federal government appears to be losing its fifty-year
“War on Poverty”.
According to the
Heritage Foundation, our nation has spent nearly $21
trillion in inflation corrected dollars to address
poverty within our borders during the past five decades.
President Lyndon Johnson famously declared his
intentions to do whatever was necessary to correct the
poverty suffered by fifteen percent of the U.S.
population in his 1964 state of the union message. His
stated plan was to end poverty in the U.S by giving
folks a hand-up to help them become self-sufficient. He
believed that, given the opportunity, most adults would
use that assistance to learn to become accountable and
provide for their families. He promised that the return
on his investment in poverty reduction would stimulate
the entire national economy for future decades.
According to the
2012 United States Census, fifteen percent of our
population continues to live in poverty today.
standards of poverty, as defined by the U.S. Census, are
significantly different than in 1964. U.S. Census and
other available federal data describe the conditions of
the average American living on an income below the
federal poverty level. A very large majority of these
folks are not undernourished. Most do not suffer from
hunger for a single day of the year. They have
automobiles, multiple color TV’s, and live in a house
that is larger than the average European family’s
dwelling. Their homes have air conditioning, cable TV
and most have computers. Virtually all have cellular
telephones and as many as a third have flat-screen TV’s.
To be certain, the standard of living in poverty is much
better today than those suffering in poverty in 1964.
dollars spent on fighting U.S. poverty over the past
half-century significantly exceeds our current $17
trillion sovereign national debt. Yet the origins of
poverty have not been diminished. In spite of President
Johnson’s good intentions, those forces have become even
more prevalent and pervasive.
There has been a
sharp reduction in the percentage of participation in
the labor-force by men. That reduction has accelerated
during the past few years to near unprecedented levels.
In fact, much of the alleged reduction in unemployment
during the past four years is attributable to fewer
people seeking employment rather than more people being
The number of
people receiving disability benefits from Social
Security, Workman’s Compensation and pension funds has
skyrocketed during the past five years. Both the total
increase and the rate of increase of disability claims
are virtually statistically impossible to explain. These
newly disabled workers have also left the workforce.
underemployment among men twenty five years of age and
under exceeds 25 percent. Bureau of Labor Statistics
data shows that in families living below the federal
poverty line the average parent works only about 16
hours per week. To many, living on monthly welfare
benefits has become an acceptable life style. That
welfare dependency has too often become familial and
generational, ensuring the accelerated decline into even
education system is failing to prepare young people for
the workforce. Employers are virtually unanimous in
their concern that many high schools and colleges are
graduating students with few useful communication or
workforce skills. Moreover, they point out that most
graduates have been encouraged in school to be
non-competitive, to have little work ethic, and to have
not been taught critical thinking skills to solve
problems. For these and other reasons, employers are
reluctant to hire many young Americans.
Six percent of
American children were born out of wedlock in 1963. More
than 40 percent of our children were born to single
mothers in 2012. Each additional child serves to
increase the monthly welfare stipend. This more than
six-fold increase in children born to single mothers is
strong evidence of the disintegration of the traditional
family structure. For too many, the welfare check has
replaced the family wage earner.
government currently operates more than 80 means-tested
welfare programs. According to the Heritage Foundation,
more than 100 million Americans received aid from one or
more free cash, food, housing, medical care or other
social services programs in 2012. These programs provide
benefits to about one fourth of our population. Their
total cost for 2012 exceeded $900 billion. This means
that the average welfare recipient received about $9,000
in federal benefits in 2012.
Both state and
federal welfare programs actually advertise and
encourage people to sign-up to receive a variety of free
benefits. Those that have learned to game and abuse the
welfare systems are capable of accessing much larger
monthly sums. We believe that some Oregon families are
capable of taking home as much as $10,000 per month in
federal and state welfare benefits.
That $900 billion
annual cost does not include Social Security benefits
and Medicare costs that have largely been paid by
payroll taxes levied on the recipients. It does not
include all of the federal dollars spent to provide
Emergency Unemployment Compensation to more than 14
million people who have exhausted the unemployment
insurance benefits for which they paid insurance
premiums. Neither does it include the burgeoning costs
of disability benefits.
Our society needs
and must have adequate social safety-nets for our most
vulnerable citizens. Any society must be graded by its
treatment of its older, infirmed, disabled, and severely
disadvantaged citizens. However, able bodied Americans
should not be encouraged or allowed to live on the dole.
In my opinion, in
order to access welfare benefits all non-elderly adults
who are capable of working should be expected either to
perform some job or to be preparing for a job. Moreover,
they should be monitored to ensure that they are
drug-free in order to remain employable while receiving
benefits. Those adults that refuse to work, or refuse to
comply with drug monitoring, should immediately be
denied their welfare checks.
benefit structures must be changed to stop penalizing
those who choose to work but cannot earn enough to
live-on at an entry level wage. People should be
encouraged to start work by helping them to become
self-supporting. The current processes too often
penalize those who try to work by reducing or
eliminating their benefits before they are able to make
enough to get-by. The result is the perverse incentive
to quit work and to go back on the welfare dole.
benefit structures need to be changed to stop penalizing
those who choose to live in traditional family settings.
Marrying a person who is gainfully employed too often
results in total termination of social network benefits.
That reality may cause a single mother or father to
reevaluate the marriage choice. Once again, the perverse
incentive is to remain a single parent and to continue
to access full welfare benefits rather than work toward
By virtually any
standard, the U.S. war on poverty has been a
catastrophe. In my opinion, the effort will continue to
fail spectacularly until we make the choices to deal
with the root causes of welfare dependency and to
restructure our welfare programs to encourage
accountability and self-sufficiency.
Please remember, if we
do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.