In 1964, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty. Fifty years on, it's obvious that if we actually had such a war, then poverty won. From that day to this, the poverty rate has dropped not one iota.
Reality is even worse than that: it's been calculated that social mobility in America is lower than in what we usually consider to be class-stratified European countries. While there are individuals who travel the storied path from rags to riches, they are increasingly rare statistical outliers: a majority of Americans born into the lowest class die there.
While poverty is found in rural areas, in sheer numbers, the vast majority of America's poor are found in inner cities which, since the days of Lyndon Johnson, have been run almost exclusively by Democrats. It's no coincidence that many of the most harmful policies that kneecap and cripple the poor are strongly promoted by the Democrats who have power over them as we see violently illustrated in Baltimore.
In the first article in this series, we explained how welfare itself - supposedly a way of helping the underprivileged - actually traps them in dependent poverty and prevents them from ever becoming anything more. As harmful as it is, though, welfare is not the most damaging aspect of the Democrat War on the Poor.
It's all but unanimously believed that success in our modern world requires a high level of education. While many famously successful people like Bill Gates and Michael Dell never graduated college, they don't count as uneducated much less illiterate because their high-end high school educations were probably more thorough than many college degrees of today.
Yet as vital as a solid educational foundation is, the American education system is notoriously unreliable at providing it consistently. The Associated Press states that 12% of American schools are "dropout mills." "Failure factories" are defined as schools where less than 60% of incoming freshmen eventually graduate. Mr. Obama stated that educational opportunities are nonexistent in the burning Baltimore neighborhoods.
Why is this? Democrats have been running Baltimore since 1967. If their concerns for successful education are real, why haven't they fixed their schools?
The answer is that Democrats would rather let teachers' unions bribe them with campaign contributions than force teachers to actually impart knowledge. The unions routinely complain that we don't spend enough money on schools, but as the Times noted, Baltimore spends far more per pupil than most school districts.
It apparently doesn't matter how worthless the "education" is and how horrendous the consequences, Democrats don't want to antagonize their union supporters no matter what. Early in his first term, Mr. Obama's education department suppressed a study that showed that black kids who were given vouchers to go to private schools did better than public school kids at less cost. Having tried to hide the report, Mr. Obama then killed the program.
The success of the kids who were involved in the voucher program suggested that more money was not the answer because the private schools charged less than the public schools cost. We got proof of this when the New York City teacher's union got extra money and opened their very own charter school. It failed utterly, showing that the problem is the union's educational methodology, not spending.
While not all charter schools have succeeded, there have been enough successes that the Democrats who run our inner cities could find out how to improve education if they actually wanted to. Alas, that would require annoying their union supporters. What's worse, having black kids be better able to support themselves would reduce the welfare vote.
There's very little chance of Democrats taking effective action on education except for the odd foundation-supported charter school here and here. As long as our cities continue to vote for Democrats, things will get worse.
The original purpose of the minimum wage was to keep minority workers from undercutting white workers' wages. The Boston Herald wrote:
The first minimum-wage laws were advocated by progressive economists on the assumption that if you forced employers to pay a "white man's wage," they'd only hire white men.
As the sociologist E.A. Ross put it in-the context of Chinese immigrant workers, in the early 1900s, "the Coolie cannot outdo the American, but he can underlive him." Chinese coolies were not necessarily harder or better workers than Americans, but they were willing to live far more cheaply than Americans and thus were willing to work for vastly lower wages.
The Davis-Bacon Act, still cherished by Democrats and their labor union patrons, was passed in 1931 to prevent blacks and immigrants from competing with all-white unions for federal contracts during the Depression. And Jim Crow laws certainly locked millions of blacks out of the middle class.
Today's Democrats continue this sordid tradition. Hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour would make it much harder for an unskilled workers to get that crucial first job. Being able to offer starting jobs to unskilled workers is the entire point of the minimum wage. Anybody who has worked for more than a couple of years and is still making only minimum wage has nobody but themselves to blame. There are always opportunities for self-improvement over time, if only by switching to a different fast food joint that pays a bit more for experience.
This issue has nothing to do with race; lots of white kids are trashed by failing schools. My daughter one drove a white high-school graduate around her almost entirely white town to help her apply for jobs. At Wal-Mart, while filling out the application, she asked, "What province are we in?", not realizing that Wal-Mart uses the same job application form in both the United States and Canada. How could she have graduated from high school without knowing that she lived in a state, not a province?
She assuredly wasn't worth $7 per hour, the minimum wage at the time. She finally found a very part-time job whereby she gets a few hours per week at a burger joint; they call her when they're desperate. The only real career open to her is raising government-subsidized babies.
No business can get $7 worth of work out of her per hour because she's been so badly miseducated. Would she be worth $1 per hour, or maybe $2? Would having a job, any job at all, give her a start up the economic ladder? We'll never know.
Liberals won't even admit that making workers more expensive destroys jobs. The New York Times reports that some workers understand this and don't want their wages raised. There are many small theaters in Los Angeles which don't pay actors much. The actors' union wants to raise wages, but the actors know that many theaters would close, making it impossible for them to practice their craft and learn the business.
So, the actors keep telling the union not to take away their opportunities by demanding more money that will never be actually paid. If actors understand this, why can't liberals in general - especially considering that nearly all actors are liberals?
Liberals support raising the minimum wage even though black teenage unemployment is close to 50%. Whenever anyone suggests a sub-minimum wage for teens to help them get that first job, they're shouted down.
As with the Davis-Bacon Act, the goal appears to be to keep blacks and other poor people permanently unemployed or underemployed, not so much to protect white workers as to fill the welfare rolls and keep the black and welfare vote. This may not be specifically racist, but it's racist in effect as Baltimore demonstrates. Deliberately making it impossible for young people to get their first jobs is evil regardless of race.
Illegal immigrants are famous for working for lower than minimum wage. Like the Chinese coolies of a century ago, they are willing to live in conditions Americans would flatly reject and thus can survive on far less money.
This unfair and illegal competition makes it even harder for ill-educated blacks to get jobs. In fact, if you think about the type of jobs frequently performed today by illegal immigrants - lawn care, light construction, picking lettuce, entry-level food service, filthy assembly-line jobs in slaughterhouses - these are exactly the sort of jobs that 100 years ago were commonly performed by American blacks. Most illegal immigrants don't mean anybody any harm, but by their very presence in the workforce, they are stripping all hope of gainful employment from American citizens who have been so ill served by Democrat miseducation.
Mr. Obama wants to legalize the illegals because he knows that, being poor and uneducated themselves, they'll vote for more welfare if they get the right to vote. This makes sense for Mr. Obama and other Democrat elites just as boosting the welfare vote has worked so well for them for so long, but one of the great mysteries of our time is why 98% of blacks continue to vote for Democrats who're inviting ill-educated hordes into the US to compete for their jobs.
One hundred years ago, Baltimore was one of the richest cities in America and offered many thousands of low-skilled jobs to blacks as well as whites. The city is full of abandoned factories that, once upon a time, provided reliable working-class wages to many black Americans. That's all gone, with only the empty shells remaining. As wages have gone up and Democrat-supported government regulations and taxes made operating in cities more expensive, jobs have either been automated, moved offshore, or relocated to places closer to the Mexican border.
It's easy to blame the current disasters in our inner cities entirely on the Democrats who run them, and for the most part this is factual. We would be remiss, however, in not pointing out the one aspect of the War on the Poor which has been driven largely by Republicans, and that's the War on Drugs.
On the face of it, it seems reasonable for the government to outlaw the selling and use of harmful substances, though the foundational thinkers of conservatism such as John Stuart Mill would strongly disagree. Any objective observer, however, can clearly see that the cost of the War on Drugs far exceeds any possible benefits.
Our police are now heavily militarized; Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure are a dead letter; and, while the vast majority of police truly do want to protect their communities, the bad apples can operate with near-complete impunity. If an unseen witness hadn't filmed Officer Michael Slager planting a taser on the body of the unarmed man he'd just shot, he would quite literally have gotten away with murder.
This is mostly the fault of the War on Drugs. American cops have never been generally unarmed like British bobbies, but only recently have they regularly toted anything heftier than a pistol. Today, we have police with military equipment, from flak jackets to assault weapons to grenade launchers to tanks, complete with the aggressive attitudes that go with having such amazing weapons. What's next, attack helicopters?
There is unfortunately a semi-valid argument for this arms race: when going up against the drug cartels, police of the 1980s were often outgunned. The drug lords had so many millions of dollars floating around that they could easily acquire whatever heavy weapons they pleased, even without the help of Mr. Obama's Justice Department.
Nobody likes to see dead cops and no mayor or city council wants to see bad guys blowing away an outmatched thin blue line. The escalation in weaponry was as foreseeable as it was apparently reasonable.
Unfortunately, we've discovered that if weapons are owned, they'll be used, and not just against paramilitary thugs. Hardly a week goes by when we don't hear a report of innocent ordinary Americans being steamrollered by a military platoon of cops carrying out a no-knock raid; this never used to happen, not even during the Prohibition era or the spy scares of World War II.
Today, the left decries the fact that one in three black males will spend time in prison, with many of these convictions being drug related. It's easy to forget that prominent blacks, including the Congressional Black Caucus, fought hard for harsh drug sentencing because of the devastation that drugs were wreaking on black communities. In June 1970, Ebony magazine published an article titled “Blacks Declare War on Dope”:
Most community groups agree that the first offensive must be against black pushers and distributors who, as one father of a 19-year-old addict says, "come brazenly into our neighborhoods and murder and cripple our children with that junk."
Forty years on, it's clear that with the best of intentions, the war on drugs has failed utterly. Drugs destroy lives, yes, but the war on drugs has destroyed far more lives, as well as wrecking our civil society.
It's time to end the madness while recognizing that there will be a certain number of hopeless addicts who kill themselves with overdoses regardless of what we do. As sad as that is, it's better than locking up thousands upon thousands of people for simply buying or selling an item by their own free choice.
For once, the drug war provides a bipartisan opportunity. Liberty-loving Republicans ought to be able to make common cause with the weedy far left and Congressional Black Caucus to get rid of this failed experiment, or at least enormously reduce the penalties. Who knows, perhaps even the rest of the Democratic Party will see the light on this one?
So far, we've examined how welfare, the minimum wage, an incompetent education system, illegal immigration, and the war on drugs have conspired, primarily at the behest of the Democrats, to keep poor Americans captive, particularly black ones. There's one more major front in the War on the Poor which we'll examine in the last article in this series: Affirmative Action.
Over the past five years, the editors have been secretly working on a book that summarizes the fundamental viewpoints of Scragged.