Is Welfare the Answer?

Bill Clinton enacted major welfare reform, but was it enough?

Absolute poverty defines the lack of basic necessities to survive such as clean water, nutrition, health care, clothing, and shelter. Relative poverty defines those making less than the average individual. In the United States, poverty is measured at the relative level.

What does relative poverty really mean then? If the average household income in the United States were $60,000, a household making $30,000 would be in relative poverty. Does this measurement overstate poverty? In short, yes.

According to American Sociological Review, “the United States has some of the highest relative poverty rates among industrialized countries.” So how can poverty be so prevalent if we are such a rich country? It’s because we are so rich. In the United States we don’t have income equality therefore an increase in income, for someone living above the household median income, would increase the relative poverty rate, and therefore increase the amount living in poverty. Despite some families’ abilities to afford basic necessities, “the rich got richer” therefore “the poor get poorer.” Although they could be earning the same income as last year, they are essentially poorer in terms of relative poverty. Unless you’re anti-capitalist, relative poverty shouldn’t be an issue.

Now even though there is clearly an overstatement in the measurement of those in “poverty,” there are some individuals living in absolute poverty. These are the people who really need our help. There are two ways to assist those in need: publicly and privately. Privately includes different churches or organizations that sponsor food or clothing drives or the people, by their free will, deciding to give to less fortunate people whether through volunteering time or donating personal goods. There is also publicly which involves the government taxing more to pay for the less fortunate through entitlement programs. No political group opposes private charity.  The argument is about whether or not the government should be involved and to what degree.

The United States, according to The Economist, has one of the top 20 standards of living in the world.” Is there really that many people living in absolute poverty? If so, then the will of the American people can more than account for their well-being without the government getting involved. As for the low wage earners in America, so many are becoming dependent on government entitlement programs. They have lost their incentive to leave that state because the incentive to stay is greater than the incentive to be independent.

We have one of the highest standards of living in the world yet we have one of the highest relative poverty rates in the world. Essentially, we have a large income gap and the people living at the bottom have a high standard of living compared to other countries. Swedish think tank Timbro points out that, “lower-income households in the U.S. tend to own more appliances and larger houses than many middle-income Western Europeans.” So should the government really be funding such expensive programs, especially when it has a large budget deficit? According to the Heritage Foundation, since the “War on Poverty” started the United States has spent $15.9 trillion on welfare; the cost of all the wars in United States history totals $6.4 trillion. (Both of these figures were adjusted for inflation in 2008 dollars.) All this funding and there is no significant results.

When Lyndon Johnson came to office in 1964 he declared a “War on Poverty.” This implemented such programs as Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and work study. How efficient have they been? These programs have helped people, but have they ended poverty? In 1964, the U.S. Census Bureau said the amount of people in poverty (relative) was around 35 million. In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau said the amount of people in poverty (relative) was around 43.6 million. So today after these “anti-poverty” programs were implemented for more than 40 years there is more poverty. This isn’t just because of population increase. The poverty rate has remained constant since 1964. If $15.9 trillion can’t bring one of the highest standards of living country’s poor out of poverty then our government is inefficient.

Private charities are proven to be more effective in directing the money they receive to people in need. The government is wildly inefficient simply because it has such a massive bureaucracy, which drains much of the money that is supposed to go to the people in need. Private charities also have the advantage of catering directly to an individuals needs. Many welfare programs give money with no regard to what it’s being spent on.  Welfare money can easily be spent on luxury items, alcohol, and even illegal substances. Private charities mostly deal in donating goods or services instead of money, so Americans can be assured that their money is being used the right way.

If welfare were scaled back it would require citizens living in comfort to spend more time volunteering or make more donations. It would mean that each and every one of us would need to sacrifice more for the less fortunate. The results, however, would be extraordinary. The government would be able to slash its budget shortfall, and citizens will directly help other citizens. I find it hard to believe that we wouldn’t be able to step up and care for impoverished people. I don’t think we are that selfish. When Hurricane Katrina hit we as a nation did what we could to help the victims. Even outside events like the earthquake in Haiti produced many private donations. Many of us participate in Relay for Life which helps to fund cancer research. As a nation we take care of those in need. Many of us are passionate about it. If people needed more of our help, we would be rise to the challenge.


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