Poverty and Welfare in America

A brief history lesson, then on to today’s news. In 1994, government spending on social welfare programs was at an all-time high, over $23 billion dollars. Newt Gingrich and the Republican party ran on a platform of reform to cut waste and fraud in government (the Contract with America). After 40 years of a Democrat controlled US House of Representative (where all spending bills must originate), the Republicans won control. Despite a previous veto from President Bill Clinton, Newt and the Republicans were able to pass the Welfare Reform Act in 1996. This act…

  • required welfare recipients to meet certain conditions in exchange for government support
  • placed a lifetime limit of no more than 60 months of benefits
  • created incentives for two-parent families and discourage out-of-wedlock births
  • required recipients to work or be looking for work
  • resulted in welfare roles being reduced by 50% in most states
  • resulted in employment rates substantially increasing among welfare recipients
  • and resulted in a drop in the child poverty rate

  • Welfare spending had been skyrocketing out of control prior to the Republican sponsored reform. The safety net of public assistance had become a hammock for far too many people. The Welfare Reform act brought sensible change and a more sound fiscal policy.

    But not everyone agreed with Welfare Reform at the time it was passed; liberal groups and Democrat politicians denounced it and opposed it at every turn. And still today, Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy fights to bring back the days of big government social spending, all in the name of helping the children, of course. Just last year Kennedy said in an interview that “we have 36 million Americans that are going to bed hungry every night. 36 million Americans! And 12 million of those are children!” Click here to view a video of Kennedy’s 36-million claim.

    Now that is quite a claim. We live in a country of 300 million people, so Kennedy is saying that more than 1 in 10 Americans goes to bed hungry every night. Now I disagree with Ted Kennedy on just about every political issue, so my first instinct was to assume he was lying or grossly exaggerating. So I did some research into that 36 million figure and found out that I was right, Kennedy was lying.

    About 36 million Americans are classified by the USDA as “food insecure”, but that doesn’t mean they go to bed hungry every night. It means that at “some time during the year, these households were uncertain of having enough food.”

    As much as Kennedy hates to admit it, poverty in America has declined due to the Republican sponsored Welfare Reform. So while there are Americans in extreme poverty who go to bed hungry, that condition is extremely rare due to the blessed country in which we live and the generosity of the American people. Americans are the most selfless, generous and giving people on this planet. Whenever disaster strikes around the world, we are there ready and willing to give food, supplies, money and other aid. Where there is genuine poverty and suffering, the hearts of the American people turned to their fellow beings and their wallets are opened to help in any way they can. And shame on Senator Kennedy for implying otherwise.

    The US government reports on poverty in America, if misunderstood (or intentionally twisted by liberal Democrats), can certainly give one the wrong impression regarding the prevalence of extreme poverty. “For most Americans, the word “poverty” sug­gests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shel­ter. For example, the Poverty Pulse poll taken by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in 2005 asked the general public the question: “How would you describe being poor in the U.S.?” The overwhelming majority of responses focused on homelessness, hunger or not being able to eat prop­erly, and not being able to meet basic needs.”

    Most American’s definition of “poor” though is quite different than the US government’s definition of “poor.” Robert Rector’s latest research shows that the poor in America, when compared to the rest of the world, are actually doing pretty well. His article, How Poor Are America’s Poor? Examining the “Plague” of Poverty in America, is very interesting and I recommend the whole thing, but here are a few highlights:

  • 89 percent of the poor report their families have “enough” food to eat
  • only 2 percent say they “often” do not have enough to eat
  • 43 percent of all poor households actu­ally own their own homes
  • 80percent of poor households have air conditioning
  • Nearly 75 percent of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars
  • 97 percent of poor households have a color television; over 50percent own two or more color televisions
  • 78 percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception
  • If you are poor, those statistics should make you be glad to be poor in America. Rector’s piece goes into what poverty is like is the majority of the world outside the US; I’ll let you read that yourself. I am a personal witness, though, to the poverty in the country of Argentina. I lived there for two years as a missionary, and I saw extreme poverty on a daily basis. I saw large families crammed into make-shift tin huts, with no running water or bathroom facilities other than a hole in the ground. Trust me, if you are poor in America in the 21st century, you are very blessed, in terms of material well-being (not to mention living in the land of opportunity where hard work and ingenuity allows people to pull themselves out of poverty on a continual basis).

    This bring me to my next point. Rector offers two solutions in his article, either of which would eliminate 75% of poverty in America:
    1. A 40-hour work week
    2. Marriage

    A 40-hour work week: “The typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year—the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year— nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.”

    Marriage: “Father absence is another major cause of child poverty. Nearly two-thirds of poor children reside in single-parent homes; each year, an additional 1.5 million children are born out of wedlock. If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, almost three-quarters would immediately be lifted out of poverty.”

    So you see, as with a previous blog post regarding reducing crime, the solution is not big government, the solution is stronger families.

    1 reply
    1. Heather
      Heather says:

      Very nicely done Jimmy. Stronger families is the answer to many of society’s problems. Nice presentation of the data!


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