Saturday, April 10, 2010

Star Parker: A Welfare Success Story

Recently a reader kindly referred me to an article by the Christian conservative writer Star Parker. President of a right-wing think tank with the benevolent name of Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), Ms. Parker maintains that providing subsistence to poor people is tantamount to slavery, with Uncle Sam cast as the master who “welcomed mostly poor black Americans onto the government plantation.” As a teenager and young mother, she was on welfare, and she apparently views herself as one of the escapees from the “plantation,” a woman who climbed the capitalist ladder to independence and affluence.

She did climb that ladder and now appears to be thriving and enjoying her role as an advocate for free-market economics. But here’s the fly in the ointment of her argument: It was the (allegedly) insidious “welfare state” that threw her that ladder. While on welfare, Parker was able to raise her children and attend college part-time, eventually obtaining a degree in marking and the writing skills she now uses to disparage public support programs.

I’ve worked with needy families throughout my career as a counselor and educator. I know two things about poverty: 1) it’s always determined by a complex of factors, and 2) people are seldom if ever able to pull themselves out of it without assistance. (It’s hard to "pull yourself up by the bootstraps” if you have no boots.)

One of the things that used to contribute to poverty was a family culture of dependence that could allow people to continue getting public assistance without getting the education and job skills necessary to work their way out. The welfare reform act signed by President Clinton in 1996 provided a much more nuanced, constructive approach to public assistance, giving recipients new incentives and opportunities—punching some new exit holes in the walls of the welfare system and giving poor people more ways out of dependence on social services.

As I go about my daily business, I see former students and clients all over town whose families were once on welfare—nurses, teachers, and small business owners who are making wonderful contributions to the community that gave them the tools they needed to succeed. Like Ms. Parker, they are a tribute to a society that combines compassionate “socialism” with the economic opportunities of capitalism. It’s neither one nor the other of these basic approaches to public policy that makes for a great country—it’s a rational balance of the two.

Show me a Star Parker who somehow made the leap from poverty to affluence without the help of any social supports, and I’ll be glad to listen to whatever he or she may have to say about the evils of “socialism.”


Idna said...

Dear Jane,
I think you missed Ms. Parker's argument. You rehashed your opinion of welfare, which you have written about before.

You also label her with the term 'Christian conservative.' (You always seem to disparage Christian conservatives in your blogs.) Would she be more acceptable to you if she were a 'godless liberal?'

But you totally miss her point. She believes freedom and personal responsibility, not government dependence, are the answers to poverty. And more government dependence is exactly the way current policies are trending. You can't argue with that. She shows statistically how the $billions spent on the War on Poverty have not decreased poverty. She lists many ill affects of the welfare system including the breakdown of the family unit with the replacement of fathers with welfare checks ... leading to crime, imprisonment of a large black male population, etc.

"Instead of poor America on socialism becoming more like rich American on capitalism, rich America on capitalism is becoming like poor America on socialism."

If you pay attention at all to what is coming out of Washington, it's obvious that that is the way we are going. Irresponsible life choices are rewarded and hard work and success are penalized. If you'd like, I can elaborate with many examples.

Citizen Jane said...

Hi, Idna,

Your observation about the expression "Christian conservative" is fair and interesting. I didn't really think about it until you asked, but in my mind, I do sort "conservatives" into several categories. I do this for the same reason that, if I were talking about canines, I'd specify whether I was talking about a dachshund or a wolfhound--same general species but with very different characteristics.

I know people who are both Christian and conservative but not "Christian conservatives." They may be fiscal conservatives or limited-government conservatives (who seem to be close kin to libertarians). However, their conservatism isn't based on either the belief that abortion is the only issue that matters in politics or that God is a Republican. Also, I read several right-wing articles about Ms. Parker, and I believe I saw her described as a "Christian conservative."

As for the rest of your remarks, it's an over-simplification to say that Americans must choose between "freedom and personal responsibility" and "government dependence." Regardless of how independent we may be, we all have times in our lives when we have to depend on someone for something in order to get back on our feet. When you say, "the billions spent on the War on poverty have not decreased poverty," I beg to differ. I'm sure you'll regard ThinkProgress as a shamelessly liberal source, but this graph is hard to dispute:

P.S. Idna, can you share your secret for embedding links in this comment feature?

Catlover said...

C. Jane
A little history for you on the 1996 Welfare Act you seem to speak favorably of it. Welfare reform was a Republican idea brought with them after their big win in 1994. The 1994 congressional trouncing they gave the Democrats was the electorates response to Pres. Clinton's liberal first half of his first term. He smartly moved to the right using Welfare Reform as a major vehicle.
I wonder if history will repeat in November. Pres. Obama will soon be voting to reverse all gun control laws and and to reverse Roe v Wade by the time the voters get done with him.

You mentioned the word "ladder". A good rule of thumb I have heard to distinguish conservatives vs liberals is: Conservatives want to provide a "ladder" with a safety net for the folks down on their luck. Liberals want to provide a hammock where they can stay the rest of their lives. I think the is a good rule of thumb for people to remember when they vote this fall.

Citizen Jane said...

Hello, Catlover,

My hunch is that in years to come, people will say the same thing about Obama and the health reform legislation: that once in office, he pulled to the right and compromised too much. (There are a lot of Republican ideas in that legislation, too.)

There's been a lot of hostility, obstructionism, and dishonesty among the opposition in Washington in recent months. But I think that ultimately, it's a good thing that there has to be compromise.

Six said...

While I have no doubt in my mind that people 'milking' the system, it is such a much more minor problem than conservatives like to portray. Sure, there are the issues that are awful about welfare as you point out with dependency issues, as well as the points from the conservative side (putting aside abuse for a minute) and more free market mentality of me that realizes that what happens when you give someone a fish, they tend to show up the next day asking for two. However, I do believe that government has a very important role in providing a last resort saftey net of sorts.

However, if we want to actually get serious about welfare... we should focus on the place where the MOST welfare dollars are spent... many times more than what the conservatives tend to get mad about. The corporate welfare taken is unmatched. Big oil, Big-Ag, Wall-st and so on down the line take literally billions in everything from direct welfare/subsidy payments, tax breaks, free use of government land, tariffs, quotas, being paid not to produce something and on down the line... all at tremendous taxpayer expense.

The difference of course is that they take a percentage of it and hand it right back to thier legislator to make sure he gets re-elected to protect thier gravy train.

Strangely, it's the Democrats who tend to be the biggest enablers, but it certainly something that is truly a bi-partisan effort to support these welfare recipients. Voting for these two parties is akin to a woman who continues to stay with her abuser. Once you are free though, you look back and wonder, why in the world did I ever stay after that first wallop across the face...

Catlover said...

A comment to Six...

Do not fool yourself thinking the "milking" of the welfare system is a "minor" problem. Able body citizens being given by the taxpayer their food, housing, healthcare, clothes and their transportation month after month is a "MAJOR" problem. For the good of themselves, their families and the country these people should be working to earn their keep. Remember, the money would be in the economy to provide them with jobs if the money was not taken from working citizens in the form of taxes to in turn pay for their welfare.

Discouraging non-citizen labor would also open up millions of jobs as well. I do not care if the welfare receivers do no like doing farm labor, consruction or service jobs, it is good honest work. Good enough for Juan, good enough for John.

Only able bodied children, pets and prisoners should be given free room and board. Wait, cross off prisoners, hard labor for them, maybe they would give up their murdering, thieving and selling drugs to our children ways with a little rocking breaking out in the hot sun.

I agree with you Six, there is plenty of business-Washington corruption. But, corporations collect a big share of total taxes from the people to pass on to Washington, so they have to be in bed together.

What a system we have.

Six said...

I will pass on your labor camps - that wreaks of something you would see in China...

Considering the 'welfare fraud' you are speaking of is estimated at about $1 billion per year, that number pales in comparison to the $90+ billion in corporate welfare (not counting 'bailout' monies). That also does not also include specially designed tax incentives, barring of competition and many other ways the government provides aide to private for-profit companies.

So while pointing out the 'welfare queen' who (as I have often heard in conservative circles explained to me), "only has kids to get more welfare checks" makes for a much more self-rightous story, the real culprits are the mega-corporations.

And based on your comments, I am led to believe that you are one of those that think immigrants are only here to steal your jobs (and commit crimes), more people should be in prison for longer (even though 70%+ of those incarcerated are there for non-violent crimes - and we have the highest incarceration rate in the world by far - more than Russia and many times more than Canada or any Western Euro country) and people are welfare are only there because they are lazy? You and I live in different worlds...

Catlover said...

Comment to Six:
Yes, it sounds like we do live in different worlds, the only question is when you will leave living in a fantasy world and join us in the real world.

I am not suggesting labor camps for political prisoners like China. I want a form of incarceration and punishment here in the US that disincentivises crime against our citizens. I assume you would join me if:

1. Drugs were sold to your child, non-violent crime right, your child is just as dead from the overdose though.
2. Your house was trashed in a burglary, non-violently of course. But, your house will never feel the same.
3. Your job is lost, taken over by a non-citizen worker non- violently of course, so your former employer can save a buck. The list goes on. My world wants these crimes severally punished.

Wage structures and jobs in whole industries, agriculture, construction, service, etc. have been have been desimated by cheap non-citizen labor, all non-violently. All of this allowed and even encouraged by people in your world.

Corporate corruption does go on. Here is how it works. Corporations collect taxes from the people. The taxes they collect are hidden in the price of all products all corporations sell. These monies are then sent to the government, local, state and federal. This system all put in place by the voters and the politicians in your world.

Your "corporate welfare" is just a gift back of some of this same money collected from the people and paid to the governments originally. Corporate taxes could be lowered and the net result would be the same.

But better yet, join me in my world and support politicians that would vote in the "FAIR TAX" and this problem would be eliminated. The people would pay all taxes directly and openly and would be fully invested in how government spends it. Unlike how it is now where taxes are hidden, i.e. payroll withholding, corporate etc.

Do you know some people in your world think their employer pays their federal income tax for them just because it is withheld from their paycheck. People in my world know that the withholding is our money taken from us as if we had to write the check and mail it in. Imagine the tax and spending cuts and budget balancing people would demand and vote for if a check had to be written and mailed every month to pay their taxes.

On "welfare" my world will let Star Parker speak for us.

You are cordially invited to leave your world and join us in ours.

Six said...

I too like the CONCEPTS behind the Fair Tax - but the fair tax is about as realistic as advocating for the Gold Standard... it works great in theory, but it ain't gonna ever happen.

And to your point about incarceration - When the single largest item in a states budget, such as is the case in California, is the states prison system, we are spending too much to put too many people in jail. More than just the highest incarceration rate per capita, our country has 25% MORE total people incarcerated than all of Europe (Eastern - including Russia, Western, Northern and Southern) COMBINED despite having less than half of the total population. One out of every nine state government employees work in corrections. And you think we need to put MORE people in jail? For longer?

1. - Drugs should be legalized for adults and treated no differently than alcohol. If someone sold booze (or drugs) to my child, there may be a violent crime committed (by me), but the liklihood of those drugs being as dangerous as they are today would be greatly reduced - prohibition makes drugs more dangerous, not the other way around.

2. - If law enforcement was not so busy spending more than 50% of thier time, and over $100 billion dollars in public money on the 'war on drugs' annually to catch a total of about $1 billion in drugs - of which more than half of the US population under the age of 50 admits to having experimented with (chances are that includes YOU!) - they may have had an officer or two available to actually investigate the break-in which you speak of.

3. - Mexican immigrants cross the border because there are jobs waiting for them We should allow the free market to work with jobs and if that means I lose my job because my employer is able to find someone to do the same work or better for less, then so be it - my value as a worker was clearly... well, not valued at what I thought it was. Of course the alternative is that my employer could go out of business because of failing to be able to compete, but hell - at least them brown folks didnt get my job!

You are suggesting that taxes are being gifted to corporations because of some diluted dellusion that it is simply the government giving them some sort of 'thank you' in the form of corporate-welfare for collecting for them? I am going to have to concede to CJ that perhaps the conservatives are in fact as clueless, as she claims. That's a completely new crazy theory that I don't think I have ever heard someone spew before.

Thanks, but I will pass on your plan to elect some ultra-conservative-Mike Huckabee-type - that is definately a world I don't want to live in.

Catlover said...


First, your free market jobs concept is insane. Right now you feel you are somehow protected from competion for your job. It is enforced immigration laws that are protecting you though from the 1000's of highly educated, motivated people in say India who would love to come here and take your job. Your employer would love to hire them as they would work dirt cheap. Maybe not you yet but have some compassion for the people in industries where that has already happened. Wake up, cheap labor is why the rich keep getting richer.

Take the education industry for example. I hear Pres. Obama wants to bring up 500,000 teachers from Brazil. They will work for half the going rate and don't take sick days, thus saving in sub costs. States need to balance the budgets after all. This will teach teachers how workers in the construction industry feel.

Which brings me to your corporate taxing comment. I will try again to explain the concept. Large corporate interests are in bed with politicians obviously, right. The corporate welfare you speak about is a consequence of that. The back and forth corporate welfare/donation loop is you scratch my back I will scratch yours at work. The monies that fuel all of this are collected from the people that buy corporate product. The money is embedded in the price of the product. Corporations do not pay taxes they only collect them for the government. Hidden embedded taxes are a big part of the FAIR TAX agrument.

Study up on the FAIR TAX yourself and see how it works. It may be closer than you think. 2010 and 2012 are not far away. The corporate media you probably get your info from will never inform you on the subject.

Just to touch on it, the FAIR TAX would solve a lot of the crime problem too.

Citizen Jane said...

Catlover, I'm curious about what you mean by "corporate media." Would you mind sharing some of your sources of information?

Six said...

@Catlover -

You and I will just have disagree about whether protectionism is the best strategy - history has shown that high tariffs, poor immigration policy, trade embargos and quotas are not only anti-free market, but also bad for our country - and countries we trade with. You probably would have led the charge for the Federal government to save the handmade horse & buggy industry because we needed to save those jobs from the Assembly Line style production of revolutionized by Ford...

You see the Fair Tax as some sort of majic bullet, and while some of it is good and could be put in to place right away (such as eliminating ALL tax deductions/subsidies) but I think you are putting the cart before the horse... while a significant part of our problem is the F'd up tax system we have, the real culprit is Federal spending. Our Federal Government has taken on roles far beyond its original intent and constitutional responsibility. Without fixing the spending problem first, any scheme to revise the tax code is doomed to fail.

Catlover said...

No, I would not have supported a bailout of the handmade horse and buggy industry (not withstanding I don't know how they were hand making horses back then). I supported letting GM and Chrysler end up in bankruptcy court where the outrageous union contracts could be broken. This would have allowed them to finally be competitive in the globally. Now that is a free market. Their bailout by Pres. Obama just kicked the can down the road.

Here is some reading material for Idna and for you too Citizen Jane:

"The Fair Tax Book: Saying Goodbye to the Income Tax and the IRS"

"Fair Tax: The Truth: Answering the Critics"
both by Congressman John Linder of Georgia.

These books will thoroughly explain to the "FAIR TAX". Read them with an open mind and you might come away saying. "The FAIR TAX really is a magic bullet".

Don't worry Idna any Congress and President that would abolish the IRS and put in place the "FAIR TAX" will have no trouble cutting the spending side of the problem. It is we voters who have to have the courage to put those leaders in place. Idna do you have that courage? If you and enough other voters do not, we will all pay the price and that price will be dear.