Return of the Undeserving Poor: When I was growing up, income inequality wasn’t yet a big issue, because the middle class was strong and the plutocracy fairly marginal. But there was a great deal of alarm over the troubles of the African-American community, where social disorder was on the rise even as explicit legal discrimination (although not de facto discrimination) was coming to an end. What was going on?
There were all kinds of theories, ranging from cultural hand-waving to claims that it was all because of welfare. But some people, notably William Julius Wilson, argued that the underlying cause was economic: good jobs, while still fairly plentiful in America as a whole, were disappearing from the urban centers where the A-A population was concentrated. And the social collapse, while real, followed from that underlying cause.
This story contained a clear prediction — namely, that if whites were to face a similar disappearance of opportunity, they would develop similar behavior patterns. And sure enough, with the hollowing out of the middle class, we saw (via Mark Thoma) what Kevin Williamson at National Review describes as
the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy
And what is the lesson? Why, that poor whites are moral failures, and they should move to where there are opportunities (where?). It’s really extraordinary.
Oh, and lots of swipes at food stamps, welfare programs, disability insurance (which conservatives insist is riddled with fraud, despite lots of evidence to the contrary.)
It’s surely worth noting that other advanced countries, with much more generous welfare states, aren’t showing anything like the kind of social collapse we’re seeing in the U.S. heartland. ...
Why, it’s almost as if having a strong safety net leads to better, not worse, social health. Culture still matters: US Hispanics do a lot better than one might have expected. But the idea that somehow food stamps are why we’re breaking bad is utterly at odds with the evidence. (Just as an aside, since someone will bring it up: all of those other advanced economies are just as open to trade as we are — so whatever you think of free trade, it doesn’t necessarily cause social collapse.)
Anyway, the right’s inability to face up to the evidence on this front is … just like its inability to face up to evidence on any other front.
Let me add:
- Few Disability Insurance Beneficiaries Could Support Themselves by Working - Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Contrary to "Entitlement Society" Rhetoric, Over Nine-Tenths of Entitlement Benefits Go to Elderly, Disabled, or Working Households - Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- TANF Continues to Weaken as a Safety Net - Center on Budget and Policy Priorities