Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Change Welfare System - but Don't Forget the Poor

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Change Welfare System - but Don't Forget the Poor

Article excerpt

In the annals of welfare, a sad tale of much gone wrong, John Lindsay's name keeps coming up. He was mayor of New York from 1966 to 1974; during his liberal administration the welfare rolls exploded. New York had 74,034 families on welfare when he took office and nearly 244,000 a decade later. This raises two questions: Where were all those poor people before 1965, and how come, now that you think about it, they weren't starving to death?

The answer is that no one is sure. Some experts believe that a changing economy put more and more people on the dole as New York began to lose its manufacturing base. Most experts, though, now think that the availability of all sorts of welfare programs changed the culture of the poor. If they did not have to work, they would not work. After all, they remained poor either way.

These figures, provided me by Douglas Besharov, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, make a powerful case for changing the nation's welfare system and validate what you might call the wisdom of the common man. For some time now, many if not most Americans have suspected the welfare system itself of generating a larger and larger caseload - providing little to no incentive for work and, in the process, underwriting the collapse of the family. This sentiment is precisely what has fueled the GOP welfare plan. All we want is to go back to the 1960s.

Well, choose your cliche. Do you think that what's past is prologue or that you can't go home again? When it comes to welfare reform, I think both are true. Looking at those figures for New York City, a question occurs: Was there mass starvation before that explosive growth of welfare? No, of course not - at least it wasn't reported in the newspapers. Does that mean we can go back to the 1960s without any consequences? Not likely. This generation of poor is accustomed to all sorts of welfare programs. It may not be able to cope without them.

But New York is just one place, as Besharov would be the first to point out. People did go hungry elsewhere, particularly in the South. The Wall Street Journal, which recently studied once-notorious Beaufort County, S. …

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