You might think that this is an odd time to have another discussion about welfare in America. But let me suggest that it is precisely the right time. First, when the politicians closed America in response to the invasion of the Chinese coronavirus, literally millions of hard working men and women had to resort, in whole or in part, to some form of welfare in order to survive. (Yes, I recognize that a substantial portion of those payments came from the unemployment funds which are funded by contributions from employees and employers, but a substantial portion also came from direct payments from the state and federal governments – welfare.) From the first moment that the welfare checks were cut, most have been straining to get back to work – to be free of the dependency, to re-establish their contribution to society. What that means is that you have a whole wave of people who would rather work than take welfare – a startling lesson for those who can work but prefer not to.
Second, the extraordinary upheaval of rioting in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a brutal Minneapolis cop is in large part fueled by the abject poverty imposed upon African Americans by a failed welfare system. Without diminishing the problem of police brutality against African Americans, it is not the greatest problem facing African Americans as they struggle to survive in today’s society. The greater problem lies with a welfare system that has confined them to the prison of diminished expectations – it can be said to be the most invidious form of racism. (For those forced to endure a teachers union led education in the Portland public schools, that means an action that tends to arouse anger and resentment in others.)
And finally, the disproportionate cruelty visited by the coronavirus on the poor, the uneducated and the elderly warehoused in cramped living conditions in a country where land and resources are plentiful.
Any one of these conditions should be sufficient to generate a new look at a failed welfare system. So let’s begin the discussion by noting that since the advent of the War on Poverty begun by President Lyndon Johnson, the governments of the United States have spent in excess of $25 Trillion with no visible increase in self-dependency or reduction in the percent of the population living in poverty. To put that in a little more perspective, $25 Trillion represents more than the United States spent on World War I ($381 Billion according to USA Today), more than we spent on World War II ($350 Billion), more than we spent on the Korean War ($30 Billion), more than we have spend on all of the wars combined.
It is not for want of spending that our welfare system has failed. It is for want of trying. You do not solve a problem by addressing its results; you solve a problem by addressing its causes. And in large part one of the principle causes of poverty is the welfare system itself. Paying people to live in poverty – that’s right, paying people to live in poverty – will never bring them out of poverty.
So what are the causes of poverty? 1. Lack of a quality education is first and foremost. It is the gateway to a good job. A good job is the gateway to a quality personal environment (secure home, nutritional food, adequate clothing and medical care). 2. Lack of a stable family. According to ACT Rochester nearly seventy-five percent of African American families were headed by a single parent. 3. Diminished expectations, which in large part is due to the current welfare system – a system that simply perpetuates poverty and which itself is a form of bigotry.
I am not an educator and, therefore, am not competent to describe an appropriate educational system. I am, however, a rational human being and am fully competent to describe what doesn’t work:
- Throwing more money at a broken system. We annually increase the amount of spending per capita for educating our children without any accountability. As a result the United States spends more than any nation other than the United Arab Emeritus but places the United States last among the top twenty education systems in the world according to EdSys.
- Allowing the teachers unions to run the education system. To suggest that the local school boards run the education systems is as naïve as suggesting that Russia and China tell the truth about the origins, causes and effects of the China created COVID-19 virus. The teachers unions have been in charge of public schools for at least the past four decades and we have watched a steady decline in student performance. If you ever intend to be a woke person you have to realize that unions, including the teachers unions, place the needs of their members above all other things. They are focused on more pay, increased benefits, less work and a neutered employee disciplinary process that ensures lifetime employment. They resist every attempt to introduce accountability and they are the driving forces for insisting that the public schools not be reopened for the ensuing academic year.
- Focusing on social issues at the expense of fundamental educational achievement. I don’t give a damn whether students have a “safe space” or that we avoid “trigger words.” The world does not have “safe spaces” and “trigger words” are a laughable invention of those who seem to live to be offended on behalf of others.
- Elimination of student discipline. I am not a fan of corporal punishment outside the family but that does not mean that you can’t grab some malcontent by the ear and march him or her to a disciplinary site within the school to end the turmoil they cause others in the classroom. Spending time trying to determine why Little Johnny misbehaves is a parent’s job. Spending time trying to educate the other students who are there to learn is the teachers’ job. Stop confusing them. (And if not the parent’s responsibility – a disciplinary system set up outside of the school.)
There are better ways. Thousands of charter schools, private schools and rural schools prove that every day. We need to change our education system or flounder in an increasingly competitive world. More importantly we need to change the educational system to lift those confined to generational poverty.
The basic fault of our current welfare system – other than a weak administration process that encourages fraud – is that it designed to treat poverty rather than mitigate it. In other words, virtually no part of the welfare system is used to direct people into employment rather than continue on welfare. So let me offer an alternative way.
First, the poor should be divided into three major categories – 1) those unable to work for various reasons (age, physical and/or mental limitations, temporary domestic (family) obligations, etc.); 2) those who are able bodied but lack education or training; and 3) those who are indolent. In each instance the goal of any program should be a definable increase in societal productivity. In the first category most of the effort should be in providing assistance although increasing the ability of the victim to care for himself (lessened dependence) is an increase in productivity. In the second category, while financial support is still critical, most of the effort should be focused on education and training and removing the barriers to compete in the job market. This would include not only competent education, but apprenticeship programs, work-study programs, and part-time employment. The details of such efforts should be left to experts in concert with the victims.
And finally for the indolent, a series of programs comparable to those used in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) following World War I in which a variety of public works jobs were created which required the able-bodied to work in exchange for public assistance. Back then, the WPA and similar state and federal programs built buildings, trails and roads in the national parks and other such programs. Today there is a great need to clean and clear the national parks, clean the state and national highway systems, clean our beaches, clean and repair our national monuments, and a wide variety of other such public works. These are not glamorous jobs but they are an appropriate quid pro quo for providing food and shelter for the able-bodied. In many instances these jobs can be performed in concert with private contractors providing a path into the private sector employment.
In the end if the indolent will not work, life should have consequences. If you are unwilling to work despite the availability of employment then you will starve and die. If you are unwilling to take shelter then you will freeze and die. If you are unwilling to deal with your own personal hygiene you will experience disease and pestilence and die. Life is harsh – there are no safe places in reality.