If Dwight Eisenhower wisely warned of a military-industrial complex, what of Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston’s warning of a poverty-industrial complex? Famous for her literary prowess, Hurston is less known for her work as a political activist warning how burgeoning government social welfare programs would disempower the African-American community through a culture of dependence fostered by an ensnaring bureaucracy.
More than half a century later, Hurston’s prescience has proven true across low-income families of every ethnic background. As African-American anti-poverty warrior Bob Woodson now tells us, the War on Poverty launched by Lyndon Baines Johnson (building on interventions dreamed up by Franklin Roosevelt) has created a professional class of government workers managing public money instead of resources being produced and managed by the lower-skilled workers themselves.
The sprawling bureaucracy was distilled into one shockingly complex chart produced by the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee. The chart (part of a larger report from the Congressional Research Service) shows how the current maze of federal programs designed to help families in need is obstructing those who have difficulty navigating the system.
Congressional staff said the chart helps illustrate how poorly the federal government coordinates an anti-poverty strategy and the difficulties inherent in how states operate the programs. Most troubling, the chart also shows how American families who need help can’t navigate it. A subcommittee hearing this month allowed members to review the array of programs and hear how the system can be modernized to help more people escape poverty and move up the economic ladder.
“The chart shows the complexity behind a simple and powerful number — the $744 billion dollars we spend every year to fight poverty,” Scott Winship, a poverty scholar with the Manhattan Institute told Opportunity Lives. “That comes to over $30,000 for each of the poorest 20 percent of households. And that doesn’t include Social Security, SSDI, Medicare, or unemployment benefits.”
“The spaghetti chart reflects decades of bureaucratic build-up caused by an overly prescriptive federal government,” Winship continued. “It depicts the unfortunate combination of an antipoverty strategy both too centralized at the federal level and hopelessly uncoordinated within the federal government.”
Most troubling, the chart also shows how American families who need help can’t navigate it.
Winship began his intellectual journey as a Democratic activist but transitioned to the conservative Manhattan Institute after completing his Ph.D. in social policy from Harvard University.
“The federal safety net goes a long ways toward alleviating hardship, but the war on poverty was supposed to be about independence and opportunity,” Winship continued. “If we were more serious about those goals we would consolidate programs, hold them more accountable for achieving their aims, encourage state and local experimentation, and incentivize work and responsible parenthood. We should want to help the kids of fast-food workers become professionals, not simply ease their hardship while giving up on them.”
Stuart Butler, a poverty scholar with the Brookings Institution (and formerly with the Heritage Foundation) told Opportunity Lives that he worries not so much about the mere complexity of the chart per se, since large programs are inherently complicated. However, he said the chart shows room for improving efficiencies and customization through streamlining anti-poverty programs as proposed by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin).
“While the chart does look complex, the components of any products or services for an individual, from public or private sources, would tend to look at bit like this,” Butler said. “I think the bigger problem is complicated eligibility requirements, bureaucratic rules and other constraints in support programs that make is hard to blend money together to customize the best way to help someone move up the ladder. That’s why I like approaches that focus on results and allow money to be used in the best way to achieve results, like Ryan’s proposal or so-called bundled payments in health care.”
Read the original article here at Opportunity Lives…
Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others. A founding POLITICO reporter, Carrie contributed on political economy at Forbes and wrote editorials for The Washington Times. After earning a master’s in public policy from Harvard University, she managed credit risk at Goldman Sachs and researched for American Enterprise Institute scholar Edward Conard. She earned a B.A. in communications at Brigham Young University and completed a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin.