Grassroots Commentary

Honest Talk About Welfare

By George Rogers Clark · Nov. 29, 2012

In liberal parlance, I am an “old white man.” I am a conservative. But in spite of my ideology and that liberal characterization, there are two subjects that I refuse to be categorical about; race and welfare. Here are my thoughts on those today:

Following the Civil War and the loss of approximately 625,000 lives, the US government initiated an aid program for the widows and orphans of the war. Over the next 100 years the program was expanded somewhat, especially under FDR during a time of economic depression. The programs still provided assistance to those who were truly needful. They were programs most Americans were happy to support. For some Americans, the happiness factor may have diminished in the early 1960s under the Johnson administration.

Johnson’s “Great Society” project expanded welfare by several magnitudes with many new programs. The one some conservatives speak most critically of was ADC, or Aid for Dependent Children. The old Widows and Orphans aid was now extended to any single parent. As the costs exploded, critics began seeing a correlation in the exploding numbers of single, female parents, especially among blacks. These appeared to be the results of out-of-wedlock births and divorces of convenience. The perception was that the aid was declining our focus on the family as the bedrock of society.

Over time ADC became AFDC and then TANF. Many folks still refer to it as AFDC. The reach, requirements, and goals have sometimes changed. The system was even eventually reformed to encourage the protection and continuance of the two-parent family system.

Temporary Aid for Needy Families is only one welfare program, but it has roots in the oldest program. Briefly, let us look at some data.

AFDC/TANF payouts by race:

  • White 39%
  • Black 40%
  • Hispanic 15.7%
  • Asian 2.4%
  • Other 3.3%

If you see that blacks and whites are receiving the same amount of benefits, you are correct. However, with the white population at 196,817,552 and the black population at 37,685,848 (2010 census), it is clear blacks are receiving more of these benefits as a percentage of population, in fact, slightly over 6 times more. By comparison, there are now 13,000,000 more Hispanics than blacks in the U.S., but they receive only 16% of these benefits.

That one example provides a good starting point for some generalization you will find more interesting, and perhaps more challenging to your viewpoint:

I live in a very conservative part of Ohio. There are very few blacks living here. When people around here talk about the U.S. debt and deficits, most blame welfare. Furthermore, to hear many of them speak on the subject, you would think that the only people on welfare are blacks. Again, in some circles there is that assumption that welfare and blacks are synonymous. Thus, they see race as a big factor in welfare costs. However, it begs the question:

Why are some seeing race as the critical factor when the cost, regardless of race, is more important to balancing the nation’s budget?

Let us now examine some poverty information. The following is quoted from the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan:

“In 2010, 15.1 percent of all persons lived in poverty.

"In 2010, 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.1 percent of Asians.

"Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. In 2010, 31.6 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 15.8 percent of households headed by single men and 6.2 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.”

Like it or not, the need and qualification for assistance is driven by poverty.

I realize now that I have to defend the poverty point in reference to blacks.

Even a few of my friends are going to say, “Blacks will not work.” It is a categorical statement they cannot defend to me. It is just a matter of personal pride, but I believe it unreasonable to think categorically on any subject.

Here is that defense: The biggest causes of poverty are old age, bad health or handicap, and lack of economic opportunity. My imagination just heard a muffled, “Yeah, which one of those fits the blacks.” My reply is, “all three.” Blacks get old. When they were young they lacked opportunity. And, some of them have handicaps. In their younger days, the really old ones survived on minimum wage jobs when they could get them. That was during a time when the minimum wage was between $1 and $3 per hour. The Social Security check they receive today is far less than mine. They are below poverty.

Further evidence, at least for me, is that I have worked with plenty of blacks that were excellent workers; people I respected and appreciated as my co-workers. My best friend, John, has always been a hard worker. He is still a fireball, even after retirement. Probably 75% of the work John does these days is to voluntarily help other people. My family lived in the south for part of my formative years and I have spent most of adulthood in the north. I have experience working with blacks in both regions. On all kinds of jobs, at minimal pay levels and up to very nice pay levels; the blacks I worked with were just as productive as the whites. Sometimes on the lower paying jobs their attitudes were superior to whites. It appeared to be something about being more accustomed to that pay/work ratio. The final point about blacks and work is that they are like everyone else. If they find opportunity and are able, they will work, and their work results are at least equal to others.

Welfare for 2011 was budgeted at 13% of federal spending. The mandatory spending items of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were 53% of the budget in 2008 and growing rapidly. Even budget fix gurus like Paul Ryan agree that welfare might need some reform, but the budget-breaker is the rapid growth of the mandatory or entitlement budget items.

With experts, congress, and honest academia focused on entitlements, why are so many conservatives on the street focused on welfare and race? I have not answered the question here, but I hope I have encouraged some to resist their assumptions and try to achieve a more reasoned and balanced perspective. We cannot just throw people off welfare without just cause. Auditing and inspecting a nationwide system will be costly. But when we get out of the ditch, we must do it. In the meantime, if we are going to end the deficits and debt of the federal government, we better supercharge the economy and still cut the biggest costs that are the easiest and most cost-effective to cut. Grit your teeth. This is going to hurt.

One subject that I am bull-dogmatic on is faith. More than anything else, I believe America needs a Christian-conservative led, God inspired, moral-spiritual-ideological revival.

George Rogers Clark blogs at myFreeBlogs: