On The Realities of Being Poor

I’ve been reading lately:

  • The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, 19 March 2014 – “Do Federal Social Programs Work?”, by David B. Mulhausen, PhD
  • The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, 15 September 2015 – “Poverty and the Social Welfare State in the United States and Other Nations,” by Robert Rector
  • Center for American Progress – “The Facts About Americans Who Receive Public Benefits,” by Joy Moses, December 2011.
  • UC Davis Poverty Research Center -“How To Reduce Poverty in the United States”

Poverty, as we all know, is a deep seated problem with no easy answers. The four articles noted above contradict each other on several issues, so it is not surprising that solving the problem is so difficult.

The March 2014 Backgrounder, for example states, “The American Public should have nothing to fear from the elimination of ineffective programs. Now is the time for deep budget cuts in federal social programs.” Some of the programs it suggests terminating include Head Start, which after detailed evaluation found that the program failed to improve the lives of the children, any more than the children who did not attend.  I’d have to agree, the Head Start program may have outlived its usefulness now that nearly all children attend a pre-school for at least a year before starting kindergarten. So, how much is actually spent on Head Start? According to one source: $7 billion.

Other programs the March 2014 article suggests are ineffective are:

  • Food Stamps (SNAP), which “failed to affect earnings and employment outcomes.” Sorry, what? This makes no sense. Were food stamps meant to increase the recipients earnings or employment? Yeah, I didn’t think so. It is a program to ensure better health through nutrition. So I deny that this is a failed or ineffective program based on the faulty testing criteria.
  • Moving to Opportunity (Section 8 housing) was also found to have failed “to produce statistically meaningful results” for the recipients.  This article does not explain the criteria used, but you can go here for more info. I suggest that part of the failure of this program is due to lack of participation of landlords. Applications for the program have actually been suspended for the past 10+ years (at least in Los Angeles), due to the long waiting list and short list of landlords, as well as the limited range; housing is not even offered in most of the surrounding cities. There must be some incentive provided to landlords to participate in the program, and currently there does not appear to be any.
  • The Job Corps program studies show that participants worked fewer hours and received less pay than the control group. I posit this is due to the dearth of opportunities in areas served; i.e., learn all the skills you want, if there is only a job at McDonalds, you will not make more money.  The program isn’t failing, we are. Yes, the program is ineffective, because it doesn’t solve the problem of job availability. Again, we need to provide incentive for businesses to locate in poor communities. Not an easy fix, so I guess it’s easier to just say it doesn’t work and trash it, than say it doesn’t work because it is flawed but could be improved.

The September 2015 Backgrounder discusses the living standards of those people considered poor. The US census (from which most financial data is taken) does not provide an indicator of those who may be using federal aid.  I should think that might skew the numbers, no? One of the criteria for determining poverty (other than income) include whether or not they have air conditioning. Most modern buildings have central heating and cooling.  While I might use my power for heating, I’m less likely to use the A/C because of the cost. So, just because A/C is available to me doesn’t mean I use it. And who says A/C is a luxury? Sure in 1945 it was, but today?

Nearly 75% of those defined as poor have at least one car. Again, who decided that a car was still considered a luxury item. The survey asks “do you have a vehicle.” It does not ask for the age or condition of it.  Two-thirds of the poor have a computer with internet access. Again, not really a luxury item either, now that so much of our lives need that access, especially when it comes to education. They have cable/satellite playing on a wide screen modern TV.  TV is again, not a luxury item. What the survey does not ask is “did you buy the TV or gaming system?” It might be a gift from a friend or relative. All I’m saying is that statistics don’t tell much of the story. Data can be skewed. Information omitted.bad wires

In the end, I know not all our systems work, and some should be dismantled, but others could be streamlined and improved. With each change we make to a system, it is only a patch. Now imagine that as an electrical system? Patch upon patch, always adding a new wire. I’d say it’s a reasonable assumption that this is why our government has become too large, too cumbersome, and too expensive.

And we never really fix the problem because of partisanship. Neither side will let the other side get exactly what they want. When did Party become more important than the People? (Much more on that later.)