During the recent Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore, the New York Times reported that Mr. Obama understands the problem behind riots, but noted that he wouldn't take any responsibility for his party's part in creating it:
The president also said the problem went far beyond the police, who he said are too often deployed to "do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise" in broken urban communities where fathers are absent, drugs dominate and education, jobs, and opportunities are nonexistent.
Mr. Obama is correct about job opportunities being nonexistent. The Washington Post wrote:
Today, the national poverty rate is 14.5 percent, which is virtually unchanged from 1966, when most of Johnson’s Great Society programs first took effect. In Baltimore, the poverty rate is even worse, with 24 percent of all residents and 35 percent of children living below the poverty line. The unemployment rate for black men in Baltimore between the ages of 20-24 is 37 percent. To put that in perspective, the unemployment rate during the Great Depression was just 22.9 percent. You know you have failed when reaching the employment levels of the Great Depression would be progress.
The problem is not lack of attention; our entire nation has been talking incessantly about the problem of poverty for longer than most of us have been alive.
The problem isn't lack of money. The Times reminded us just how much money has been spent fighting poverty - since 1980, federal antipoverty spending has exploded. As Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post has pointed out, in 2013 the federal government spent nearly $14,000 per poor person. If you simply took that money and handed it to the poor, a family of four would have a household income roughly twice the poverty rate.
$14,000 per poor person is just federal spending. States, cities, and local governments also spend money fighting poverty. The total is even higher than twice the poverty rate, depending on exactly where a poor person lives. In Hawaii, it's been calculated that welfare recipients enjoy a lifestyle that a working person would have to earn over $60,000 to enjoy.
As the Post observed, all this spending has done no good whatsoever - over the last 30 years the poverty rate has scarcely changed. If we really did go to war on poverty, we'd have to admit that poverty won.
That obvious fact doesn't stop Americans from arguing in favor of transparently false myths. In spite of all the complaining about lack of education making it impossible to get jobs, the problem isn't lack of spending on education. In spite of the teachers' unions' lament that all they need is more money, Baltimore spends an enormous amount of money on education, well above the national average.
As Peter Wehner pointed out in Commentary, in 2011 Baltimore ranked second among the nation's largest 100 school districts in how much it spent per pupil, at $15,483 per year. If you assume 25 kids per class, that's nearly $390,000 per classroom. Assuming that the teacher costs $100,000, which is certainly an adequate middle-class income by any measure, where does the rest of the money go? Bureaucratic overhead? It's not just Baltimore, American public spending on schools overall is high by global standards.
The problem isn't even a lack of investment in deprived areas, as you might suppose from a cursory drive through them - in broad daylight and at flank speed for safety if you're wise. A great deal of money has been spent on the Sandtown-Winchester area of Baltimore, where Freddie Gray lived. Developer James Rouse and Habitat for Humanity raised more than $130 million for new homes, new school curricula, new job training programs and new health care centers. Townhouses were built for $87,000 and sold to residents for $37,000.
Despite all this spending, there are no jobs, no restaurants, no grocery stores, crime is common, and unemployment is high. Gray was four grade levels behind in reading and was arrested more than a dozen times.
Why are conditions so bad in Baltimore and in so many of our other cities? There has been no shortage of money and no shortage of work by many well-intentioned people.
It's easy to start projects that make liberals feel good, but very hard to do actual good. Regardless of the intentions of the people who vote for these programs, what happened in Baltimore is the result of what has become a liberal war against the poor which has been going on in all our larger cities. Baltimore has been ruled by Democrats since 1967 and has become yet another Democrat disaster city.
Let's be specific: the Baltimore disaster was brought about by five failed liberal programs - and, in part, one conservative one. We'll look at each of them in turn: Welfare itself; dropout mills; the minimum wage; illegal immigration; the War on Drugs; and affirmative action.
When people discuss "welfare," they primarily mean the Federal program of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Although the law uses the word "families," in practice, AFDC means paying unmarried women to have babies.
This has nothing to do with race; it's a badly misdirected social policy that wreaks permanent havoc without regard to race, creed, color, or even national origin. It's failed everywhere it's been tried, including overseas: The Guardian described the "family" of Shannon Matthews, a white West Yorkshire schoolgirl who disappeared for 24 days:
Recently, one young, female member has even been jailed for life for the murder of a pensioner. Meehan's sister, Amanda Hyett, was arrested and bailed on suspicion of assisting an offender. Another sister, Caroline Meehan, 29, and mother, Alice Drake, 49, were also arrested and questioned on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice. Karen Matthews [Shannon's mother] is a striking figurehead for this generation. She has never been in regular work yet receives £400 a week benefits, having had seven children by five different men. [emphasis added]
Liberal welfare programs pay women to have fatherless children; the more fatherless children they have, the more money they get. Many studies have shown that fatherless kids, particularly young men, are far more likely to get in trouble or end up poor than men who grow up having fathers at home. Fatherless girls are far more likely to have fatherless children of their own, and at an early age.
Instead of promoting strong families, welfare destroys family structure which increases crime in welfare-based neighborhoods. In his article "Liberalism Versus Blacks," the great black economist Dr. Thomas Sowell wrote:
The black family survived centuries of slavery and generations of Jim Crow, but it has disintegrated in the wake of the liberals' expansion of the welfare state. Most black children grew up in homes with two parents during all that time but most grow up with only one parent today.
Mr. Obama recognizes this problem. Back in 2008, The International Herald Tribune quoted him:
Too many fathers are "missing from too many lives and too many homes," Obama said to a chorus of approving murmurs from the audience. "They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it."
Various groups recruit men to serve as surrogate fathers, but this doesn't work nearly as well as biology. Consider Aaron Hernandez, the football player who gained 1,500 yards for the New England Patriots during his rookie year. The Patriots wrote him a multi-million dollar contract with which he bought a mansion and fancy supercars. Shortly after moving into the mansion and assuming his new lifestyle of the Rich and Famous, he murdered an associate from the 'hood.
After his conviction for murder, the Boston Herald pointed out that Mr. Hernandez had issues growing up, but he really fell off the rails after his father died. He'd shown so much talent that his football teams did everything possible to keep him out of trouble. His college coach even shortened his own vacations by scheduling extra practices to minimize the time Mr. Hernandez spent in his boyhood neighborhood.
Despite all this effort and a jackpot fit for a king, the 'hood reached out and brought him down. There's no substitute for biological fathers.
To his credit, President Clinton signed a bipartisan law which made it harder to collect welfare back in the mid-90s. The Boston Globe admitted that many welfare recipients became far better off economically.
... it is clear that welfare reform has been a shining success. The Republican Congress that passed it and the Democratic president who signed it turned out to be truer champions of the poor than those who inveighed against it so hysterically. [emphasis added]
When a welfare mother was forced to go to work, it wasn't long before she earned more money than welfare paid. Her children were lifted out of poverty by welfare reform, not by welfare. Helping people avoid welfare may reduce the amount of money available to the welfare bureaucrats, but having people support themselves improves their sense of self-worth, increases their income, and benefits society as a whole.
Unfortunately, as even the Globe tacitly admitted, Democrats didn't like this because wage earners were far less likely to vote in favor or more taxes and more spending than welfare recipients. Mr. Obama gutted Mr. Clinton's welfare reforms as one of his first acts on taking office. Here we are, six years on, with a return to the misery and riots of the 1970s.
Welfare may be the most visible front of the War on the Poor, but it's far from the most corrosive. In the next article in this series, we'll examine a few more.
Over the past five years, the editors have been secretly working on a book that summarizes the fundamental viewpoints of Scragged.