The Heritage Foundation Is Wrong, Once Again.


This column was written in 1995 in response to a letter condeming my stance on Welfare. The writer extensively quoted a book written by two men who are employed by the Heritage Foundation. His statements (and the authors' claimed facts) cried out for rebuttal but this column, at 4 pages, was too long for the space allotted to my column. ( I included an Access database file which showed the facts on which I based these rebuttals but haven't figured out how to put that up on the Web, yet.) In any event, I'm putting it here so that the column it took weeks to research and write can be read by those who care enough to look.


This column will be one of the very few in which I will use this space to answer an opposing column printed in the Advocate's last issue. Since I appreciate the fact that Mr. Thaxter not only obviously reads my column but took the time to write such a succinct and well written letter, I will do so this week. Mr. Plunkett's column in the last issue, however, was again simply a series of his opinions supported by other's opinions and ending with his usual flourish of sarcasm, which merits no rebuttal.

Nevertheless, Mr. Thaxter, I must, once again, take exception to the notion that any philosophy not currently in line with the actions of this Congress must automatically be labeled as "Liberal". Those who have truly read my column know that, while I agree with the focus of the current changes, I strongly disagree with the manner in which the programs are being destroyed rather than repaired. The need to label opposing viewpoints in order to discount them is a sad commentary on the state of debate in this country. That aside, allow me to quote the defining paragraph of Mr. Thaxter's letter.

"In 1964 the President's Economic Report stated that : 'the conquest of poverty is well within our power'. The argument for The War on Poverty is that it will reduce poverty. The poverty rate was falling in this country until Lyndon Johnson launched his 'War on Poverty'. In 1950, the poverty rate was 32 percent. By 1966, the poverty rate had fallen to 14.7 percent. In 1992, the rate was 14.5 percent! A decrease of only one-tenth of one percent (sic)!"

You then, later, state "It didn't work, folks."

The quotation you use to make your point regarding Welfare contains only two isolated percentages taken twenty-six years apart. Nothing else is explained, nor are any other factors taken into account regarding those intervening years. This actually proves very little, Mr. Thaxter, save that the authors from The Heritage Foundation (a self-described conservative think tank) have taken facts out of context and then made a very sweeping but unsubstantiated claim.

A more objective view of Welfare might be to examine it within the constraints imposed by past Congresses and the political climate of the past sixteen years, which have prevented it from working as it was intended. The system needs change, I agree, but not the destruction that this Congress would prefer. Let's begin by removing the restrictions on income earned by recipients so that they have the chance to work their way off Welfare instead of being penalized by a nearly dollar for dollar reduction in benefits for any money earned. Why work if it only reduces your other benefits and doesn't give you an opportunity to succeed on your own? Let's provide some form of childcare for those who will work or go to school to better themselves. Let's assist recipients in attaining an education. Let's find some form of nation-wide healthcare which enables mothers to continue protecting their children's health once they have attained their independence, even if they have to settle for a low paying, part-time job which, historically, provide no health benefits whatsoever. There are many other rule changes necessary to make Welfare temporary, but let's continue.

The states cannot support the needy and will not, as California has shown by reducing the amount it gives to recipients in state funds by $500 million (in 1995) in an attempt to balance its own budget. Without the power and finances of the federal government, the poor will increasingly be used as a fall guy in the effort to balance budgets all across the nation.

Let me now use facts (yes, Mr. Thaxter, facts) which have been found in the following sources:
1. U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
2. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census
3. 1994 Statistical Abstract of the United States, 114th Edition, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census
4. The Green Book, published yearly by the Dept. of Health and Human Resources
5. Business Statistics, published by The U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of Economic Analysis
6. Compton's Encyclopedia (both hard-cover and CD versions)
7. Various business and government related forums on Compuserve Information Service

Let's begin with the statistics you cited, but with a look at the years between. The percentage of people living below the poverty level was continuing to drop after the beginning of Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty". From 1966 to 1980 (figures are tabulated in March of the following year), they fell from 14.7% to 13%. The actual number of people living in poverty was slowly growing even though the population of the nation was expanding rapidly. It was during the vaunted "Reagan Revolution" that these numbers, once again, began climbing and the actual number of citizens below the poverty line increased until Bush's last year in office, when it was, as you state, 14.5%.

Now note that the actual number of recipients of AFDC has averaged only about a third of those living below the poverty line. The other two-thirds consist, mostly, of honest, hard-working people attempting to support their families while being paid minimum wage or being forced by the corporate economy to work only part time. Since 1980, these numbers have also included many families forced into low paying jobs by the "downsizing" (a disgusting euphemism for lay-offs) of Corporate America. This can be shown by the final two columns above which shows Service-Related Industries jobs, which are legendary for low pay without benefits, almost doubling, along with an actual decrease in jobs since 1966 in the Goods Producing Industries, which have historically paid the highest wages and best benefits. The best jobs have gone either overseas or the workers replaced by "contract workers" (another ugly euphemism which actually means temporary or part time workers with low salaries and zero benefits).

As an excellent example, Boeing Aircraft, after finalizing the largest aircraft production contract in history, $12.7 billion, began moving it's assembly line for the tail section of it's 737 passenger jets to China, where it is paying workers only about $.35 (that is thirty five CENTS) an hour. (LA Times, Sunday, Nov. 26, 1995, pg.M5)

Now let's look at the unemployment rate during those years. Unemployment was clearly rising until 1986, when the Reagan Administration issued orders to change how the figures were tabulated. Only those workers actually receiving unemployment benefits or registered with a federal agency as looking for work were to be counted. When the benefits of many were exhausted and they continued searching for work on their own or simply gave up, they were now no longer included in the statistics as unemployed. This is the basic reason why the numbers dropped so dramatically for the next few years. With this fact in hand, imagine what the true unemployment figures would read if the former method were still in force.

There seems to be a statement often repeated by our current Congressional leaders that must also be addressed. This is that Welfare mothers keep having children in order to collect higher benefits. As you can see, the facts completely contradict this. It may be true in isolated cases, but the average family size receiving AFDC benefits has steadily decreased from 1966 to the present. This is another example of our Congress using the Big Lie technique to get support for ideas that are bad policy.

Lastly, check out the actual value of the benefits shown. They have decreased in buying power right from the beginning. Living on Welfare is more like subsisting than truly living. The vast majority of families receiving AFDC are headed by single women with children and the majority of all recipients are children. These are the ones most harmed by the cuts, the very ones that those who kneel before the altar of their own version of "Family Values" should be most anxious to protect.

Your reference material then compared all that the money spent on Welfare could now buy, instead Perhaps you might compare what we could buy with the money we could save if we remove the virtually hundreds of other wasteful programs and tax breaks the government subsidizes. For instance, you don't complain about the trillions spent in the last couple of decades on defense systems we now know were totally unnecessary since the CIA was providing our government with information from spies the intelligence community knew to be double agents for the, then, Soviet Union. You only complain about assisting the poor. Please read on for just a few more examples.

Mr. Thaxter, you complain that, "Nobody has a RIGHT through coercion to any part of the earnings from the efforts of another" , yet you don't mention the fact that, for every dollar spent on Welfare, the government gives more than three of your tax dollars to corporations in tax breaks and other corporate Welfare, an amazing $86 billion dollars a year. This while corporations are still laying off 2,000 employees a day in 1995, reporting never before seen profits and paying their top executives an average of $3.8 million dollars a year (that's over $10,000 a day) plus huge stock options and bonuses. In contrast, of all full-time workers displaced in 1991 and 1992, only 35% found other jobs with equal pay by 1994, according to the Labor Dept. Doesn't this enrage you as least as much?

How about the huge tax reductions the current Congress is working on that will give over 80% of the planned $245 billion break only to corporations and individuals and families making more than $200,000 a year? All this largess while attempting to remove the Earned Income Tax Credit which even Ronald Reagan stated was one of the most efficient methods of helping low income families stay above the poverty line. Do you honestly think that this is a fair use of your tax dollars?

How about Congress voting to build the F-22 fighter which will cost $72 billion (nearly three times the cost of Welfare) but called "unnecessary" by all branches of the service? Or the billions for the Seawolf submarine that the Navy says isn't needed anymore as the next generation submarine is nearly ready for construction?

How about the billions given to agriculture not to grow crops? How about the hundreds of millions that go to the tobacco industry, a business whose sole purpose is to manufacture a product which kills all its users?

How about the hundreds of billions the government gives away each year in foreign aid, so much of it going to horribly repressive dictators whose only saving grace is that they don't hate our country quite as much as their opponents?

Welfare and the food stamp program accounts for less than 2% of the federal budget, yet it is made to appear as if all our financial woes as a nation will just disappear, overnight, if we can simply find a way to get rid of it. Why are the poor and needy the object of such emotional attacks but programs costing many times more completely ignored in all of the hysteria?

Finally, you mentioned the superiority of giving the program to the states to administrate. Three questions immediately come to mind.

One, will you be any more sympathetic to the poor if the state controls the programs? Your state taxes will surely be raised if only to continue providing the minimum benefits. Newt Gingrich has already stated that he plans to continue cutting federal aid to these programs in future budgets and, as I said, California is already decreasing it's share of aid to the needy.

Secondly, do you honestly believe that a state like California (which recently spent $300 million to improve the DMV's computer system but, three years later, has zero new computers and a several hundred million dollar lawsuit filed against it by the computer manufacturer) can manage to develop any sane or efficient way to administer a state Welfare system?

Lastly, will you be prepared to put your tax dollars, instead, into a larger police force and even more prisons to control the homeless population that will surely increase dramatically once benefits are cut?

I considered disputing your contention that Welfare is responsible, somehow, for the increase in crime, parental irresponsibility, single parent families, et cetera, but, as I am at a complete loss as to how you even arrived at this conclusion (except that you were probably just blindly following the lead of America's two most vocal critics of the poor; Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, two pretty wealthy fellows) and could find no studies whatsoever that even partially support that assumption, I will let the readers contemplate whatever correlation there might be.

In closing, let's not forget that 24% of all American children under six years of age (28.6% in California) live in poverty, right now, in 1995, in the world's richest nation. That number will explode as benefits decrease around the country. When you punish their parents for the falsely perceived notion of the adult's laziness, or whatever, you are hurting the children far worse. I can't believe that this is acceptable to you or any caring American.

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Write me at:jcannon@anotherperspective.org

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