Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Unpopular Fix for Generational Poverty

Just as I was preparing to change tunes on this blog from welfare to something more uplifting, news began spreading about South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Andre Bauer and his comments about welfare recipients breeding like stray animals.

Here is Bauer’s exact quote: "My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed! You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that."

Apparently, Bauer already has a reputation in South Carolina of speaking before he thinks, and to his detractors, "feeding stray animals" is just more of the same right-wing hogwash.  In this instance, Bauer has tried to clarify his remarks as a call for greater personal responsibility on the part of welfare recipients. A beneficiary of free lunches himself, Bauer describes from personal example the need for people receiving welfare to work harder at breaking the generational poverty that is endemic in our welfare system.

Nevertheless, South Carolina Democrats have already lined up against Bauer and described his comments as cruel, immoral, and reprehensible. In other words, they all knew what he said is pretty accurate, it just wasn’t politically correct.

Generational Poverty Can't Be Ignored

In my previous posts on this topic of poverty, I've tried to avoid the subject of welfare recipients and their penchant for procreating.  I've tried to stick to the institutionalized poverty aspect, not the generational poverty aspect.

Institutionalized poverty involves the conflicting ways our society and government actually perpetuate poverty.

Generational poverty is more of what Bauer is alluding to – the seemingly constant cycle of desperately poor people have kids, who grow up desperately poor and have kids themselves, and so on.

Nowhere along the way does the family manage to break free from a cycle of welfare dependency.

Traditionally, people in generational poverty have blamed society and the government – anybody but themselves. Increasingly, however, these assertions by those in generational poverty are falling on deaf ears amongst society at large. Too many people have been able to escape generational poverty into the middle class – the lowest rungs of our middle class, perhaps, but still a rung past poverty. And how did they do it? Maybe some finite government assistance. Probably some personal help and encouragement from extended family and friends. Certainly a lot of hard work and determination on their own part.

Politicians and activists who derive a significant part of their power from - and over - those on welfare rolls don’t like talking about personal responsibility. That little line from Dr. King’s Lincoln Memorial speech about the “content of character” is conveniently dropped from their rhetoric.

And if you start talking about having welfare recipients being more responsible about their sexual activity – something many politicians can’t even fathom for themselves – you really cross the line into forbidden territory.

It's All About The Kids

But you can’t avoid the logic. If you were on government assistance and wanted to get out of it, what would be one of the easiest and most obvious ways to do it? Get a job, right? While that would be a good first step, most people on welfare are single mothers, and there’s the immediate problem of daycare. Then there’s the problem of the types of jobs available – they almost all require at least a GED. However, a lot of these single mothers started having kids when they were in high school, and they dropped out. Even taking a GED class seems complicated for them, because again, there’s the problem of daycare.

Do you see the recurring theme? Kids. Pregnancies. Not problems in and of themselves, but they become big obstacles when you’re a teenager or young adult who should be taking responsibility for your future, not having unprotected sex. Or sex at all. Just because society tells you it’s OK doesn’t mean it is. And even with all of our wonderful technology, the only 100% proven method of contraception is abstinence.

Many people – conservatives and liberals alike – have such warped ideas about sex these days that the subject has become a minefield. Old morality which used to shake its head against sex before – and outside of – marriage has disappeared in our culture at large. The mantra of personal responsibility has been extended to many aspects of life, except the libido.

So to all of a sudden have to reckon with the notion that poor people should refrain from sex sounds to almost everybody like a weird, impossibly unrealistic, totalitarian punishment.

Are Liberal Politicians Trying to Prove Darwin Wrong?

A friend of mine, a professed believer in evolutionary theory, made a stunning comment on our way to lunch one day. We were watching some obviously indigent people crossing a street, and he mused, “people like that disprove the survival of the fittest”.

Wow. Evaluating the futility of a whole system of thought based on three people crossing an intersection!

But my friend touched on a remarkable facet of American society today. The people we were watching in the crosswalk were two adults and a baby. The adults were malnourished and obese, and based on other observations that I won’t go into here, we both drew what appeared to be an obvious conclusion that they were on some form of public assistance.

Now remember, this isn’t what I said; this was my friend, who is an educated computer geek, who votes Democratic, who’s agnostic and champions all things liberal. What he was saying is this: “people on welfare disprove the survival of the fittest”.

People who bear children while on welfare rarely get out of it; they start the cycle of generational poverty that has proven so difficult to extricate oneself from. In the meantime, our society bends over backwards to provide housing, food, clothing, healthcare, daycare, and more to these families. And for what? In Darwin’s model of survival of the fittest, these families that can’t support themselves should be fading away. But they’re not – they’re propagating, and our society enables them to flourish unnaturally. At this rate, the intransigent poor will drag down healthy society until we’re all drowning in debt, inefficiencies, and degradation.

Was Freud right? Is life all about sex? Is sex simply a basic, primal instinct that humans can’t control? Are we incapable of formulating plausible scenarios about the effects of sexual activity, and acting to reduce those effects we consider to be negative? After all, that’s what impoverished women and men seem to be saying: "Sex is such a basic instinct, and having babies is a natural side-effect of sex, and even though you’re paying for my healthcare and my baby’s healthcare, you can’t deny me my right to have even more kids."

Isn't procreation a problem here?

Providing A Good Example

Taxpayer-provided subsidies for disenfranchised fellow citizens can be seen as a social contract, in which taxpayers, as the funding group, expect certain things from welfare recipients they are funding, such as personal responsibility, honest effort, and integrity. Basically, the “content of character” Dr. King mentions in his famous speech.

However, what is the degree to which taxpayers need to set a proper example in order to justify their expectations from others? Or does just being a taxpayer make us worthy of the honor of telling welfare recipients how to behave? Is this purely an economic relationship, or is there any morality or ethics involved to help seal the deal?

In his seminal book, The Closing of the American Mind, the agnostic philosopher Alan Bloom writes about how we in the United States have dumbed ourselves down, and how we have developed patterns of narcissism that are unraveling the fabric of what used to be an ordered and productive society. More and more Americans don’t incorporate logic in their actions and decisions. We have developed a sense that our society is big enough to absorb all of our selfish desires, and we strive for pleasure more than purpose. The big fallacy in this mindset is that no society is large enough to absorb all of this pettiness when the majority is slipping further and further into the malaise of mediocrity.

To the extent that the poor have watched the rest of America fall into a hedonistic depravity of consumption, sex, and rewards, perhaps it should come as no surprise that they want gratification, too. Sex is easy, it comes naturally, and plenty of government programs actually enable people on welfare to benefit from procreation. However, would it be impertinent for me to suggest that we taxpayers set some sort of better example in the way we spend our money and raise our families? Does not receiving public assistance make us better than those who do? Does being able to spend our own money on unnecessary pleasures mean we should?

When middle-class teenagers get pregnant, does the fact that their parents can better afford to absorb the costs of their unexpected grandchild become the only difference between them and kids on welfare? The opportunities middle-class teenage parents have in our economy are only marginally better than those on welfare, aren’t they? Just because no welfare is involved, should society not be alarmed at the promiscuity and lack of character that is involved when people who can better afford to be immoral are?

On the flip side, for people on welfare, here are some questions for you:  Why should taxpayers pay to support the biggest drain on income and most significant impediment towards earning a living wage: child rearing? Most of us can understand if a parent has children before sinking into a welfare situation. But once you’re there, why do you still procreate? Can't you wait until you can afford it? Does having more kids make you a more attractive job candidate? Does having more kids mean you can get a better education quicker? Does having more kids mean you can better provide for the ones you already have? If the answer is because the government “rewards” you for the number of children you have, then you’ve completely missed King’s admonition to be a person with character.

And you boys and men on welfare:  where are you, besides out getting women pregnant? Why aren’t you in school or at work? Forget earning money to put rims on your jalopy; how about putting some food on your kids’ table? And marrying the woman you’re sleeping with? What kind of man are you to let taxpayers keep doing your job? Don't think that because your baby comes out of a woman that it's all her responsibility.

At the end of the day, Dr. King’s famous phrase, “content of character” applies to all of us. Integrity, personal responsibility, delayed gratification, and chastity aren’t virtues for just the rich or just the poor.


  1. Hi! I just scanned your article.
    PART I:

    You know, there is a lot of truth in it, but I think what needs addressing is that Congress and the President, as well as many "well-to-do" citizens don't get what it is to be poor. We accept foreigners with cultural differences than ours, such as if it starts at 2, show up by 3 or 4, but sharply criticize non-foreigners for the same JUST because they are non-foreigners.

    But I'm doing the same thing. Looking at the external facts.

    The internal fact is that Congress and the President look to the banks for leadership. The banks have no leadership. Their methods have NOT helped this country in over 10 years, maybe many more.

    For example, when GW Bush entered office the bankruptcy laws (an American icon) were changed to accommodate the credit card companies, whiners that they may be. That was supposed to fix all their problems.

    When GW Bush left office and Obama came in, who got bailed out? The banks, who? OWN THE CREDIT CARD companies.

    The banks highest profit margin is overdraft fees. If one has large deposits in the bank and overdrafts, a quick phone call to the "relationship banker" makes them disappear.

    If one has a low account balance, they not only don't disappear, they can cause the bank account to be closed AND be reported to ChexSystems or the such preventing that person from participating on the American Banking System for years to come. (Sounds to me that what profits the banks do make is made on the backs of the poor.)

    Home loans, when circumstances change, one can walk away from. Car loans on the other hand (is not transport just as important as a roof?), are generally recourse loans. The lender takes the car, doesn't care what it sells for, applies what it sells for to the outstanding balance, and then says, "Pay me, YOU SIGNED a contract!"

  2. Hi! I just scanned your article.

    PART II:

    This is the silliest type of recourse loan there ever was. Who benefits from car sales? GM, State Revenue, etc.??? And they can make almost any loan go through (even if the proposed buyer is dead tired at the end of the day and totally stressed). So, the loan goes through at DOUBLE the rate of interest normally charged--maybe a little more, maybe a little less. And if there are problems down the road, the lender has to "PROTECT ITS INTEREST" by repo. (Is there a law that requires the lender to do a due diligence financial analysis before executing a repossession? I do not know of one.)

    Be aware two things:

    ONE: The lender has required (to protect its interest) a bumper-to-bumper 5 year warranty be purchased BY THE PURCHASER as part of the loan package. Since at least 2005, several of hte new vehicles really do not require that type of extra "insurance."
    TWO: Most cars lose significant value once driven off the dealer's lot. So, we now have an "upside down" loan--not good financial arrangement.

    The lenders will not renegotiate the loan because ???? The usual answer is some law (Hi Congress!! if it's even true).

    Now, the purchaser has been paying high interest on this loan. In 3-4 years, the purchaser pays as much on the car as he or she would have to totally pay it OFF at the "better customer" rate he or she was denied at the time the car was purchased. They were charged a higher interest rate due to "risk." So in a sense, the bank/lender has already charged them for defaulting.

    So the Lender refuses to entertain renegotiation of the loan, repos it, recovers the cost of repo-ing, and pounds on the purchaser (and the purchaser's credit report) to get the money.

    Now, is owning a home more important than having transportation. Probably not, because one can always rent. Additionally, the lender would NEVER consider this type of "upside down" loan on a home. (Major priority issue.)

    Aside: Latest collection snafu I heard from someone was a lady was told they had their ways and they could get a judgment without letting the defaulted purchaser know it was issued AND they (with Obama) could contact the IRS Form 1099C and get the money that way because of all the income received that the lady had not paid taxes on. (No further comment, but back to subject.)

  3. Hi! I just scanned through your article.


    The recent changes for credit card companies are well-placed, enough or not, I don't know. But ironically, the IRS follows the banking practices (per Congress's instructions). They have penalties for anything and everything and charge 1/2 per interest per month (in today's economy, that's high). Then they issue their haphazard non-sensical liens and levies (no assets, why issue) and make it totally impossible for the delinquent taxpayer to get a loan to pay them off. It's a vicious cycle.

    The National Taxpayer Advocate's Office issued a report on December 31, 2009, in which this was a major issue.

    Meanwhile, the poor sole-proprietor--PROVIDING AMERICAN JOBS--gets behind in his or her payroll taxes, the bill jammed up at least 50% and the neighbor hires out work through the Internet to foreigners that it doesn't even report on its taxes. The neighbor is a "hot shot"!! Big man on campus, smart as a whip because he OUTSOURCES!!!!

    Mass education is needed on this subject but as you can see from the above, and it happens all the time, it's so easy to get away from the nuts & bolts of it and into anecdotes, philosophicals and big-word abstract descriptions.

    Just in! MAN could not get loan at a reasonable interest rate without a co-signer; liquid, well-to-do businessman in local area asked 5 banks if he could co-sign for the MAN. Nope, had to be a relative, so the potential co-signer said, "I know how to fix this!" Went out and paid cash and turned the title over to the MAN.

    Family is important, but so is COMMUNITY. In this case, COMMUNITY WAS REJECTED.

    I don't know if any of this is helpful, but ... enjoy! Jeannine Silkey


Thank you for your feedback!