Do Government Programs Solve Problems?

“Do Government Programs Solve Problems” By Phyllis Hunsinger July 1, 2021

There were 2,200 Federal Assistance programs available to the American Public in 2013 according to Government Book Talk, which appears to be the year the publication stopped counting because in recent publications the numbers of programs were not enumerated. It is probably safe to say that many government programs have since been added. The General Services Administration maintains a database of all the programs and publishes an annual comprehensive guide entitled “Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance.” These programs are primarily available under the Departments of Health and Human Services, Interior, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture.

A myriad of problems will exist in any society, but can government programs solve any of them? Look at the “War on Poverty” launched in the 1960’s. Despite billions being spent on numerous programs in the ensuing years, the poverty level in the U.S. continues to be between 11% -15% of the population. The amount of taxpayer dollars spent to reduce poverty continues to increase with no measurable improvement. Upon examination it appears the programs by design are either self-defeating or self-perpetuating. Legislation enacting new welfare assistance programs are passed with seemingly no integration with existing programs leading to duplication of services, an expansion of eligible participants, and without addressing root causes.

Poverty is defined as not having enough material possessions or income to cover a person’s basic personal needs, sometimes so extreme where a person lacks food, clothing, and shelter. According to the Federal Safety Net, “Young people can virtually assure that they and their families will avoid poverty  if they follow three elementary rules for success: (1) complete at least a high school education, (2) work full time, (3) wait until age 21 and get married before having a baby. Based on an analysis of census data, people who followed all three of these rules had only a 2% chance of being in poverty and a 72% chance of joining the middle class.”

If the above rules are known to reduce poverty, it seems government programs could be designed to reinforce those behaviors. William J. Wilson, a professor and sociologist at Harvard University, reported “research indicated that recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) preferred work to welfare and would readily accept jobs that did not result in slipping deeper into poverty.” The design of the programs penalizes recipients trying to secure entry-level employment instead of giving recipients a boost as they enter the workforce. This discourages work to such an extent that many recipients in the last two generations have never worked.

Other programs inhibit having a father in the home because the aid is only given if the mother is a single parent and the more children in the household the more money is given. Ian Rowe wrote for the Fordham Institute in 2020, “The power of the two-parent home is not a myth,” a statement he supported with much data. Why not design welfare programs to encourage family units?

Politicians use the same tired phrases each election cycle about the need for more money to fight poverty and inequity, yet the welfare programs never change despite data showing how they could be more effective. Is it possible the politicians are less interested in helping solve the problem of poverty and are more interested in using the issue for campaign rhetoric?

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