When I was a youngster, my parents decided what I was allowed to eat, what size drink I was allowed to purchase, and most other things in my life. Once my dad ran off and left us, my mother—now a single mother—made those decisions by herself, and she did it without any help from the federal government. Now these decisions and most other decisions in life have been taken over by the federal government, especially in families run by single mothers.
Since Lyndon Johnson started the so-called war on poverty, the federal government has intruded on the American family in ways that have done much to ensure that single-mothers stay single and poor. In fact, if you are a single-mother the federal government is your worst enemy. Nothing will ensure that you stay a single-mother and poor more effectively than those big-hearted bureaucrats from the federal government who claim they just want to help you.
What is ironic about paternalistic government social programs is that the very people the government claims to be helping are actually being hurt. When Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in the 1960s, those targeted for help were poor families; primarily single-parent families. Johnson’s war on poverty was going to help poor women who were trying to raise children without the help of a husband pull themselves up out of poverty. Unfortunately but predictably, the opposite is what has happened. Government poverty programs have not only locked single mothers into a life of poverty, but they have established a cycle of poverty that is often passed unbroken from generation to generation.
Most of the descendants of the original recipients of Johnson’s war-on-poverty entitlements are still living in poverty all these years later. Why? Because government assistance is the only life they know or have ever known. Just as the children of college graduates grow up and go to college because that is the life they know, the children of welfare recipients grow up and become welfare recipients because that is the life they know. Children of welfare mothers know no other way of life because their single mothers know no other way of life to show them.
Writing for TOWNHALL (November 2014), Star Parker made the following observations about how the government has helped poor families: “Massive increases of government in the lives of low-income black families were accompanied by a tripling of single parent households and out-of-wedlock births, laying the groundwork for intergenerational poverty. Now it’s happening in the whole country. As we’ve gotten more government telling Americans how to save for retirement, how to deal with their healthcare, how to educate their children—American families have been damaged and out-of-wedlock births have increased six-fold from 1960 to 42 percent today. Government has displaced the family.”
Since the federal government has intentionally replaced fathers in so many poor families, one might legitimately ask: How is that working out? The answer to this question can be given in just one word: badly. A hard truth that liberals cannot seem to grasp—or more likely don’t want to admit—is that as a society we have never learned how to provide a helping hand to the poor without it becoming a crutch. Don’t get me wrong. I am not against people giving each other a helping hand. I know all about the degradation, hunger, and abasement of poverty. I lived it. But a helping hand from friends, neighbors, and churches is not as likely to become a permanent trans-generational crutch as is the assistance of a faceless, nameless government agency you never see in person.
When my father decided supporting a family of three boys and a wife was too much responsibility for him to endure, he left. When he left, my family went from living a comfortable middle-class existence to living in poverty almost overnight. My mother had little formal education and no work skills. She fit perfectly the profile of mothers who are living on welfare today, except that this was before Lyndon Johnson arrived on the scene and decided to use the federal treasury to make his dubious war on poverty, a war that has failed miserably.
We could have used some food stamps and other government handouts in those days, but in retrospect I am glad we never got them. Had my mother become a welfare mother, I might have learned a bad lesson at a young and impressionable age: rely on the government to take care of you. But because my mother was not a welfare mother, I learned a different and better lesson. I learned that I had to take responsibility for my own life and for making what I could of it. I learned that making excuses and looking for pity from others got you nowhere. I also learned that I deserved nothing in life except what I earned. These lessons, coupled with a powerful desire to break free from the debilitating darkness of poverty, developed in me a work ethic and an attitude toward personal responsibility that have served me well in life.
Government entitlement programs have robbed poor people of the necessary ambition to do what is necessary to get out of poverty. Government entitlements give the poor too little to get them out of poverty, but just enough to keep them from taking a risk on becoming independent. This situation, in turn, kills any thoughts of giving up government handouts and trying to build a life of independence. Government handouts leave single mothers in particular in a kind of lose-lose limbo. Single mothers who marry and re-establish a complete family risk losing their government benefits—particularly Medicaid, subsidized housing, and food stamps.
In other words, the government provides tangible disincentives to marriage and family, in spite of the fact that children from intact families do better on every known economic measure. Consequently rather than form a family where their children will have the benefit of a mother and father, welfare mothers often choose the easy option: living out of wedlock with a man; often a man whose income if any comes from illegal endeavors and is often squandered on alcohol and drugs. Consequently, not only do government poverty programs discourage marriage and intact families, they encourage drugs and other criminal activities. The best thing poor people in America can do if they see a government bureaucrat coming with a handout is run the other way. Once he sets the hook, they will never get away from him.
There is little argument among thinking people that what is holding black Americans back is the disintegration of the black family. What makes this situation especially hard to take is that the federal government is the culprit behind the break-up of the black family in America. The epidemic of crime, violence, and drug use in poor neighborhoods can be traced directly to the federal government’s programs that collectively make up the so-called war on poverty begun by Lyndon Johnson. If elected officials and federal bureaucrats really wanted to help poor people—especially single mothers—they would do better to focus on job creation, lower taxation, and an emphasis on personal responsibility. But, then, that is a harder message to sell than their current message of victimhood: “You poor thing. Forget about all of those bad choices you have made in life; they aren’t your fault. Come to papa. The federal government will take care of you.”