August 11, 1971.The last skirmish in Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty has ended in defeat, and nobody has any suggestions for new forays.For the first time in many a moon, both liberals and conservatives are stymied for solutions to what many have come to regard as the number-one problem of our age."Every man according to need" has a noble ring, but three decades of heavy spending has failed to change our poverty patterns one iota."You can't bribe poverty to go away, you have to work it to death" sounds so very logical, but make-work projects have failed miserably.
About all we have discovered so far is the astronomical scope of the problem.Latest trigger of pessimism is the radical cut-back of the Work Incentive budget by Congress. Only lack of a better idea saved it from the ax.Work Incentive - WIN in federalese - was one of the few Johnson programs that had full support of all shades of political opinion. It was started in 1967 to provide educational and job training opportunities for those on welfare.
Expectations of success were high.Now, four years and many millions of dollars later, the program has proven useless. In Cleveland, for example, 2,094 welfare recipients enrolled for training. Slightly more than 500 dropped out. Only 420 - or 20 percent of the total - completed their classes and got jobs, but half of these are back on welfare.In short, it cost the taxpayers approximately $12,000 each for those ten percent rehabilitated into steady jobs.
At this rate of expenditure there isn't enough gold in Fort Knox to solve the poverty problem.The really sad thing is the 1,450 persons who completed the training, got their hopes up, and were unable to find employment.Chicago officials in 1968 placed 11 of the city's "toughest" poverty families in a single apartment building to see what intensive casework and material aid would accomplish.
Involved were 11 families totaling 13 adults and 79 children.Fifty social workers from 12 agencies provided food, clothing, money, medical care, and training for a full year. One welfare worker lived in the building to provide around-the-clock counseling.At the end of the year, caseworkers found a majority of the 11 families had improved in some respects.
Apartments were clean more often, children were better-dressed and school attendance was improved.In the major problem areas, however, no change was visible!.No new persons had found employment.
Heavy drinking - particularly on the days welfare checks were received - was still prevalent. Six boys were caught in a burglary. Mothers still failed to keep medical appointments for themselves or their children. The resident welfare worker was frequently threatened with violence.
Said one caseworker in despair, "We figure it would take at least $300,000 a year to adequately care for just these 11 families. And there are about 4,000 hard-care welfare families just like them here in Chicago alone. Who knows how many there are in the whole country?".The dismaying conclusion to this experiment was that motivation to better their situation just does not exist among many poor people and cannot be instilled by material aid or effort by social workers.What can we possibly do, therefore, for the 14 million people now on relief at a cost of 18 billion tax dollars per year?.In the period between the Civil War and World War I there were a large number of low-paying, unskilled jobs that provided the first step upward for poor and illiterate immigrants.
Today, automation, restrictive labor union rules and a constantly increasing minimum wage floor has frozen out the poorly trained, culturally disadvantaged persons. And this group gets larger, proportionately, every year!.Some relaxation of the unrealistic objectives of federal labor laws may be in order. It should be made easier to hire high-school-age youth for part time jobs, to put poorly educated and poorly motivated adults in non-critical work such as domestic help, janitors, and ditch-diggers.Perhaps the time has come for the federal government to become the "employer of last resort" guaranteeing a job - not a handout - to anyone who wants one.
The WPA and CCC camps of Great Depression days were really worthwhile.It seems that we must get to the children, somehow, if we are to break apart a "welfare culture." Separation of children from their inadequate families is unthinkable, so more reliance on day-care centers may be worth intensive trial. The bussing of school children to integrated areas attempts to break into their self-defeating pattern, but results so far are inconclusive.
Finally, after honest and extensive effort, we must accept the reality that "tough" poverty is relative. Some of it will be with us always. It is unrealistic to attempt to end all poverty.Sincere people must provide abundant opportunity to rise above class, and give generously to charity. Beyond this we can do little more.To reach even this limited objective, new ideas must be generated and a new willingness to try again must be sparked.
For those who care the time has come to discard old ways and re-think the problem.
.Lindsey Williams is a Sun columnist who can be contacted at:.LinWms@earthlink.
org with several hundred of Lin's Editorial & At Large articles written over 40 years.Also featured in its entirety is Lin's groundbreaking book "Boldly Onward," that critically analyzes and develops theories about the original Spanish explorers of America. (fully indexed/searchable).Article Source: http://EzineArticles.
By: Lindsey Williams