Welfare” has gone through many changes over time.
In 2014, the War on Poverty turned 50. Take a look at this report from the CATO Institute as well as the lesson and course reading and answer the following questions:
Have the programs worked to reduce poverty?
Where does the US stand in terms of poverty and welfare?
What federal social service programs need revision? Why?
Evaluate the welfare/social service issue utilizing our policy framework.
Be sure to bring in additional scholarly sources to balance your analysis.
Since the 1970s, the poverty rate in America has varied between 10-15% while the population of the US increased from 203 million in 1970 to 320 million in 2015. So, naturally, the number of people receiving welfare benefits continues to rise. That is not a bad thing, just normal growth with an increasing population.
There are generally six reasons for poverty: low productivity, low education, economic stagnation, discrimination, poverty culture, and poor family structure.
One of the most significant factors that contributes to poverty in America is the status of the economy. The national unemployment rate is directly related to poverty levels, and history has shown that as employment rates increase, poverty levels decrease. This occurs because more money is earned and distributed among citizens. As well, government programs gain additional funding through taxes. Additionally, recessions have a disproportionate impact on the poor due to a lack of wage raises that do not counter inflation. All of the recessions in the last thirty years have been accompanied by increased poverty rates.
Another noteworthy factor contributing to poverty is education. One staggering statistic that shows the importance of education is that 46 percent of Americans who were raised in poverty and did not obtain college degrees stayed in the lowest income brackets, while only 16 percent of those underprivileged Americans that did earn a college degree stayed in the lowest income brackets. The connection between education and poverty can be seen at all levels of education. Children whose parents are considered poor have a pre-school enrollment rate approximately 20 percent lower than middle class children, and studies have shown that children who complete pre-school are 31 percent less likely to repeat a grade and 32 percent less likely to drop out of school altogether. Unfortunately, low educations rates are also exacerbated by societal and demographic factors as well. Since most schools receive local and state funding, those schools located within poor communities receive less money for improvements and salaries than schools in a middle or upper class community. Furthermore, the more-qualified teachers will often be more inclined to teach at schools with higher salaries, safer working conditions, and in better neighborhoods, meaning that the less-qualified teachers will work in poorer school districts.
In a report by Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, he pointed out that the American poor really do have some nice things by American standards and a far cry above those in developing countries. His data shows that 43 percent of poor families own their own home, and 97 percent of them have a color TV, microwave oven, etc.
Now, we shift our focus over to the hundreds of welfare programs instituted to help the poorer Americans. It is important to note that they are all means-tested programs. That means that a potential recipient must meet an income test (i.e., lack-of-income test). In other words, eligibility is based on need rather than the contributions that have been made (as it is with social security).
Some key welfare programs include:
Food stamps (SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
Tax credits (EITC – Earned Income Tax Credits)
Block grants (TANF – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)
Direct cash payments to the eligible poor
Many people have been convinced by constant media reporting that there is a lot of fraud, waste, and abuse in America’s welfare programs. However, that is not reality. Studies on this issue have consistently shown that the abuse is less than 3% of welfare recipients. It may cost more money to ferret them out than the money that would be saved.
As for as requirements to receive welfare benefits, these are determined by each state. In most cases, the requirements are fairly rigorous. For example, in the State of Colorado, for those receiving unemployment benefits they have to have to prove that you are able, available, and actively seeking work. You have to show that you are applying for jobs and are willing to accept work immediately after being offered a job. It also has workforce programs to help individuals in career counseling, Internet access, information on job listings, and many other things. It keeps track of how long someone has received benefits and will stop benefits if they do not follow the recommendations or after a set amount of time (now, normally 6 months).
The National Conference of State Legislatures says that in 2014, 12 states have passed laws requiring participants and new applicants to pass a drug test prior to receiving any public assistance. Some of the laws specify that all recipients get tested while other states test only those suspected of abusing drugs or already have an identified drug problem. However, in Florida, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling that said drug testing constituted and violation of an individual’s protection from unreasonable search. As such, this approach may not be legally viable going forward.
Social Security is the single largest federal government program. In 2012, the presidential budget request for Social Security was $800 billion. Social security benefits fall within five major categories:
Retirement – full benefits provided at age 67
Disability – benefits provided to people who have enough credits and have a physical or mental condition that prevents them from doing “substantial” work for a year or more
Family – if an individual is receiving benefits, a family member or child may also be eligible
Survivor – when individuals who have accumulated enough credits die, certain family members may be eligible for their benefits
Medicare – Part A (hospital insurance) is paid through social security tax
For more information on the little-known Supplemental Social Income Benefits program for low-income individuals, please read the Social Security Administration’s fact sheet on it entitled “Supplemental Security Income Home Page.”
As you explore how to improve welfare and the growing challenges with social security, keep in mind the evaluative criteria that we discussed earlier in the course (efficiency, effectiveness, ethics, equity, and political and social feasibility).
Now, let’s take a look at education policy. Let’s first consider why government is involved in education:
It provides an emphasis on governance at the state and local levels.
It helps immigrants with social integration and assimilation.
It is the prime driver for social mobility; providing people greater opportunities to increase their social and economic status.
The major educational policies enacted by the federal government for grades K-12 include the Elementary & Secondary Education Act of 1965, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and the Race to the Top program of 2009.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is an educational initiative in the United States that details what K-12 students should know in English and math at the end of each grade. The 2009 initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). It seeks to establish consistent educational standards across the country.
The major educational policies enacted by the federal government for higher education include the Morrill Act of 1890, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (i.e., GI Bill), and the Pell Grant program (Pell Grants were created by the Higher Education Act of 1965).
What are some of the options for educational reform? The textbook explores the options of merit pay, teacher standards, teacher salaries, school vouchers/school choice/charter schools, shift in funding and school testing.
The authors pointed out that soft science courses, such as government and history, are taking a back seat to science and math courses in America today. For an update on this growing problem, please read the Wall Street Journal article written by Douglas Belkin entitled “Study Finds Many Colleges Don’t Require Core Subjects Like History, Government.”
Finally, the authors brought up the current issue of “for-profit colleges” (such as American Public University). They claimed that such colleges typically charge too much tuition and provide a substandard education for the money. (Caveat: None of this criticism applies to American Public University.) For more insight on this issue, please read Katherine Morris’s article in Diverse Education entitled “For-Profit Colleges Under Fire.”
To see the current programs that policy-makers created, this lesson started with identifying poverty as a social problem. Then, we covered public policies developed to deal with the problem over time, to include welfare programs for those in poverty, and education programs to help people overcome poverty.
Kraft, Michael and Scott Furlong. (2015) Public Policy: Politics, Analysis, and Alternatives. Sage Press.