Poverty and Welfare




Poverty and Welfare


Today it seems as if everyone has a theory about fighting poverty, now
it is not necessary to be moving in the theoretical plane. Our country has had
successful anti-poverty programs that were effective back a century ago,
effective because they were based on these seven points: affiliation, bonding,
categorization, discernment, employment, freedom, and God. But a key element in
all of them is personal involvement and challenge, both material and spiritual.
If folks a hundred years ago could help others to move out of poverty,
and then turn their attention to the next group of immigrants and impoverished,
why can\'t we? Did they have more time than we do? No, even though we feel
stressed, their work days on the average were longer. Did they have more money?
No, we are far more affluent as a society now. Did they have more space in their
homes, so they could take in another person and we cannot? No, on the average
our houses are far larger. Did they have less of a drug and alcohol problem?
Probably not. They did have fewer single-parenting situations - there was less
illegitimacy and divorce then - but life expectancy was lower, so there were
lots of orphans and half-orphans. We\'re more spread out now, but our travel time
is not any greater.
What I learned leads me to wonder: Why can\'t we do the same? Were
Americans then a different people than we are today? Have we become so
corrupted that we don\'t care about others? Have we become so lazy that we are
unwilling to suffer with? I think not. I hope not. But we have become used to
having someone else do it for us - even though we know that a professional
social worker, with a case load of 200 or so, can\'t do much more than shuffle
paper. Bad charity drives out good.
My conclusion is that when we complain about a spendthrift modern
welfare state, we\'re right about the costs but we\'re actually stating the
problem backwards. The major flaw of the modern welfare state is not that it is
extravagant, but that it is too stingy. It gives the needy bread and tells them
to be content with that alone. It gives the rest of us the opportunity to be
stingy also: We can soothe our consciences as we scrimp on what many of the
destitute need most - love, time, and challenge. We need to recapture the
optimism that a look at history can provide. We need to recapture the
understanding that a true definition of compassion suggests.