Every time someone tells me the stock market is about to take a tumble, I think I should take some money off the table. I reallocate my portfolio from time to time. But, I worry that the bubble may burst at any moment (especially since we have seen it happen twice since the turn of the Century).
I have the luxury of such worries. Since 2009, the major stock market indices have more than doubled. Life is good.
What else has experienced as nearly a dramatic increase? Food stamps! The government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has expanded from $33.5 Billion in fiscal year 2009 to$47.6 Billion in 2013 – an increase of nearly 60%.
Meanwhile the poor have become a main topic of our national political debate.
The President has framed this year’s Congressional campaign by expressing two clear ideas. One is correct; the other is not.
First, the proposed 40% increase to the minimum wage will not lift anyone out of poverty. Many of the poor are permanently unemployed and earn nothing. And, many minimum wage workers are second income earners in two income households. In other words, they’re not poor. Even for a 40-hour per week minimum wage worker, an increase from $7.25 to $10.10 would raise an annual salary from about $15K to $21K – a big increase, to be sure, but hardly enough to lift one out of poverty.
Speaking of his political opponents, the President has also said, “Their philosophy is simple: You’re on your own… [I]f you’re out of work, can’t find a job. Tough luck, you’re on your own. You don’t have health care: That’s your problem. You’re on your own. If you’re born into poverty, lift yourself up with your own bootstraps, even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.”
And, on this score, he is correct.
Where is the conservative solution? If you are a Christian (as many conservatives are), you “must be open-handed to your brothers”. Is that ethic reflected in the political rhetoric we hear from conservatives in Washington?
It’s easy for conservatives to point to the flaws in the current system of entitlements for the poor. It needs to be overhauled.
If your household income is $15K today, you are eligible to receive federal assistance with a value of about $25K through a combination of housing, Medicaid, SNAP and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
If you increase your income, you get less help from the government. Is it any wonder that conservatives believe that liberal programs have created a “culture of dependency”?
Yet, I believe there is a conservative constituency that will support effective programs to help the poor. That constituency will respond to solutions that appeal to their charitable instinct and are both community-based and fiscally sound.
Churchgoing Christians have demonstrated a consistent track record of charitable giving. On average, they give more than 4 times as much to charity as non-denominational citizens.
Here in Rochester, NY, charities that support the poor are abundant: Catholic Charities, Foodlink and the University of Rochester Medical Center provide moral, material and medical support to the community. Rochester Cares matches volunteers with opportunities to help. Local churches and organizations like Voices Against Poverty live up to Christian ideals providing spiritual and financial support.
Education reform is the focus of non-profits like e3 Rochester, the Coalition for Common Sense in Education and the Rochester Education Foundation.
But, it’s important to understand that voluntary charitable contributions will not be sufficient to provide what’s needed to support the poor. Americans give approximately $40 Billion to charities each year. If you spread that across the 48 Million SNAP recipients, it amounts to about $800 perperson. Governments – local, state and federal – must participate to support any transformational effort.
It’s also important to understand that the federal government alone cannot do it. That is not because of a lack of funds. It is because central planning doesn’t work as has been demonstrated by the last 50 years of Great Society programs.
Helping the poor doesn’t require increasing already massive government programs. It requires thinking carefully about who is in need and how their need can best be met. In some cases, the right solution will involve the government. In others—such as a failing family culture, children caught in ineffective schools, or people permanently dependent on government —the right answer is for the government to get out of the way.
The only question is…
WHO WILL LEAD?