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  • Increasing Numbers of the Poor: Why Government Anti-Poverty Programs Have Failed

    The recent release of the Census report on an upsurge of the number of Americans in poverty will almost surely be used to justify a spike in funding for federal anti-poverty programs. Yet after decades of increased spending on failed government anti-poverty programs, why should we expect a different result with the next funding increase?

    Since 2008, food stamp rolls have risen by nearly 50 percent to more than 40 million, and the number of welfare recipients rose to 4.4 million, an 18 percent increase. In fact, government expenditure for anti-poverty programs is now at an all-time high, as a recent USA Today article reports.

    The fact that a vast increase in anti-poverty funding is not associated with even a minimal decline in the ranks of the impoverished gives some indication that the programs aren’t accomplishing their mission.

    Since the mid-1960s, millions of Americans (often multiple generations of families) have languished on the rolls of one or more of 70 entitlement programs that entail no reciprocity or hope of upward mobility. In fact, many of the government’s needs-based programs have posed roadblocks to the two major routes to financial independence: employment and marriage.

    In other words, the government’s response of expanding typical handouts to the needy could simply push millions of more families into “the welfare trap.” In fact, the only outlier to this scenario of steadily increasing dependency was the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which entailed states’ efforts to promote work and reduce obstacles to marriage. As a result of the TANF reform, nearly 3 million families were moved off the welfare rolls and into jobs and toward financial independence.

    The model of the successful 1996 welfare reform is closely aligned with the strategies of hundreds of effective community-based anti-poverty initiatives throughout the nation, whose success has been chronicled and supported by Bob Woodson and his Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE).

    Typically launched on shoestring budgets, the faith-based, neighborhood organizations in CNE’s nationwide network have created programs that have empowered men and women to escape poverty and achieve self-sufficiency. Such programs stress personal responsibility and reciprocity and promote work and marriage. They typically serve individuals who faced far more daunting odds than many of new welfare enrollees have.

    Among such community outreach is San Antonio–based Victory Fellowship, which started 40 years ago in a tiny bungalow and has since freed more than 13,500 men and women from drug and alcohol addiction and the degradation of dependency.

    Also in this league of results-based, community action is Bob Cote’s Step 13 in Denver. In contrast to what Cote disparagingly calls “heads in beds” outreach to the homeless, Step 13 involves no-nonsense elements of reciprocity and personal responsibility. As a result of his outreach, hundreds of formerly homeless individuals are now productive citizens, responsible spouses, and parents who are gainfully employed and even owners of small businesses.

    Many of Woodson’s models of grassroots success have been chronicled in his book The Triumphs of Joseph: How Today’s Community Healers Are Reviving Our Streets and Neighborhoods. Among those is Toni McIlwain, who rose from living on the streets with her four small children to earn a degree, secure employment, marry, and become a homeowner. Moving beyond this personal victory, McIlwain became an indefatigable neighborhood motivator. As a result of her efforts, 35 of the 38 blocks in her Detroit neighborhood were organized with block captains who worked together to reduce crime by 42 percent, push out drug dealers from an area where 30 crack houses had once been identified, and create a vibrant community park.

    Conventional governmental strategies to alleviate poverty have failed in the long run, while solutions based on principles of personal responsibility, reciprocity, and opportunity for upward mobility have flourished. This new paradigm holds promise to bring transformation, dignity, and self sufficiency to the lives of those who had once been trapped in poverty.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    12 Responses to Increasing Numbers of the Poor: Why Government Anti-Poverty Programs Have Failed

    1. Bobbie says:

      The strength of THIS government is the weakness of others. Deliberate government intervention, overreach, unlawful tactics, will weaken all.

    2. dannyroberts Phoenix says:

      alot of these welfare cases are are all about fraud, most of the people in this country are not stupid, it's called being fed up, enough is enough, bite the bullet bro, leave my paycheck alone, if your not here legally,

      hit the road jack,and don't choo come back no more!!

    3. Steve K - MD says:

      I would hope you are aware of this, but the poverty numbers released by the Census this week did not include food stamps and tax credits in it's determination fo poverty levels. Those numbers will be included in the report to come out later this year. Food Stamp Program (SNAP) is expected to be shown as lifting nearly 4million out of poverty, while the expanded credits in the recovery act will show to lift more than 4million out of poverty.

      Many republicans objected to the extension of emergency unemployment insurance benefits – how many times did over days and weeks did Senator Sessions run to the floor to block UC agreements to pass the extensions – but they were shown to have lifted 3.3million americans out of poverty. Shame on the right and Senators like Sessions who want to extend all Bush era tax cuts and costs of trillions (and not pay for them), while demaning the tens of millions for unemployment benefits be paid for. Pretty much sums up what you need to know about that Member.

    4. Don Harper says:

      It seems to me that being in poverty should have consequences. When I was a kid, we ate a lot of beans, got one small toy at Christmas, wore patched clothes, etc. My Dad worked hard, found better jobs, and eventually we became somewhat comfortable. What are the consequences of poverty now? Food stamps, WIC, SCHIP, year-round school meal programs, Medicaid, housing subsidies, etc. Granted, this may not provide a life of comfort, but it does provide subsistence, but at the loss of dignity, self-responsibility, and personal achievement, not to mention the cost to those citizens who have accepted responsibility for their own lives and have become taxpayers. We are subsidizing bad behavior, and like all subsidies, we are getting more of what we are paying for.

    5. Drew Page, IL says:

      The more you subsidize something, the more you will have of it. The more we sunbsidize failure the more of it will will have. The reverse is also true, the more we subsidize success, the more of it we will have.

      I will leave it to the American public to decide which we have more of today.

    6. Jeanne Stotler, Wood says:

      There is so much fraud in the welfare system that it's not funny. A lot of people are making money and collecting as well, they work under the table. Then there are the four generation families that live on welfare and make no effort to get off, and are not encouraged to get off. Unemployment has nothing to do with welfare if you go out a seek employment. All the figures are skrewed, there are a lot of people working part time and some who have gone into early retirement, the new grads, and self employed whose business folded due to the economy, these are not counted neither are those whose benefits have run out or those who are fighting the firms they worked for to get benefits. Raising taxes is NOT going to help the economy, the more the general public has to spend the better the economy all around, jobs in the private sector are needed, Federal goverment has gotten way to big, read some of Thos. Jefferson's writings on Goverment and understand why we need to pare back the goverment's intrusion in our lives.

    7. Ben C. Ann Arbor, MI says:

      Steve K – Detroit Michigan is the poster city for all of the negative consequences of entitlement programs championed by Democrats. Overall since the 1930's the idea of self reliance has slowly changed to the idea of government reliance. The family unit is slowly evaporating and single parent households are becoming the norm. LBJ's war on poverty is a dismal failure. Government handouts enable the failure – not reverse it.

    8. J. Thompson, Chantil says:

      I liked your article but it did not cover another part of the problem. Suggest you research how the welfare programs create concentration camp walls from which recpients can not escape. How much total compensation (salary and benefits) would a unemployed single mother of four kids need to make to breakeven with all welfare income and benefits given that she has a high school diploma but reads at the seventh grade level and can not do long division? How much would getting married to an unemployed person cost her? Do you figure she could get one of those eco-engineering R&D jobs the president is promoting?

    9. P. Hogan says:

      I grew up in the 60's-70's, was the second of five kids, parents divorced in the 70's and lived with my dad. I NEVER KNEW WHAT WELFARE OR FOOD STAMPS WERE. My dad worked his tail off to raise five kids on his own. We always had food and clothes and utilities without aid. I found out what welfare was in the 80's. God bless my father, he did a good job.

    10. Brad, Detroit, MI says:

      Drew hits it on the head again. Subsidize poverty and failure and you get more of the same. What's the incentive to get off of welfare when the government gives you :

      – A monthly check (probably spent on lottery tickets and other questionable items)

      – Food stamps

      – Free cell phone (seriously ?)

      – Kid's health care (SCHIP)

      – Free lunch at school

      – Subsidized housing

      Reminds me of a 'Wizard of Id' comic strip I saw a couple of years ago, where the page is asking the common citizen – do you have enough food ? YES, do you have a good house ? YES , do you have enough gold to live comfortably ? YES, do you have a job ? The response – What do I need a job for ? EXACTLY.

    11. George Colgrove, VA says:

      This is for people on welfare or other such programs. Think of it like this. If you were a federal employee and sat in some federal building in DC every day getting a six digit income and a benefits package that in itself exceeds the poverty income of a family of four, what incentive do you have to solve the issues of poverty?

      If you knew of a policy or a procedure that could be employed to curb poverty – that would also mean the elimination of your job and a thousand other fed jobs, would you do it?

      The thing about federal employment is they manage the condition they are employed to fix. So long as the feds are in charge of solving issues of poverty, there will ALWAYS be poverty. It is in the best interest of the upper GS level employees to do so. If they can make the situation worse, which in turn will make more feds necessary, then these upper level GS feds will have even greater shielding from being fired for no longer being needed.

      Bringing poverty back to the concern of volunteers and private non-profits will ensure poverty will have a chance at being reduced. Better still, ridding the country of highly paid feds in the HHS will return much wealth to its rightful owners – the taxpayer. More money in the market means more jobs and more opportunities. More jobs means less people on welfare.

      Governmental solutions on poverty have failed. We spend more on poverty than ever before and as we do so, poverty skyrockets. Let's put the money back into people's hands and out of the untrustworthy federal government. This is the only way we can have a chance at curbing poverty.

    12. Brian says:

      The absurd practice of confiscating money from a person who earns to give to another who only consumes seems is analogous to the Greek myth of Sisyphus who was condemned to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of a mountain, whereupon the stone would fall back of its own weight. We must finally accept that the ceaseless confiscation of peoples' earnings to throw at a problem is as pointless as applying balm to a sore only to open the sore through our own irresponsible actions only to to demand more of the balm we used up already.

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