Because America is a wealthy and compassionate nation with a rich history of Christian service, we spend billions of dollars and untold hours helping those in need both here and abroad. However when one looks at the results of these expenditures, there are very few positive results and in many cases poverty has increased as the result of our efforts. The African continent has received over 1 trillion dollars of aid since 1970. However, per capita income and literacy levels are lower then they were in 1970. Half of the population now struggles to live on less than 1 dollar per day.
Based upon 40 years of urban ministry experience in fighting poverty, Robert Lupton, founder of FCS Urban Ministries, published the book “Toxic Charity” in 2011. In his book, Lupton illustrates how well intention, but misguided charity eventually leads to dependency and resentment on the part of the recipient. FCS’s experience in fighting poverty in Atlanta has shown that enabling the poor to utilize their God-given talents is far more effective than doing for them. Enabling the poor to find dignity and self respect through employment is the most effective way for them to rise out of poverty. While pure charity may enhance the self image of the individuals or organization providing the charity, it destroys the self image of those receiving the charity.
While Lupton limits his discussion to the benevolent charity of religious organizations, government charity programs are just as devastating and far from benevolent. During the 1930’s, progressives found that legislation that destroyed minority jobs coupled with programs of dependency were remarkably effective in securing minority votes. FDR’s New Deal Coalition was the result of that strategy. The economic recovery that resulted from WWII and subsequent rebuilding of Europe along with continued discrimination of minorities by the Democratic party, helped to dismantle that coalition.
LBJ’s, War on Poverty, was presented to the public as a program of benevolence, however it was really an opportunity to rebuild the New Deal Coalition and bring minorities back into the Democratic Party after decades of discrimination. By substituting direct cash payments for employment opportunities, the War on Poverty was able to satisfy labor unions who didn’t want minority competition for union jobs and at the same time ensure a steady supply of loyal voters dependent upon government programs for their very survival.
Fifty years and trillions of dollars later, how successful has the War on Poverty been? If one believes that the true intent was to reduce poverty, a cataclysmic failure. Lack of fulltime employment, low educational levels and single parent homes are the three leading and interrelated causes of poverty. In 1960, before the War on Poverty, 5% of children were born into single parent families. Today, that number is 40% and among minority families that number rises to 70%. Today, only 9% of those in poverty work fulltime and only 34% work at all. If however the goal of the War on Poverty was to rebuild the New Deal Coalition, it has been highly successful, minorities have voted for Democratic candidates even as their family structure and communities deteriorate.
While Robert Lupton shows how well intentioned and benevolent organizations can destroy the lives of those they are trying to help, imagine how many lives are being destroyed by politics that are designed to create dependent voters rather than provide employment opportunities. Don’t the poor deserve an opportunity to utilize their God-given talents just like everyone else?