Realities of poverty

Published 3:04 pm Monday, September 26, 2005

By By Tray Smith
The issue of the week: POVERTY. As if we did not have poverty before Hurricane Katrina, the media and politicians have recently began going on and on about how race and wealth played a role in who remained safe and who did not. The blame game has now shifted form whose fault the failed hurricane response was, and has been replaced by who's to blame for the recent increase in poverty. Former President Bill Clinton went on television and bashed the Bush administration for cutting his administration's poverty program (though no one is quite sure what program he is talking about), and said we need to increase taxes "on the rich." So, what's the truth?
During the Depression the Roosevelt administration launched a series of temporary programs to pull people out of poverty and get the economy back on track. After a post- World War II economic boom, however, the Johnson administration expanded these programs and created new programs to combat poverty. So began our nation's "War on Poverty." Since then, we have won the Cold War, the first Gulf War, and the war in Afghanistan; however, we have unfortunately lost the "War on Poverty." More than one out of every ten Americans live in poverty now, and that number is increasing.
So, why are we loosing? Because our anti-poverty measures are designed to allow people to sustain a life in poverty, not escape from a life of poverty. For instance, food stamps, public housing, and welfare all help people purchase the necessities of life, but they do not do anything to encourage people to work hard or educate themselves so that they can have a better, government-independent life. However, this is by no means their fault. The way our welfare programs are setup, in many cases, when people want to work hard or do for themselves, they either have to take financial risk or do not have the opportunities to do so. Thus, Americas poor or forced to accept a status quo of poverty, and generation after generations of families are locked into a constant poverty cycle.
Now, in the wake of the Hurricane, we are hearing liberals call for more money, more entitlements, and more "programs." While these proposals are well-intentioned, they disregard our experience of the past forty years of Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society". What we need now is not more of the same, but a whole lot of the new.
We should begin by reforming our poverty measures so that instead of the government paying people to live in poverty, the government should begin paying people to get out of poverty. There has been some positive progress in the past years, but we need more action from Congress. Already, the 1994 Welfare reform has helped lower welfare rolls and gotten more people jobs. President Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative is holding public schools to higher standards so that people living in poor and minority communities will have access to schools just as good as the people who live in rich areas. School vouchers are providing children and parents with the opportunity to choose a school that is best for them. A lower crime rate has made poor and minority communities safer.
However, our communities would be better served if Congress would begin considering the rest of President Bush's agenda. In the short term, we should also start offering the thousands of jobs that will be created to rebuild the Hurricane area to people on welfare and unemployment from the Gulf Coast region. Over the long-term, the President's Social Security reform plan will give more minorities and lower-class citizens the chance to invest conservatively in the stock market. It will also give these citizens something to leave to their family, unlike now, where if you die before you receive Social Security, your family barely gets anything. National Opportunity Zones should be established in poor communities that give businesses tax cuts to reward investment and job creation in those areas. Regulation and taxes should continue to be cut in order to stimulate investment and job creation for all of America. While this is an unconventional anti-poverty agenda, and is opposite of what the liberals call for, it is the more conservative ideas like these that have been proven by our own experience to work.
Finally, I have my own proposal to make. What if our government would take all of our funding for welfare, etc. and redirect it to give completely free college education or job training to anyone who wanted to pursue higher education. The only stipulation would be that if they do not get at least a minor or complete their job training course, these students would be forced to pay the money back. Then, if people wind up homeless or poor, we could literally say we have given you every opportunity to succeed, and we can no longer help you. After all, the government's responsibility is to make sure people have the opportunity to become successful, not to pay people who do not take advantage of that opportunity. That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a freshman at Escambia Academy. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at tsmith90@hotmailcom.

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