Barack Obama vs Paul Ryan: Who Is Moving Us in the Right Direction?


“If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day.  If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.”
Chinese Proverb

Several weeks ago my post, “How to Improve America’s Welfare System,” described a new proposal from the House Budget Committee (Chair, Paul Ryan) to let selected states experiment in consolidating separate federal programs such as SNAP, TANF, child-care and housing assistance programs, into a new composite Opportunity Grant Program.  The idea is to let participating states choose qualified providers who would then be held accountable for moving people off of assistance, out of poverty and into productive employment.
CaptureA recent report from the Tax Foundation compares what families pay in taxes with what they receive in government benefits.  In 2010, 60% of American families (with incomes up to $86,000) received more in federal benefits than they paid in federal taxes.  However in 2012, this percentage grew to 70% (those families with incomes up to $109,000).  In other words, the trend under Obama is for more people to be net receivers of benefits than net payers of taxes. There are two basic problems with this trend towards more and more benefits for more and more people:

  • As it stands right now, we’re making people more dependent on government programs. Instead we should be helping them become more independent and more capable of supporting themselves on their own. This would improve their quality of life.
  • Our federal government is spending way too much money and not collecting enough tax revenue to pay the bills. According to report after report from the Congressional Budget Office, the trajectory of growing debt is getting much worse and the problem will become harder and harder to rectify as we continue down this path.

My natural inclination is to be optimistic that our political process will respond to this bleak current path we’re on and that things will be turned around before we have another financial crisis.  But it is easy to imagine a course of events where this does not happen.
It’s clear what we need to do but how will this get done?


How Not to Help Black Americans


“It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges.”                                                                  Booker T. Washington, 1856 – 1915

How do we lift up the black underclass, the school dropouts, gang members, and drug dealers who become criminals and spend their lives as a drag on society?  The Wall Street Journal’s (black) editorial writer, Jason Riley, addresses this question in today’s paper, “How Not to Help Black Americans”.  As he says “Upward mobility depends on work and family.  Government policies which undermine the work ethic – open-ended welfare benefits, for example – help keep poor people poor.  Why study hard in school if you will be held to a lower academic standard?  Why change antisocial behavior when people are willing to reward it or make excuses for it?”
A few days ago, Robert Balfanz, the Director of the Everyone Graduates Center at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, wrote in the New York Times, “Stop Holding Us Back”, that even though 80% of Americans now graduate from high school, 33% of the nation’s African-American and Latino young men will not graduate.  Half of these non-graduates go to a total of just 660 high schools out of a total of 12,600 high schools in the country.  He suggests the following:

  • Refocus such high-poverty high schools in order to identify by the middle of ninth grade the students most likely to drop out.
  • Set up early warning systems so that adults can step in at the first sign that a student is in trouble.
  • Employ additional adults to support students who need daily nagging to succeed, especially during the key transitional years in sixth and ninth grade.

Capture Such a plan has been instituted in the Chicago Public Schools as described in “Preventable Failure”.  As the above chart shows, it has led to dramatic improvement in the on-track rate of at-risk ninth graders in CPS.
These two school programs, in Baltimore and Chicago, represent what we should be doing to help all minorities, especially blacks, succeed in life.  Resources provided for such programs will do much more to eliminate poverty than expanding conventional welfare.