Over 50 million people – representing over 20% of the U.S. population – receive some kind of means-tested assistance and/or subsidy every year. This is an alarming statistic, and it has been remarkably consistent since 2009. And it means that one in five Americans are missing out on the opportunity to live a fully self-sufficient life. That’s not healthy.
The last time Congress took a long and hard look at our assistance programs was in the mid-1990s, when President Clinton initiated welfare reform. The resulting modifications centered mainly around work requirements. What has never really happened since the inception of “the war on poverty,” and the attendant social programs, is a comprehensive review of the efficacy of these programs. We have certainly not eliminated poverty, and in neighborhoods and areas that are highly dependent on public assistance, crimes rates are dramatically higher.
I am not suggesting that there are easy answers. But the war on poverty, fought almost exclusively with dollars and public benefits, has been a complete failure. Somewhere we crossed the line from funding a social safety net to creating and sustaining complete dependency on public assistance. Sadly, that dependency has for many people gone on for multiple generations and become a way of life. And while I understand it is no longer fashionable to point out the problems associated with fatherless households (the same households rendered do-able by generous social services programs), the facts have not changed in decades. These households raise an inordinate number of troubled or criminal youngsters. This is a human tragedy.
We must explore our public entitlement programs and re-think our related strategies. I am anxious to work on this in Congress.