Perhaps a glimpse back at an earlier cultural shift can bring into focus the facts regarding the 2014 election. In 1992, Bill Clinton ran on a moderate platform, famously pledging to “end welfare as we know it.” Like a lot of things he said, he didn’t really mean it, but with out-of-wedlock birthrates soaring, welfare rolls exploding, and the states’ shares of welfare stipends and health costs going through the roof, it made a popular sound bite on the campaign trail.
Once elected, he promptly switched his attention back to his priorities. But facing the ever-escalating costs of entitlement programs, state governors kept pushing for waivers to the rules of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) programs that would enable them to control their spiraling welfare and health-care costs. These waivers allowed states to: (1) Institute a requirement that to receive financial aid, teen mothers had to stay in school and live with their parents or a court-appointed guardian, and (2) Allow a state to base its benefit calculations on only the number of children the mother had when she entered the state’s welfare program. These practical reforms were a bellwether of a cultural change, already under way, but only came to light in election results and legislation enacted.
In 1994, the Gingrich-led Republican Revolution picked up 54 seats in the House in that year’s midterm election. Subsequently, the House and the Senate passed welfare reform legislation twice, but Clinton vetoed it each time, Then Clinton, facing a battle for re-election in 1996, relented the third time and signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA); this legislation applied to all states the changes in program rules that selected states had proved the value of, changes they had made under the waivers they had been granted.
A couple of HHS administrators resigned in protest against Clinton’s “perfidious surrender to the Neanderthal Republicans.” The welfare advocacy community and their think tank allies howled, protesting that the new policies would be disastrous to the poor. The Urban Institute issued a report predicting that PRWORA would result in one million additional children thrown into poverty.
And the results?
Clinton won re-election, welfare rolls began to plummet as teen birthrates continued their decline (given that getting pregnant no longer gave them a passport to a government-provided apartment, food stamps, and monthly stipend to supplement whatever they received from their probably-already-moved-on baby-daddy boyfriend).
And the child poverty that was supposed to explode? Never happened. (See Figure 1 below.)
We are constantly being inveigled to support some proposal or event because it is “for the children.” Liberals are forever coming up with one scheme or another that will move society toward their myth of Utopia. The world will be a better, safer place for kids if only they are allowed to spend the taxpayer’s money on some particular new initiative or on expanding an existing one that they deem to be underfunded. More often than not, we are asked to support the cause in question based on their vision of things, on their good intentions as evidenced by a heartrending anecdote or two that paints a dramatic picture of the need that their proposal is intended to meet.
But are good intentions in response to a heartrending need necessarily the best criteria upon which to evaluate a policy proposal?
What about the likelihood of productive results? What about the track record of other proposals or programs emanating from the guiding philosophy of the advocate? What about the old adage — “you get more of whatever you subsidize?”
Do advocates ever look to the past to see how similar efforts have panned out or do they always counter poor performance with the argument that the program’s concept was valid but the implementation was flawed because of mismanagement or underfunding?
Back to the question of results. Back to historical facts and trends.
In the chart below, we see that the poverty rate of the most vulnerable children, those living with their mother (with no husband present), declined on average of 2 percentage points per year from 1991 to 2000 for whites and 2.2 percentage points per year from 1991 to 2001 for blacks. It is important to recall that these decreases in poverty occurred under the supposedly draconian policies instituted by the governors of a number of states under waivers to AFDC program rules in the early 1990s which were then codified for all states by PRWORA in 1996.
Given the obvious progress (from the early 1990s through the end of the decade) in fighting poverty by attaching conditions for receiving aid, the public saw and approved of the huge reduction in the number on welfare.
Meanwhile, initially unnoticed, the welfare advocacy community — both in and out of government — was working to increase the number of food stamp recipients (from 17.3 million in 2001 to 47.6 million in 2013) under both Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” philosophy and Obama’s “fundamental transformation” policies. Also, the food stamp program was successfully rebranded as the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nobody wanted to complain about this growth; who wants to see people experiencing “food insecurity” or “dietary insufficiency?” And, certainly not hunger — especially hungry children!
That said, a recent Rasmussen poll indicates that “hunger” is increasingly becoming a hard sell to the public given the obesity epidemic (including among children) that is so evident everywhere – now. (Many individuals need two seats on buses, trains, and planes.) “Just over half favor fixing a deadline for how long people can receive federal public assistance benefits of any kind.” [emphasis added.]
The cost of the SNAP program has gone from $17.8 billion in 2001 to $79.9 billion in 2013. And what has this more than fourfold increase in spending produced in terms of reducing child poverty among those living in female-headed households?
The poverty rate for these children has shown an average increase of more than half a percentage point per year, pushing up the rate for blacks from 47 percent to 54 percent and for whites from 28 to 34 percent (as shown in Figure 1 above).
Do these results look like the work of a bureaucracy that understands poverty and has a plan for dealing with it?
Primarily, government bureaucracies pay attention to whether their budgets grow. So if changing the name of a program enables you to sell it to a credulous public and their elected representatives, that’s the ticket. If widespread hunger no longer seems credible, how about food insecurity or dietary imbalance that produces obesity? If possibly-eligible people don’t sign up for your program because they don’t want to be seen using food stamps in the grocery checkout, then hunt them down through a government-funded outreach program and give them a credit card designed to eliminated embarrassment — one that looks about the same as other credit cards.
We’ve seen that liberals love to manipulate the public’s thinking by playing with titles. But it is maddening when they insult our intelligence further by pushing the notion that the policies they advocate are “evidence based” — the latest buzzword circulating through the bureaucracy. Their policies are evidence based only to the degree that they can manufacture data that supports the politically-correct policy called for by their ideology. It would, however, be too much to ask for policies that produce credible beneficial results like an actual reduction in poverty, an increase in jobs, and an increase in self-sufficiency like PRWORA did, contrary to everything the liberals claimed would be the result.
So what does this review of history point to regarding the upcoming election?
The 2014 election is going to be a test of just how many in the electorate are beginning to catch onto the ruses and the manipulation of words. There are some indications that the public is beginning to tire of the empty words about “hope and change” and “we are the future.” Reuters reported that a crowd in Upper Marlboro in the blue state of Maryland began to walk out on an Obama speech where Obama repeated over and over. “You’ve got to vote.”
Some who are experiencing the increases in poverty might ask, “But why should I vote for more of the same?” Obama obviously needs his base to be motivated enough to go to the polls; one of his pollsters has predicted that if the party doesn’t do more to get black voters to the polls, there will be “crushing Democratic losses across the country.”
“The future is up to us.” Obama tells his thinning audience. Whose future, you ask? Liberal politicians’ futures, perhaps.
But what’s in it for single black mothers when 54 percent of their children live in poverty? What about a job that might lift them out of poverty and dependence? Glowing but empty rhetoric provides them or their mothers a future.
While Obama’s $800 billion stimulus spending boondoggle may have helped those in certain unions or the Wall Street money men; the data clearly show it didn’t make so much as a dent in child poverty in mother-only families. Don’t forget, this is a stimulus program the president has been saying “worked.” If this is what “works” according to an administration that supposedly “cares about people,” voters may start to think we’d be better off with leaders who are not such demogogues, but who have a hardheaded, realistic understanding of what actually works . . . and what doesn’t work.
Will American voters elect leaders who understand that it is time to start telling young women just how ineffective the government’s programs are in offsetting the negative consequences of their choices to become a single moms — most government programs do precious little to provide a path to self-sufficiency; instead, they merely succeed in making poverty somewhat less miserable. This, liberals want you to understand, is because stingy conservatives won’t cooperate by spending ever more additional funds on liberals’ flawed policies and programs.
One more thing. What about the Hispanics that the Democrats are counting on to keep them in power in the future? Who knows for sure? It depends upon whether Hispanics pay more attention to the facts of their daily lives or the glib hype about “hope and change.” From 2001 to 2008, the poverty rate of Hispanic children in families with a female householder averaged 49.9 percent, not good for sure; but from 2009 to 2013, their rate increased to an average of 54.4 percent.
That’s change all right, but it’s not change that inspires hope.
We may or may not wake up after the election to see results that look like the 1994 election results. The latest report is that “women have moved in the GOP’s direction since September. In last month’s AP-GfK poll, 47 percent of female likely voters said they favored a Democratic-controlled Congress while 40 percent wanted the Republicans to capture control. In the new poll, the two parties are about even among women, 44 percent prefer the Republicans, 42 percent the Democrats.”
At any rate, we’ll soon know whether these realities compute with those unmarried female voters who elected Obama twice or whether they are only concerned about which politician “cares” enough about them to provide free contraceptives and abortions.
Let’s hope that this election shows that we’re in the midst of a cultural shift and a return to an “old way,” a realistic way, of seeing facts, not a Utopian mirage.
First published at American Thinker.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.