Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wars on the Poor: Living The American Dream or an American Nightmare.

Early in his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. lamented the economic condition of Blacks as existing “on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” The 1963 March on Washington (originally termed a march for “Jobs and Freedom”), was about voting rights, racial equality and civil rights, and moreover, the marchers sought to procure financial equality and decent-paying jobs. But even as the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington passes into the pages of history, many African Americans still see the American Dream of wealth and prosperity as nothing more than an unattainable fantasy.

Over half a century later African-Americans don’t seem to have many more economic opportunities than they had then. According to Census data analyzed by the Pew Research Center, the black-white income gap widened, from about $19,360 in 1967 to over $27,000 today when adjusted for inflation. In terms of net worth for respective black and white families, the center’s findings can be described as nothing less than deplorable. Pew concluded that the median Black household held only seven percent of the wealth of its White counterpart in 2011. Other measures of financial prosperity have also declined in recent decades, including home-ownership figures and the relative rate of poverty. And that’s not to mention the fact that the unemployment rate among blacks is, and has been for the last sixty years, about double the rate among whites.

In the world’s wealthiest nation, the trend is unsettling to say the least. And even though the policy changes brought about by civil rights movement were enormous and far-reaching, since then, the national poverty level has only declined by a couple of percentage points. Today, the number of people living below the federal poverty guidelines is 15.1 percent and climbing, compared to 19 percent in 1964, when President Johnson declared the so-called “war on poverty”. Since then, the federal government has spent nearly $16 trillion dollars in an attempt to fight poverty, and we still have the highest poverty levels this country has seen in twenty years. By many measures, the War on Poverty failed miserably, which leads you to wonder if the campaign was designed for “success”?    

 It is important to consider the economic milieu under which the “War on Poverty” was implemented.  America as a whole was experiencing a strong period of economic recovery, and the total number of Americans living below the official poverty line decreased by almost 50 percent between 1950 and 1965. The black poverty rate had been cut nearly in half between 1940 and 1960, and Blacks with vocations were earning more than ever. The incomes of black skilled workers relative to whites had more than doubled between 1936 and 1959.  By most, if not all measurable standards, the U.S. economy was improving…until the War on Poverty began.

It is not a coincidence that national poverty levels, the number of homeless children in America and the  began to skyrocket precisely when federal spending on welfare programs dramatically increased. By 1974, government-provided benefits rose to an astounding rate of 20 times higher than they had been in 1965.

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We can see from the chart below that national poverty rates also began to increase in 1974 and have been on the rise ever since.



What is noteworthy about these trends is how government-mandated welfare policies that penalize marriage correlate to the disintegration of the American family structure, particularly in the black community. As welfare programs incentivized broken families by rewarding those who shunned marriage and avoided the formation of two-parent families, as a result, illegitimacy rates soared.



Homeless Children in America



It’s important to understand that the children of our nation eventually become the adults of our nation, and when it comes to childhood poverty, there is one factor that dramatically reduces the likelihood of a child growing up in poverty: marriage. The absence of married fathers in the home is, by far, the principle cause of homeless children in America and impoverished youth, nationwide.



 We need to reconsider the framework of social programs designed to eliminate poverty in order to see these programs produce any real and lasting effects. Most have heard this familiar Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I mention this adage not to imply that domestic welfare programs should be eliminated or scaled back, but rather to exclaim that they should be restructured. The current modus operandi of most government programs that claim to address the poverty issue are doing nothing more than exasperating the issue. Simply put, focusing solely on the immediate needs of the poor such as housing and food assistance does not empower and train the less fortunate to create wealth.

 Poverty is a condition of the mind, body and spirit—a kind of laborious immobility that is inextricably intertwined with every aspect of life. Giving someone food stamps or section 8 housing or Medicaid does not lift that individual out of poverty. President Johnson understood this all too well, and in his 1964 State of the Union Address he spoke on the issue thusly: “Very often, a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty but to cure it–and above all, to prevent it.”

Martin Luther King Jr. also understood this, and his would-be latest campaign reflected his latest position on poverty in America. The “Poor Peoples Campaign” intended for impoverished citizens from all backgrounds, ethnicities and circumstances to descend on Washington, D.C. with the sole purpose of replacing the power structure of nation. Of course, Doctor King was killed only weeks before the movement began.

From Imprisoned Nation:
Keith Tucker


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