Advocates for the poor have too long argued that welfare was the solution to poverty. Yet most evidence points in a different direction.”
That’s not a quote from any Republican eyeing a 2016 presidential run. Those words did not come from the mouths of any Tea Partiers. And it’s not a position statement from a conservative public-policy group.
It comes from, of all places, a left-leaning think tank in Washington.
The statement was part a now-landmark report on poverty more than a decade ago by the Brookings Institution, which says the best anti-poverty program is jobs – not government handouts.
“The reform of welfare in 1996 has had far more positive effects on employment, earnings and poverty rates than almost anyone anticipated,” Brookings wrote. “The data ... suggest this is because work is a powerful antidote to poverty and that, in its absence, no politically feasible amount of welfare can fill the gap as effectively.”
We reflect on this study in light of new figures from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The good news is that employers added 288,000 jobs in June, the fifth month in a row in which hiring topped the 200,000 mark. In all, employers added 1.4 million jobs in the first six months of 2014, the strongest six-month job growth since 2006. And the month’s 6.2 percent unemployment rate was the best reading since September 2008.
Now for the bad news: If the more than 5 million Americans who had given up looking for a job were included in the mix, the 6.2 percent jobless rate would actually be 11.1 percent.
Even worse, the Labor Department’s work force figure – which counts people who have a job or actually are trying to find one – has been stuck for three straight months at 62.8 percent. That’s down sharply from 66 percent in 2008, and is a 36-year low.
It’s chilling to consider how close to the equilibrium point this nation’s wealth-producer-to-wealth-consumer scale has come. A dangerous tipping point is clearly in reach.
Blame rests squarely with this nation’s policymakers, who in recent years not only have ignored the time-tested wisdom of free-market capitalism – the U.S. economy has shrunk by 2.9 percent under the Obama administration – but have doubled down on job-killing, wealth-squandering nanny-statism.
Presently, a mind-boggling 70 percent of all federal spending goes to fund programs that foster dependence. Today’s welfare system is a convoluted amalgam of 80 programs, 13 federal departments and a bloated smattering of state agencies and programs.
Overall, welfare spending amounts to more than $900 billion per year – more than the country spends on national defense.
Spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as the Food Stamp program, more than doubled from $37.6 billion in fiscal year 2008 to $78.4 billion in fiscal year 2012.
It should astound anyone in the world’s most prosperous nation that one in six people are relying on government food aid.
Sadly, the current administration’s policies have favored welfare expansion over job creation. What little job creation this administration has fueled has been focused on the wealth-sucking public sector and union-dominated, crony industries whose beneficiaries are most likely to support nanny-state politicians.
Our next president, whoever it is, should put welfare reform and private-sector job creation at the top of the domestic agenda.
This nation’s leaders have taken $20 trillion from Americans to fund government welfare programs since 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson declared “war on poverty.” It’s been 50 years without moving the needle; it’s time to change the war strategy.
May we suggest one whose tactics are less complex, much cheaper and already identified?
Look no further than that same decade-old Brookings study, which mentions a starkly simple recipe to avoid poverty: Graduate high school; wait until marriage to have children; and get a full-time job – any full-time job.
If you do those three things, you’ll have a 74 percent chance of being in the middle class, and have less than a 3 percent chance of winding up poor.
Fighting poverty isn’t rocket science. It’s time we stop acting like it is.