Many an idealistic young adult has yearned to help those in poverty escape. And how is that task achieved?
Nearly half a century ago, I dropped out of graduate school and enlisted as a foot soldier in America’s War on Poverty. Today, I’m still on the front lines, working to move people out of dependency and into employment. But with an important difference: I’ve become fed up with the useless policies that I once supported, and I’m trying to change the strategy of our bogged-down army.
We know for certain that income transfers, the preferred tactic of generations of liberals, have utterly failed to end poverty. My firsthand experience with welfare clients has shown me why: being on the dole encourages dependency. Working at a real job, by contrast, is the surest way for a person to climb out of poverty. Accordingly, the surest way for the government to fight poverty is to eliminate cash assistance almost entirely and offer jobs instead.
Jobs can’t replace all welfare and poverty programs. There will always be some people who are emotionally or physically unable to work and who require government assistance. But even the so-called deserving dependents should be more carefully scrutinized. In the last ten years, the number of newly enrolled recipients of SSDI, a federal benefits program that provides aid to disabled people who can’t achieve gainful employment, has risen 44 percent. That suggests that many people are abusing the system.
Can we finally confront the problem of entrenched poverty and dependency and make the difficult choices necessary to fix it? The cynic in me sees little chance that the public would seriously consider my proposals. But my optimistic side, the one shaped by finding jobs for supposedly unemployable welfare recipients, holds out hope that the nation’s fiscal crisis will allow serious consideration of policies that were once unthinkable. Stranger things have happened in America.