Monday, January 20, 2014

I would say it's disingenuous, but it's not.

Bless liberals' little hearts, they really do think they've fixed poverty.  One of my bluest friends posted a link to this Washington Post story on the effects of Johnson's War on Poverty, and this was the quote she chose to pull:

Why don't people think it reduced poverty?
Largely because people rely on the official poverty rate, which is a horrendously flawed measure, which excludes income received from major anti-poverty programs like food stamps or the EITC.

If that's not a pretty bit of bullshit, I don't know what is.  Bless the author's stupid little heart.

Let me spell this out for Dylan Matthews and the others who think like him:

Making poverty more comfortable is not the same as actually increasing people's incomes.

I really shouldn't have to explain this, but I have to explain this.  Listen, I'm not knocking SNAP here.  I've said before, it's helped me eat in the past.  I love me some fucking food stamps, 'cause I love me some food.

And, as I've said a whole bunch of times before, the Right's bitch fit about how poor people aren't, like, ashamed of government assistance is just idiocy with no connection to how the poor are actually treated.   But, you know, at least Republicans are honest about it.

At least Republicans aren't standing around patting their backs and pretending that government intervention has taken people out of poverty, because it hasn't.  It has made poverty more bearable--things like food and shelter aren't taken for granted by anyone who has struggled to obtain either of those things.  But there's nothing that says more clearly that Dylan Matthews has never actually been impoverished than his back-patting over this.

When it comes down to it, Democrats and Republicans fall into the same trap: poor people have stuff, so they can't really be that poor.  Which is a ridiculous statement, because it overlooks how cheap a lot of stuff has become and also how poor people over-pay for their stuff in a way middle class and rich people simply don't.  You don't find Rent-a-Center and buy here/pay here lots in good neighborhoods, OK?  A "welfare Cadillac" is no more a sign that the government has pulled another family out of poverty than it is a sign that a family doesn't actually need assistance.  What it is likely to actually be is a sign of a family that needs a car and is probably paying through the nose for something they've been taught is a status symbol that will make others in the 'hood envious of them.

In other words, both y'all are missing the damn point.

Look, if government programs were the poverty cure Matthews seems to think they are, then their use would naturally decline as time went on.  Because if I'm pulled up out of poverty by food stamps, then I'm in the middle class and naturally my  kids are going to be even more solidly middle class and won't need government assistance, because the government has magically handed me all the opportunities and benefits of being in the middle class.

Only, it doesn't work like that.  If I need food stamps because I'm struggling and my kids grow up and need food stamps because they're struggling, then precisely what has been accomplished?  Yeah, tummies are being filled, and like I said I'm a fan of not starving, but poverty is more than not being able to buy stuff; it's having fewer opportunities.  And the government isn't fixing that, and Matthews even kinda sorta acknowledges it:

The impact of non-transfer programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Job Corps on poverty is harder to measure, but what indications there are are promising. Amy Finkelstein and Robin McKnight have found that Medicare significantly reduced out-of-pocket medical expenditures for seniors, which increased their real incomes. The Oregon Medicaid Study found that the program significantly reduces financial hardship for its beneficiaries, who, under Oregon's eligibility rules at the time, all fell below the poverty line. A randomized evaluation of the Job Corps found that it caused improvements on a variety of outcomes, most notably a 12 percent increase in earnings of participants but also reductions in rates of incarceration, arrest, and conviction.
 Oh, and just for funsies, I clicked on his link about how the Job Corps "caused improvements on a variety of outcomes" and this is what it actually says:

Based on the administrative records data, however, the earnings impacts for the full sample did not persist after the four-year period covered by the survey. Consequently, program benefits appeared to be small compared to the program’s cost of $16,500 per participant. Nonetheless, the statistically significant short-term earnings gains experienced by participants made Job Corps the only large-scale education and training program shown to increase the earnings of disadvantaged youth. Furthermore, the benefits of Job Corps appeared to offset costs for the oldest youth. In addition, benefits exceeded costs for the participants themselves, suggesting that Job Corps effectively redistributed resources toward low-income youth.
The emphasis, of course, is mine.  And it should probably be noted that this study is old; it seems to have completed in 2000.  I'd think if there were newer, more promising research out there, it would have been used.  That Matthews has to go back fourteen years to give shaky support to his thesis is, I think, telling.

Yet again, I am forced to admit that I don't have the answers.  All I can say is, the answers being offered right now are the wrong ones.

1 comment:

Dave said...

As usual, well researched and well stated.

I do think that one of the pitfall areas for many on the conservative side is that issue of being comfortable in poverty. That is, if my tax dollars are paying for food stamps, I don't want you to have cable TV, the Internet, cell phones and steak several times a week. Frankly, I don't feel that way, generally, but it is hard not to stand behind a person with a Lone Star card and not think to yourself, damn, I wish I could afford a steak that nice.

In reality, I believe all those other things (the cable, the cell phone, the Internet) are necessities these days, especially for kids to not be seen as different by classmates and such. Yes, yes, many people do not allow their kids to watch TV, so there is that, but the bigger point being, part of the "comfortable" things in poverty could help poor kids stay on pace with their middle class peers.

Of course, a better, "equaller" education system would do wonders, too.