essays and articles by david g allen


War On Poverty Gave Us Entitlements

 

Part two of two parts.

Regardless of all the welfare programs that we have tried, we are no more advanced than the ancient societies that allowed the poor to glean the fields. Like the ancients, we spend on welfare what we feel we can afford at the time.

If our welfare programs had truly attacked the root causes of poverty, then we would have seen some results by now. Head Start schools would be consolidating due to a dearth of students. Child abuse would be fading from view.

But the truth is that Head Start still serves only a portion of the kids who desperately need that respite. And watch the news or read the statistics; child abuse, if not outright child torture, is still all too common in West Virginia.

Welfare spending has done a wonderful job of alleviating the state of being poor. The best example of this comes from elder care.

Millions of the elderly have been spared a life of destitution because of Social Security and Medicare. The social safety net for the aged is broad indeed. An old man may not live out his dying days in a suite at the Ritz, but he is assured a bed in a nursing home.

Unfortunately, this charitable solution is about to end. The aging baby boomers will bust the system.

Had Social Security been used only as a safety net, or had workers been required to save more for their own retirement, then Social Security would be solvent for another century. Instead, Social Security became an entitlement. Whatever surplus the plan ever had has been frittered away.

We no longer see poor people wearing rags. Clothing vouchers and thrift shops have given the poor a contemporary wardrobe that lets them blend in with the crowd.

We no longer see the starving poor. Food stamps have cured undernourishment. But the food stamp program is an entitlement, and the poor have learned nothing from it about nutrition or meal planning.

We have created a class of people, some of whom are third generation, who have mastered the welfare rules. Trust me: They know the eligibility rules better than their case workers.

Because liberals have always viewed poverty as a structural rather than a cultural problem, they desperately needed to develop a spending program that could mask, if not altogether remove, the stigma of poverty. They succeeded (mightily). But in doing so, they also created this class of welfare pros.

This is but a brief summary of forty years of welfare spending. In short, welfare spending has bought us much wallpaper and window dressing. The foundation of the house, however, is what we should have concentrated on.

There are causes of poverty that we will never eliminate. We will always have to take care of the mentally retarded, those with severe birth defects, and those afflicted by a debilitating illness or medical condition.

There are causes of poverty that we will exacerbate. To tease people with dreams of hitting the lottery is most irresponsible. Jack Whitaker won the Powerball jackpot. Ask him what his winning ticket was worth now that he’s spent the money.

We may never cure poverty. However, the day will come when we spend much less ameliorating it. Gone will be the clothing vouchers. Food stamps, the first of which were used to buy baked beans, will possibly return to that role. Gone will be the Social Security largesse. And then the raw images of gripping poverty will again appear in a popular magazine.

The United States is so wealthy now that we cannot image a return to our recent past. But it will happen. And when that day comes, let us hope that some social scientist bothered to save a 1961 dictionary so he can redefine poverty for that era.

In my old neighborhood, we had a running joke about Little Debbie cakes. The joke went like this: “Only people on food stamps buy Little Debbie cakes.” To this day, I have never bought them.

Whenever I see a picture of Little Debbie, I remember that joke, and I also think of Marie Antoinette. Though neither of these females cured poverty, their respective cake recipes can teach us a valuable lesson: Timing is everything.

Return to Part One

David G. Allen

Clarksburg, WV

"War On Poverty Has Given Us Entitlements" originally appeared in the September 14, 2007 issue of the West Virginia State Journal.

 

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Copyright 1990-2007  David G. Allen