Some modest suggestions for dealing with poverty

  1. Why have there been such a high rate of out of wedlock births for Hispanics, whites and blacks?

The Center for Economic Opportunity Feb. 26, 2020 report found that illegitimate-birth rates “vary considerably by race and Hispanic origin.” The percentage of out-of-wedlock births for non-Hispanic whites is 21.9 percent, but for non-Hispanic blacks it’s 69.3 percent. For Hispanics it’s 41.6 percent, and for American Indians 59.3 percent.  Center for Economic Opportunity Feb. 26, 2020 report based on 2018 stats.  I’m not at all afraid of telling the truth here.

If we know anything about causes of poverty, this is definitely a major cause as it results in single moms trying to raise children.  Why have the rates increased?  Not because of welfare, contrary to myth.  Gingrich and Clinton took care of that.

Want to guess why?  Primarily two causes: 1) disappearance of “shotgun weddings” or the stigma of having unmarried children.  2) the ready availability of contraception and abortion has not accomplished what its advocates believed: that that would reduce the number of out of wedlock births.  It had the exact opposite effect.  Why?  Too many males no longer felt they had to stay in the house to take care of their offspring.  Pro choice meant males too often were left out of the decision.  A third factor for blacks, of course, would have been the impact of the anti drug laws resulting in mass incarceration.  Those issues have been addressed such that the main remaining discrepancy has been in the length of sentences that blacks received compared to whites for the same offense.  What jobs are available to convicted felons?  Not many good ones though that is being addressed.

I’ve taught in prison and visited county jails for quite some time.  If there was any commonality among the males there it was that few whites or blacks or Hispanics had ever had anything like a decent male role model.  Single moms, black or white, have a rough time raising children and making ends meet especially in today’s fractured economy. Most of them have to live in poor neighborhoods where violence is more common, the schools are not as good as in non-poor neighborhoods, and there’s a relative lack of public services including health care.

OK, so what can be done about this? Shotgun marriages aren’t going to return.  Contraception and abortions are still available. Trying to force the sperm donors to support their children has not worked well.  More integration of poor with the not so poor.  How do you do that?  Do away with the zoning rules that prevent affordable apartments in better neighborhoods.  In other words, the children don’t have to grow up in systemic poverty.  As it stands right now, federal assistance is by a lottery where winners can get the subsidies needed to live in such apartments while the losers get nothing.  Right now, most subsidized apartments are in areas with an average poverty rate of 26.3%.  That just ain’t a good situation

Besides any subsidies, the feds or states or local governmental agencies or NGOs could provide assistance in terms of finding affordable accommodations and dealing with landlords.  Our son does this routinely in his rapid rehousing efforts in D.C. on behalf of a good NGO.

2. Education.  Schools in poor neighborhoods need good teachers and teaching resources.  But, too many get the most inexperienced instructors with little financial encouragement, not to mention mentoring assistance from more senior teachers, to stay in those schools.  I think of what happened to our oldest daughter in her practice teaching assignment to a very poor school and was not provided with a mentor or any aid.  She gave up on her dream of being an English teacher as a result.  Some municipalities have made it possible for parents to send their kids to the better schools.  Dare I say this? Properly regulated charter schools often deliver much better outcomes in poor neighborhoods.

How to keep poor college students in college?  It doesn’t help to just let them in the door.  That is a road map for failure.  You have to have community colleges that can and do deliver the kind of advising, small cash grants for work study students, support services, and metro tickets to those students.  Modest amounts can make big differences in graduation rates, double in fact for those who are poor.  Don’t send poorly prepared students to four-year colleges.  They are usually not set up to help those students adequately.

3. Child poverty.  There are two changes that can make a huge difference.  Canada did these two and it took just two years to reduce child poverty by a third.  1) Expand the earned-income tax credit by up to 40% which tops up the wages of working low income single or even married couples.  (2) a universal child tax credit of $2,700.  These two would cost maybe up to $110 billion BUT will results in better tax revenues and less expenses in incarceration, health care and homelessness.

Expansions of cash welfare grants and health coverage ARE not likely to go far in Congress.  Better to improve Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Those tend to be politically acceptable since they are universal benefits.

A significant portion of this blog was aided by information provided in The Economist’s July 11-17th issue entitled The New Ideology of Race and What’s Wrong With it. Excellent analysis.