Take poverty personally

When I discuss poverty with liberals, they always try to claim the moral high ground, implying or saying outright that conservatives like me want to punish the poor or keep them poor. This makes no sense. Liberal prescriptions have not ended poverty and may have worsened some of its effects. President Johnson declared war on poverty a half a century ago and poverty won. So what can we do?

I think we need to recognize the dynamic of poverty. It is not only or even mostly about money. Poverty is perpetuated by behaviors, both of the poor themselves and of the greater society. o the extent that government programs and bureaucrats enable the maintenance of poor behaviors, they do the poor a disservice.

Doing nothing is better than doing the wrong things.

You see something very interesting if you look at poverty figures. Poverty was dropping rapidly in the 1950s and first half of the 1960s. Then it kind of stopped. The War on Poverty started in 1965. Interestingly, improvements leveled off about the time the War on Poverty started to take hold in the late 1960s. After a big drop from 1958-1968, it leveled off and rose or fell in relation to the economy and not much in relation to politics. It started to rise under Carter; fell under Reagan; rose under Bush 1; fell under Clinton; rose under Bush 2 and kept on rising under Obama. Presumably, there were somewhat different policies, but there is no sign that it made any difference.

We can see personally how poverty ends. My grandfather was an immigrant who never mastered English. Both my parents were HS dropouts. I went to public schools in an urban environment. When I would show some ambition, my father would tell me, "Don't bother trying; that's only for rich kids." But I was lucky because I grew up in a time before PC fools would explain to me why I was oppressed. Since I didn't know I was oppressed, it didn't hold me back. Some of the worst harm liberals do to the poor is the soft bigotry of low expectations. They don't expect the poor to succeed and their expectations shape results.

PC hurts the poor much more than it hurts the middle class. Middle class kids often learn good work habits and ambition from their families. Poor kids are more dependent on the outside community. If the outside community tells them that they are behind, they believe it and jump at the excuse. PC perpetuates poverty. Being poor is much like other behaviorally based maladies. The larger society can help create opportunities, but needs to understand that individual decisions and behaviors will be the most important determiners of success or failure. Interfere with that, and you doom the person you are trying to help to failure.

Poverty is a very personal thing. Society does not make people poor in America. It is choices that do that. It is not that the poor are always "to blame" for their poor choices, but does anybody really doubt that choices are at the base? If you look at the sum total, it begins to look like fate or destiny, but each step of the way there were choices.
The goal of a good government program should not be to attack poverty directly. That doesn't work. What works is to remove obstacles that hinder people from rising.

Allow opportunities and if you build it they will come, as we have seen with generations of abysmally poor immigrants who came to America and were successful sometimes in the first generation, but almost always by the third. We should not lose touch with our successful history.

Posted by Christine & John at January 6, 2013 7:20 PM
Comment #360059

Good article C&J.
One of the things that bothers me most is seeing kids that are being raised in poverty, and that have a whole lot of potential settling for staying in poverty because they’ve been told they can’t do any better.
They’re not only being told that by their parents but by society in general. Their parents have settled for poverty and don’t believe there’s any way out. Society tell these kids they are inferior. And unfortunately youngins believe it.
My neighbor girl is 13year old. Her momma is on welfare, and her grandmomma was on welfare. This girl is a very bright kid. I’ve tried to tell her but she can’t see it. She’s been told by her momma that she’ll never amount to anything. Her teachers, even her Black ones, have told her she inferior to other kids who’s parents are better off. She’s been told this so many times that she just can’t see herself being successful at anything. She falling for the lies being told her. And the sad thing is she’ll pass them down to her youngins.
And another generation of kids will be born into poverty.

Posted by: Ron Brown at January 7, 2013 12:31 AM
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I took an aptitude test in school and one of the possible careers it came back with was literally digging ditches. It said those exact words. Oh well I guess. I’ve done back breaking farm labor many times over the years and it didn’t take long for me to know I better work harder to keep a shovel out of my hands at least as far as earning a living goes.

I try not to take a moral high ground against the right on poverty but it’s hard. Your view fits right in line with a strict father model of politics and you frame every argument to remind us the poor are poor because of bad decisions they made or their parents made. You focus on the slackers, screwups and the moochers while ignoring that the vast majority of those getting some form of government assistance work their asses off and scrape to get by. You want these people to be miserable as an incentive to somehow go above the 100% effort they’re already giving to “put food on their families.”

Then comes a recession largely built around greedy people taking extreme amounts of risk by bundling mortgages somehow believing that the bottom wouldn’t fall out and they’d all get rich forever. Not only did poor people get blamed by the right for housing policies, but we also see the right offer up assistance programs for the poor to the chopping block to save money now that deficits are skyrocketing because of the recession.

So when I see the right say they are concerned with poor people I believe it on an individual level. But the policies of the right tell a completely different story.

Posted by: Adam Ducker at January 7, 2013 8:55 AM
Comment #360070

When I took an aptitude test, the same profession came up two separate times: being the guy who sits in a tower and watches for forest fires. It seemed the best solution, the thing that would make everyone happy, was to isolate me and then keep me far away as possible from other humans for long periods of time. In theory, someone would even pay for me to do that.

Posted by: phx8 at January 7, 2013 11:23 AM
Comment #360072

Let me tell ya a couple of success stories that I know of personally.
The first one is a man that was literately raised dirt floor poor. His folks were raised that way, and as far back as he could trace no one in his family was ever more than that. He had to leave school at 13 years old after his daddy died from a heart attack to help his momma work the few miserable acres they share cropped in order to support 8 hungry younger siblings.
But he wanted something better. He enlisted in the army during the depression at age 17 and sent most of his pay to his momma so she wouldn’t have to work so hard.
While in the army he met the love of his life and married her just before WWII. When he returned from the war he bought 40 acres and started farming. He the worked off the farm in the day and farmed by night to support his growing family and help his brothers and sisters support their momma.
He never was wealthy, but he worked hard and rose above the dirt floor his ancestors settled for. And was able to provide a middle class living for Momma and us youngins.
The second is an employee that I had. She was raised on welfare and couldn’t remember any ancestors that wasn’t on it. In fact she was settling for a life on welfare even though she wanted more. She wondered into my store one day when I was there. It was slow and we started talking. In talking to her I was able to tell that she had something going for her. I offered her a job at the factory and she took it. The only opening I really had was cleaning the office after hours. But she worked hard and took on other jobs cleaning businesses after hours. It took her around 8 years but today she has her own janitorial business.
There’s more stories I could tell, like the couple that went from dirt floor poor to being in the upper middle class. But I won’t take up the space.
This is why I can’t understand why folks settle for poverty. With a little effort even today folks can improve themselves.

Posted by: Ron Brown at January 7, 2013 11:40 AM
Comment #360079


I want to focus on the variables that can change outcomes. If government programs could beat poverty, it would have been beaten by 1975. Instead, the war on poverty dragged on, crushing the spirit of the poor.

We should indeed work to remove obstacles to people rising. In some of these things government can help; in others it is inappropriate.

Sometimes government used to do a better job than it does today. The NYC public schools, for example, brought millions of poor immigrant children into the Middle Class and beyond. They used to produce Nobel prize winners and they did so on lower budgets. This bright tradition ended in the 1960s. What went wrong? IMO, they changed their mission from prioritizing excellence to going for inclusion and lost both.

Look at the pictures of NYC in the 1930s. It was more crowded and poorer than today. Many of these high achieving students grew up in homes w/o English. By definition, none had computers, calculators or even TV. But it could produce excellence that we cannot do today with our big budgets and fancy theories.

We need to seek excellence and demand it from rich and poor alike.

Phx8 & Adam

I never had the kind of test you are talking about. That was the product of those people who thought that central planning could work. Fortunately for you, in our great USA the bureaucrats could not determine your fate.

Posted by: C&J at January 7, 2013 3:36 PM
Comment #360083

Being on some kind of government welfare is not a ticket to sit on ones ass. There is much community work that could be done in return for the benefits received. Some of the libs have written that managing such public works would be too costly or demeaning.

Honest work is never demeaning and the benefits of restoring a person’s dignity can not be measured.

Posted by: Royal Flush at January 7, 2013 5:00 PM
Comment #360094

Honest work is never demeaning and the benefits of restoring a person’s dignity can not be measured.

100% AGREE!!!!!

Posted by: Ron Brown at January 7, 2013 6:40 PM
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People who seek excellence in their work almost always end up making good money.

Posted by: C&J at January 7, 2013 6:55 PM
Comment #360179

A good article from John Stossel about how government assistance breeds dependancy. Countered with another article about an 85 year old woman how is showing how private charity is much more effective.


The Section 8 program ballooned during the 90s to “solve” a previous government failure: crime-ridden public housing. Rent vouchers allow the feds to disperse tenants from failed projects into private residencies. There, poor people would learn good habits from middle-class people.

It was a reasonable idea. But, as always, there were unintended consequences.

“On paper, Section 8 seems like it should be successful,” says Donald Gobin, a Section 8 landlord in New Hampshire. “But unless tenants have some unusual fire in their belly, the program hinders upward mobility.”

Gobin complains that his tenants are allowed to use Section 8 subsidies for an unlimited amount of time. There is no work requirement. Recipients can become comfortably dependent on government assistance.

In Gobin’s over 30 years of renting to Section 8 tenants, he has seen only one break free of the program. Most recipients stay on Section 8 their entire lives. They use it as a permanent crutch.

Government’s rules kill the incentive to succeed.

Section 8 handouts are meant to be generous enough that tenants may afford a home defined by HUD as decent, safe and sanitary. In its wisdom, the bureaucracy has ruled that “decent, safe and sanitary” may require subsidies as high as $2,200 per month. But because of that, Section 8 tenants often get to live in nicer places than those who pay their own way.


Donnelly is the island’s state nurse and administrator of the Mary D Fund, a charity she created to provide year-round residents with much needed financial help during the harsh winter months. Last year, the 85-year-old mother of seven gave grants totaling $50,000 to roughly 30 percent of the island’s 1,000 residents.

Donnelly has paid bills as big as a mortgage and as small as a ferry ticket to the mainland. Recipients must meet three requirements: They must be year-round residents of Block Island, they must request the help in person or by letter, and they must give Donnelly the actual bill to pay. She also tells them “they have to take a money-management course” to help mininmize future financial squeezes. Donnelly says that she was moved when, after recently giving someone a small check, “they returned it, saying they realized other people would need it more than them.”

The charity takes no government money, relying instead on individual donations and grants. By not taking taxpayer money or having government oversight, Donnelly says she is able to better manage where the money goes.

Posted by: Rhinehold at January 9, 2013 12:48 PM
Comment #360187

Good post Rhinehold.

Posted by: Royal Flush at January 9, 2013 2:40 PM
Comment #360191

Interesting view points. C&J, I tend to agree with you on this one. However I really liked what Ron Brown said about honest work. I, personally think workfare should be instigated immediately. Someone needs to paint the park benches…

I remember as a very young girl, my father taking me with him to check in on a baby he’d delivered a couple of days earlier. The first thing I saw when we got there was an enormous color television, (I’d never seem one before), and then the baby sleeping in a box. Yeah - the box the TV came in. What an interesting conflict of images.

Living in the south presents me with a rather unique perspective on those who most consider to be “poor”. While no one here has said it aloud, we all know that most of the poor are Blacks, Mexicans, and other immigrants - legal or not.

My question is why? Why are the poor made up of those who are in the minorities? And why do they seem to continue to watch large televisions, while their children sleep in the box it came in?

Posted by: Highlandangel1 at January 9, 2013 3:52 PM
Comment #360194
most of the poor are Blacks, Mexicans, and other immigrants

Mmmm, not if you go by sheer number (ie, most of the poor are White). You may have something when discussing percentage of the population of each ‘group’ that is poor, but the majority of people who receive assistance and/or are poor are of the ‘white’ persuasion.

(I personally hate those types of groupings, they are mostly irrelevant, IMO).

Posted by: Rhinehold at January 9, 2013 4:30 PM
Comment #360198

Very true, Rhinehold - however in the South, I suspect one would find that I am closer to the truth. Unfortunately.

Posted by: Highlandangel1 at January 9, 2013 5:09 PM
Comment #360216


What it all boils down to is job opportunities. Particularly, entry level job opportunities that pay reasonably well. As you point out, poverty tends to rise and fall with those opportunities. The loss of our manufacturing base is a major factor in the stalling of the upward mobility of the poor to the middle class.

When I worked for a major regional government, there was this one fellow from the manager’s office that would always attend planning and budget meetings. He sat in the back of the room and said virtually nothing. Never contributed anything. But, near the end of each meeting, he would say something like, “well these things are all well and good but what do they have to do with jobs because without jobs they aren’t worth a damn.” At the time, I thought him annoying. But, in retrospect, he was right. Opportunity creates positive incentives.

Posted by: Rich at January 9, 2013 7:10 PM
Comment #360217


Right. Jobs are more important than government programs. I wish Obama would help create or save a few more.

Posted by: C&J at January 9, 2013 7:27 PM
Comment #360233

Obama was willing to do an awful lot. Your colleagues on the right? Not so much. They kill jobs people already have. They cut government contracts, kick people who are looking for work off the rolls, so they can languish in even greater poverty, they fail to support fair trade deals and go out of their way to support the shipping of jobs overseas to please the big companies. They let disaster-stricken areas try and muddle through back to recovery, which impedes their growth, and ours with it.

Oh, but you have your tax cuts. Well, that’s all you have, or are allowed to have. And that, if you look at the record, hasn’t been that good at getting people employed. Funny, giving rich people money they just tend to keep in a bank account doesn’t stimulate the economy.

So, go and look down your nose at Obama. His policies at least directly created jobs, when he had a chance to get them past your obstructiion. His policies at least kept American Manufacturing viable, instead of destroying it. He’s not trying to do all the counterintuitive bankshots which seem more focused on handing some guy in the one percent more money.

Oh, by the way, about your title: a lot of people do take poverty personally. They wake up every day, and it in their face. Maybe its in their face because somebody shipped their job out. Maybe its in their face because Wall Street’s foolishness destroyed their employer. Or maybe its in their face because the lack of healthcare coverage has left their life in ruins following one of those health issues our mortal bodies seem apt to experience.

The sheer stupidity of it, to assume that people are not already well motivated to get out of poverty. Yes, some people wallow in it, and take advantage of the help they can get. But on the whole, nobody in their right mind wants to be scrambling to pay their bills, wants to be swamped with a hopeless array of challenges they can’t possibly meet. There’s a limit to how far gumption and luck and pluck can take people.

If we’re talking policy here, motivation is an unnecessary problem to solve. Just look at the odd rap video, or the middle to upper class lifestyle that shows up in urban culture.

What you need is to give people the means, the very same programs Republicans would often cut.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 10, 2013 7:23 AM
Comment #360254

Doughboy writes; “Funny, giving rich people money they just tend to keep in a bank account doesn’t stimulate the economy.”

A truly socialistic statement. Notice he says “giving money” as though government owns all property and only by its kindness does it give some back. What an arsehole statement.

Posted by: Royal Flush at January 10, 2013 6:14 PM
Comment #360268


Obama has taken almost everything off the table before starting negotiations. What has he offered? I mean this question seriously. I honestly do not know what he has offered. Tell me.

Posted by: C&J at January 11, 2013 6:15 AM
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