America’s poor haven’t been doing so well lately. Their political champions in the Democratic Party seem more focused on all those swing voters in the middle-income levels. And while income inequality has become a popular talking point for the self-anointed defenders of the poor, the fact is that the income gap has increased on President Obama’s watch.
To be sure, government handouts have increased substantially in the last five years. Partly due to stepped-up marketing efforts, food stamps now go to 48 million (one in six) Americans. Unemployment benefits have been extended to previously unthinkable durations while Social Security Disability Insurance now covers millions with nonspecific musculoskeletal problems and “mood disorders.” Many consider it the new welfare.
But does all this government largesse really improve the lot of the less fortunate among us? Franklin Roosevelt, even though he was the founder of the “safety net” welfare state, wouldn’t have thought so. He said “the lessons of history show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual disintegration fundamentally distractive to the national fiber… Work must be found for able-bodied destitute workers.”
Unquestionably, some government programs have relieved suffering for those truly unable to help themselves. But for many others, the benefits can economically trap them into dependency.
For example, a single parent with two children can receive an average of $30,000 if there are no household earnings at all. However if she earns $35,000, the government benefits drop to $10,000. Her actual income increase is less than half of her salary.
Furthermore, she still has to pay payroll and possibly income taxes. She has to contend with the inconveniences and expenses (i.e., childcare, transportation) of working. The net benefit of working almost vanishes completely.
It’s no wonder that so many elect to stay out of the workforce, thus foreclosing any possibility of learning and advancing in a career field. There’s a reason the effective unemployment rate, including those not seeking work, hovers around the 15 percent level.
There are other ways their political champions hurt the poor. Democrats are united in claiming that we should admit millions of unskilled immigrants into our country on humanitarian grounds. Some cynics believe they may be pushing this for the obvious political advantage, but never mind.
The last thing our economy needs is more people with minimal job skills. And it’s poor Americans who suffer from the resulting depression in the labor market. They have to compete against immigrants willing to work “jobs Americans won’t do,” which are really just jobs with wages that Americans find unacceptable.
Surely, Obamacare helps the poor by improving their access to health insurance, right? Not necessarily, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a supporter of the law. The employer mandate (to purchase health insurance), for example, discourages the hiring of marginal workers while “low-wage workers bear the greatest brunt of the penalties imposed.” Furthermore, although the mandate is considered a cornerstone of Obamacare by its creators, it only reduces the total uninsured by 0.6 percent, according to RJWF.
A good education is the ultimate key to the American Dream and the path out of poverty. Yet here again, the poor have been stifled by those who supposedly care so much about them. The political left has consistently fought against charter schools, vouchers and now education savings accounts that would equalize education opportunities for poor children. The support of the teachers’ unions is simply more important to them.
Unfortunately for them, low income and minority Americans have become a sure vote for politicians who can now afford to take them for granted. Wall Street is doing well (check the Dow). Government unions, environmental groups and other interest groups of the left are prospering.
But the poor are as powerless as ever, apparently not realizing that their friends in high places aren’t lifting them out of poverty. Instead, they are maintaining and perpetuating it. Large numbers of dependent Americans keep the wheels of big government moving.
• East Valley resident Tom Patterson is a retired physician and former state senator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.