By Josh Colver
The issue of welfare is also a moral issue that needs to be discussed. I’m all for a safety net to help people out when they fall on hard times, but I have a big problem when it becomes a hammock and not a safety net. Of course, we all want to help the poor. Democrats want to help the poor, Republicans want to help the poor, and Libertarians want to help the poor. So it’s not an issue of caring, we all care. What we need to do is look at the facts and historical data to best figure out how to fight poverty.
Since 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson declared the War on Poverty we have spent 22 trillion dollars on the fight, adjusted for inflation. The Census Bureau reports that the amount of Americans in poverty is 14.5%. Amazingly that is almost the same rate that it was in 1967. Many people would be shocked to hear this, and may even struggle to understand how this is possible. But the reason for this massive failure is the government. Government is extremely inefficient in what they do. They tend to believe that if we throw a certain amount of money at the problem and look the other way, then our work is done. But we have to be result oriented. All these social programs have good intentions, but good intentions don’t mean good results. A big reason why these programs have failed is that our welfare system is designed to discourage work, penalize marriage, and ultimately trapping them in poverty.
The main reason our welfare system isn’t working is because of benefit cliffs. Under our current system many people who are poor or are on welfare reach a point when they are offered a raise or want to take a second job, they choose not to because by accepting that job or taking that raise they lose money because they no longer qualify for benefits. This cliff that exists between dependency and independence is nearly impossible to scale. This cliff results in limited upward mobility. People cannot climb out of poverty if benefits are not tailored to needs and if the welfare system punishes work. The current welfare system also penalizes marriage. A specific example of this is demonstrated by the Heritage Foundation, “For example, a single mother with two children who earns $15,000 per year would generally receive around $5,200 per year of food stamp benefits. However, if she marries a father with the same earnings level, her food stamps would be cut to zero. A single mother receiving benefits from Section 8 or public housing would receive a subsidy worth on average around $11,000 per year if she were not employed, but if she marries a man earning $20,000 per year, these benefits would be cut nearly in half. Both food stamps and housing programs provide attractive financial incentives for couples to remain separate and unmarried.” But this issue doesn’t just affect economics, this also affects kids and their chances at success and getting ahead. According to the Heritage Foundation, kids that are in single parent households are twice as likely to be arrested for a juvenile crime, twice as likely to be treated for emotional and behavioral problems, roughly twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school, and a third more likely to drop out before completing high school.
These policies again come back to central planning and how it fails dramatically. When government inserts itself into issues like this and attempts to socially engineer a society through the welfare system, it has disastrous consequences. The way to fix this is to first eliminate the penalties for marriage in our welfare system, and secondly eliminate the benefit cliff. Instead of having a dramatic drop off in which nobody can escape from, let’s create a stairway to success. As you earn money and your income increases, your benefits will decrease proportionally with it. Instead of if you earn money and take a job, then you are punished and set back by it. This way we will create a ladder to climb out of poverty instead of a cliff that cannot be scaled. I think Ronald Reagan said it best, “ We should measure welfare's success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added.”