It's amazing isn't it how a single word can take on a meaning more grandiose than what we might find in Webster's New World Dictionary for example? During the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, we were made nearly drunk as daily we were forced to drink from the cup of kindness proffered on behalf of the 'poor'. We were regularly lectured that we must help the poor, must rescue the poor, must insure the poor, must muster the moral righteousness to lift up the poor. Sounds good, doesn't it? Well it used to before our own pockets became shallower as a result and the poor remained poor. How could that be? I mean Americans are already the most generous of all the world's citizenry when it comes to charitable giving and I suspect that enormous sums are contributed to the 'poor' each year in some form or another on top of the plethora of government assistance on the federal, state and local levels.
It baffles me as history has reported that FDR eliminated the class of 'poor' with public payments under the welfare system. It was a redistribution of wealth from those that had to those that hadn't. It was initiated in the 1930's when far more of the latter existed than did the former. Apparently it didn't work. What interests me about all of that is what happened in America before that framework was established and even after. The ones we sometimes euphemistically refer to as 'the less fortunate' were mostly cared for by churches and local communities in the early part of the 20th century and continued through the 50's and 60's. Nothing worked.
In any event, I've been boning up on the 'poor', poring over article after opinion as the case may be, attempting to understand the concept. I've learned that 'poor' is like an onion. I kept peeling back layers in my mission to reach enlightenment. For some time now, I have considered myself on the nation's 'tuition poor', a parent who monthly contemplates how to balance tuitions for three kids (mercifully one is now gainfully employed), i.e. make the payments. Somehow, the rabbit comes out of the hat, though there are many days when I think that the ranks of rabbits is thinning and the chapeaux less plentiful. Nevertheless, I am daily confounded by the drumbeat that I am one of the 'rich', 180 degrees from the 'poor'. Funny, I don't feel rich, though I am employed, we have a comfortable if not palatial home, cars that aren't of recent vintage, but are usually operable and food on the table. I suppose that passes for 'rich' in these polarizing times. All these unconnected threads pull together to form the covering of The Few Things I've Recently Learned About Poverty.
And I'm lead immediately to the U.S. Census Bureau. The bureau has been much in the news of late, all relative to ACORN, it's 'partner' for the 2010 Census. Of course, last week elected officials were like turtles in a pet shop, climbing all over each other to see who could most loudly disavow ACORN, to get their hands on the basin in which lay that baby as it was tossed out the window with the bathwater of government support following recent scandals. It's not ACORN, however, that concerns me, at least not for the moment. Regrettably, ACORN is like an acorn. It will germinate and live to fight again under the name of PISTACHIO perhaps. I digress.
Robert Rector in National Review Online recently explained that for "nearly three decades, in good economic times and bad, Census has reported more than 30 million Americans living in poverty." Rector's response to this revelation is difficult to refute. In the past year alone, we the taxpayers (not 'the Government' as is the nameless, faceless ogre) have spent $714 billion on "cash, food, housing, medical care," and social services for the 'poor'. In one year. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that $714 billion could pretty much take care of the poverty issue--in one year. Do the math. If I did it correctly (no sure thing), that equates to $23,800 for each person in "poverty" just for the past year. Not bad, especially if it inured to the benefit of a "family of four" as we now know to be the benchmark for everything. The multiple for that symetrical family is $95,200. Wow! And isn't that tax free? No wonder Rector postulates that a full 40% of those classified as 'poor' own their own homes complete with many of the trappings (e.g. plasma TV's) assumed to be the sole province of the 'rich'. What be the cause then of this mass of poverty? Rector argues that out-of-wedlock births and dysfunctional families are to blame. Perhaps. No reasonable person can deny they are factors, but then again, reason has been lost in this nation, common sense has become uncommon indeed.
Relative to Rector's conclusion, I would offer only this: My understanding of the system is that a mother receiving 'welfare' is penalized by a reduction or loss of benefits when the father is in the home and their combined income is too 'high'. What kind of logic is that? It's not. It's insanity. It's counterintuitive, counterproductive and runs counter to any legitimate platform to fix the problem. There is no denying, none, that absent some kind of abuse, a family operates better if both parents are in the home. The result of this systemic lunacy is, of course, to provide a twisted incentive to have even more children so as to increase monthly income, dooming yet another generation to come of age believing that this is all it deserves. I'm cynical enough to believe that it's done purposefully in order to secure political allegiance to those beneficent souls that screech about helping the poor. I think the politicians who foster the system like it just the way it is.