To hell with the poor 

Throwing all those kids off welfare felt great — until they turned to crime to survive

We have reason to celebrate this weekend: Michigan is cutting off welfare payments forever to nearly 30,000 poor children!

Good thing. Little bastards are eating too much, and if their growth isn't properly stunted and they are allowed to survive, they'll eventually start breeding too. Yes, I know we should castrate them.

Back in the day, we used to do that to Native American children, or the "feebleminded," as long as they weren't from Texas and didn't have family money. But the liberal do-gooders put a stop to that.

Thankfully, the so-called do-gooders haven't been able to stop this new wave of welfare reform, which will only continue to grow in scope because those 30,000 kids are only the start. Beginning Oct. 1, people will be kicked off welfare permanently, every day. That's because in July, the Michigan Legislature passed a law saying you can qualify for welfare cash payments for a maximum of four years. ...

Lifetime. Then you are cut off for good. What if you are badly injured and can't possibly look for a job at the end of that period? What if you have three small children, and absolutely no cash? What if there are no jobs, and hundreds of thousands of others are out of work? (Hey! That's what's happening right now! Who knew?)

Tough titties, kids.

Face facts, poor children of Michigan: Those in power in Lansing believe your low-class parents had no business having sex, let alone having you. If you think the state will save you, think again.

You're on your own. 

 

 

If you think the above is dripping with sarcasm, you too can be a literary critic. Naturally, our leaders wouldn't put things that honestly. Mike Green, for example, the gauleiter — oops — state senator from someplace up in the thumb called Mayville, put it this way:

"These common sense reforms make sure that limited dollars get to those in need, while encouraging independence and rewarding hard work among able-bodied individuals."

How soothing. How Orwellian, actually. The truth is that these "reforms" cut off money to some of the neediest. And as for this "work brings freedom" attitude, there are two slight problems.

First of all, there's damned little work. Official unemployment in our state is 11 percent and rising, and much higher when you count the discouraged workers who have given up looking for jobs.

Besides, even if some job were available, how do you manage to hold one down when you are a single parent with children? There is no free state-sponsored day care, you may have noticed.

We're in trouble as an economy, and as a society. The poverty rate is soaring. Poverty is defined as an income threshold below which people don't have the resources to meet basic needs for healthy lives.

Since the Great Recession started three years ago, poverty in Michigan has jumped by 20 percent. Statewide, nearly 17 percent of us were officially poor last year. But it is far worse for children.

Child poverty rose to nearly one out of every four Michigan children last year, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan League for Human Services. But in Detroit, it is far worse: Last year, almost 54 percent of the children lived in families without adequate income. Now, we've taken several steps to make that worse:

Not only are we ending all cash assistance to 11,000 families this weekend, we have already severely reduced the Earned Income Tax Credit to working families. That means that despite the sanctimonious bullshit put out by Sen. Green and others like him, we are, in effect, punishing the poor for working hard.

We've also eliminated the back-to-school clothing allowance for the poorest kids, and slapped new restrictions on food assistance.

But hey — these "reforms" are expected to save the state $77 million, which they can maybe use to buy some new riot control equipment for the National Guard. They may need it, eventually.

Odds are that throwing this many people off any kind of cash assistance will end up costing Michigan — i.e., the rest of us who have jobs and pay taxes — far more than we would save.

Desperate people, after all, do desperate things. You don't have to have seen Les Miserables to know that people whose kids are hungry are apt to see stealing food as a reasonable alternative.

State Sen. Vincent Gregory, a Democrat from Southfield, gets it: "Ninety percent of these families are working poor ... trying to support children and just barely getting by. We are pushing these families to homelessness." That's exactly what we are doing.

Which, from the enlightened self-interest of the wealthy, is just plain stupid. Why do people who have a house and a nice car think their security won't be threatened if lots more people are desperate?

Have a little common sense, people! 

There isn't much of that out there, judging from my e-mail correspondence. Every time I have written something in defense of not taking benefits from the needy, I get a barrage of odd personal attacks, divided roughly along two lines. Some think I am some counterculture type living in a bark hut with no interest in nice things, "like normal people want," as one quaintly put it.

More often, however, they think I am what used to be called a "limousine liberal," and am so rich I don't have any idea how hard it is for middle-class people to pay their taxes.

Neither of those descriptions is close to the truth. In fact, I grew up in modest circumstances; the baby-boom child of poorly educated parents who made little money. By working relatively hard for many years, I managed to claw my way into the educated middle class — with the assistance of education subsidized by the state.

I have a house, two cars, and a dog, and owe on everything but the dog. I have never been on welfare, never had kids, and pay lots of taxes. But in today's world, I — and everyone like me — should pay more.

I didn't have a problem when the state ended general assistance welfare payments to able-bodied adults years ago. Even programs designed to wean working poor parents from welfare made a certain amount of sense when the economy was booming. But we're at near-depression conditions now.

Throwing more people into desperation might be fine for the super-rich, the upper one-tenth of 1 percent. They can afford gated communities and private security guards ... but, hey, wait. They are the people who have been doing well in recent years!

They are the ones who bankroll today's political campaigns.

But, nah, I shouldn't be a cynic. I'm sure there's no connection between that and how our lawmakers vote. 

By the way ... there is nothing conservatives love to sneer at more than Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, launched in 1964. Today's propaganda presents it as a jumble of expensive government programs which totally failed, or made things worse.

But that is a lie. The War on Poverty had its failures, true. But over the next decade, its programs helped cut poverty in America almost in half, from 19 percent to 11 percent.

Things might have been better still if it hadn't been for the Vietnam War, and the Nixon administration's ability to start killing many of the programs LBJ began. Today, poverty in America is back up to 15 percent and rising. More people live in poverty today — 46 million — than at any time since they began keeping records.

Ain't compassionate conservatism grand?

More by Jack Lessenberry

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