to skyrocket from 17.2 million in 2000 to 45.8 million in 2015, with costs swelling during the same period from $20.7 billion to $83.1 billion.
The nation’s $1 trillion-a-year welfare machine not only incentivizes people against work, but encourages out-of-wedlock births, a scenario that disproportionately sets children up for a life of poverty and non-productivity. In 1965, roughly 8 percent of children were born to unmarried mothers. Today, that number exceeds 40 percent.
Runaway welfare sends mixed messages in other ways. The federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, for example, gives away massive quantities of “free” baby formula at the same time the government advocates mothers rely on breast milk.
Despite their lack of success, Matt Grossman, a political scientist at Michigan State University, writes in ‘The Washington Post’ that welfare policies always “center on what additional actions government should take” rather than whether the programs should end.
Even the left-leaning Brookings Institution says the best anti-poverty program is a job. The Washington-based group says Americans have a 98 percent chance of avoiding poverty by simply doing three commonsense things:
1) Graduate from high school
2) Get a full time job – any job
3) Wait until marriage to have children
Overgenerous unemployment benefits in recent years have helped make joblessness a viable lifestyle option. A group of academic researchers and the Institute for International Economic Studies has concluded the Obama administration’s expansion of jobless benefits to as much as 73 weeks in some states made the Great Recession worse than if the unemployment benefits had been left at the historic 26-week period.
Milton Friedman said that “one of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”
But it doesn’t take a Nobel Prize-winning economist to understand that when it comes to social welfare policy, America has been making a great mistake for a very long time.
Damon Cline is the business editor of ‘The Augusta Chronicle’ in Georgia.
Individuals aren’t the only ones addicted to government handouts.
Washington this year is set to waste more than $100 billion on “corporate welfare” in the form of subsidies and regulatory protections for certain businesses and industries, according to Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at Cato Institute, a conservative public policy research organization.
The number of federal subsidy programs is mind-boggling: The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance lists more than 2,300 federal assistance programs spread across five cabinet departments.
Many federal programs — such as the Export-Import Bank — and massive appropriations legislation — such as the federal “Farm Bill” — are sustained by lawmakers influenced by corporations, lobbyists and special-interest groups seeking benefits at taxpayers’ expense.
The Ex-Im Bank, for example, puts the public on the hook for more than $140 billion worth of foreign loan guarantees for Boeing, General Electric and other giant multinational corporations that should be able to finance deals on their own.
The welfare state, which has its roots in President Wilson’s progressivism, exploded with FDR’s “New Deal” and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.” Now they and other “mandated” social spending take up two-thirds of the federal budget and are growing.
Welfare programs with no limits turn safety nets into hammocks, and make it difficult to inspire self-reliance.
After adding work requirements for able-bodied recipients in 1996, “Welfare rolls dropped by half, and the poverty rate for black children reached its lowest level in history in the years following,” writes one of welfare reform’s authors, Robert Rector. But in 2012, the Obama administration waived work requirements, and welfare rolls and costs have skyrocketed since.
Reinstituting work requirements for welfare could reduce welfare rolls and boost employament: Maine Gov. Paul LePage, for example, reduced the number of able-bodied people without dependents getting food stamps by 80 percent just three months after instituting work requirements in 2014.
President Trump has much fat to cut from bureaucracies that administer the failing programs: In 2012 they spent the equivalent of $20,610 for every poor person in America. The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance lists more than 2,300 federal assistance programs spread across five cabinet departments. Over a three-year period, ‘USA Today’ reported in 2013, “the Government Accountability Office found 162 areas where agencies are duplicating efforts.”
There’s plenty of corporate welfare to be cut as well. Washington this year is set to waste more than $100 billion on subsidies and regulatory protections for certain businesses and industries, according to Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute.