I listened to the second part of Busted: America’s Poverty Myths from NPR and WNYC. This episode is titled Who Deserves to be Poor. It is 40 minutes. The website has a complete transcript. Here are the major points.
It is a myth the poor are lazy. Most of them work really hard – or at least want to. They want to be responsible citizens. They want to take care of themselves and their families. They’ll earn money any way they can, even doing such things as selling their plasma, though that tires them out.
This episode goes through the history of welfare. The idea started after the Civil War to take care of all the widows and fatherless children. That ran out of money when the country as a whole did during the Great Depression.
As various programs, many with roots in the efforts of Franklin Roosevelt, were developed the caseworkers were given broad discretion about who qualified – and who didn’t. And that became a question of who *deserved* to be helped. Caseworkers mostly determined that black people and never-married mothers didn’t deserve help.
Keep in mind something I’ve mentioned in this blog about the way rich people think. They have money because they deserve to have money. The poor don’t have money because they don’t deserve it.
After Lyndon Johnson’s War of Poverty got established there developed the narrative that welfare saps initiative, that recipients are on it their whole lives. As women entered the workforce, women who were given welfare to stay home with their kids were scorned.
Bill Clinton had a pretty decent plan to reform welfare. Want to get people, especially the working poor, off welfare? Then offer them support to move up. But the GOP, which took over Congress in 1994, killed all the good features. And welfare as we know it died.
That leaves us with the modern reality. The poor are stuck in poverty because they don’t get enough support to get out of poverty. It is this support the GOP killed. The support needs to include living wages, affordable child care, health care insurance, meaningful chances of education, support when family members are ill, and support when a person experiences personal catastrophe (which can be as simple as an unbudgeted car repair). In this case meaningful education is more than a six month class in a trade. It needs to be support to earn a four-year degree.
In this episode we meet Carla. Though she is certified to work in a couple jobs she is currently unemployed and struggling. The reason is her daughter was born premature and is struggling to live. Carla needs to be able to dash to the hospital when called. Her boyfriend fled when he learned the extent of the baby’s problems. There isn’t enough support to help Carla through this crisis.
Speaking of the poor not getting support… Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) has introduced a bill calling for the termination of the Department of Education. The reason given: “Unelected bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. should not be in charge of our children's intellectual and moral development.” Don’t act surprised. Betsy DeVos had only two qualifications for Secretary of Education – her willingness to destroy public education in America and her willingness to destroy the Department of Education.
The astute reader understands what this means, though I’ll spell it out anyway. Every state with a GOP controlled legislature and GOP governor (if I remember right, there are 35 such states, including Michigan) are looking for ways to make sure certain groups of *undeserving* students don’t get an adequate education. Right now, the only thing standing in their way (though not doing all that great a job) is the Department of Education and the rules it enforces.