A Culture of Dependency

In most wars a victor is declared. Yet, there is one war that has raged for more than half a century and there is no winner: the war on poverty.

It started under the Lyndon Johnson administration with the best intentions. Now 50 years and $20 trillion later, poverty in this nation has actually grown worse.

How can the richest nation on earth have 50 million people living in poverty? The answer is that we have substituted a path to employment for a path to dependency. Entitlements that were originally meant as a brief stopover to a better life are now considered career destinations.

We have created a culture of dependency. The American Dream itself is under attack. It is being undermined and redefined. For millions of people, it is no longer about hard work and sacrifice, but access to entitlements.

Our government has made it so easy to collect benefits for not working that millions have chosen to stay out of the work force. There are some 26 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or have simply given up looking.

While we can point to a sputtering economy for the root cause of our miserable employment numbers, we must also point to failed jobs programs that have actually discouraged people from looking for work and encouraged the collection of benefits.

A bright spot occurred in 1996 when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was passed. It reduced federal cash assistance to the poor and added a work force development component to welfare legislation. The program weaned people off of welfare by limiting payouts and gave strong incentives to get a job.

The result is that unemployment dropped, federal spending on welfare programs dropped and poverty levels started to recede.

Somewhere along the line this program was compromised, and today, unemployment benefits are paid out for up to 99 weeks. That’s almost two years of workers forgoing job experience and skill development while they stay at home.

Is it because there are no jobs? No. There are thousands of jobs that are unfilled. It’s because millions would rather collect unemployment benefits than a paycheck, and millions more simply lack the skills to gain employment. Those skills aren’t going to be learned when they’re not in the work force.

Contributing to the unemployment picture is that the Obama administration has ignored supporting the small businesses and entrepreneurs that create the vast majority of our nation’s jobs.

The truth is that out of the roughly 1 million jobs created during 2013, only 23 percent were full-time jobs. Today in America, only 47 percent of adults have full-time jobs.

So is the answer part-time jobs? Not if you want to end poverty. Today, we have millions of people being pushed into “involuntary part-time workers” — a new phrase that has been added to our lexicon. These are workers who want to work full time but can only find part-time work.

We are becoming a nation of part-time workers, which should concern us all, as part-time workers are five times more likely than full-time workers are to live in poverty.

Raising the minimum wage is not the solution. It will only raise the poverty line.

After 50 years, we are no closer to solving poverty than we were then. But we can’t simply throw money at poverty and hope it goes away. We need a better plan.

It starts with changing our approach to job creation. Invest in trade schools and vocational training to create the skills where real full-time jobs are awaiting to be filled.

Give people a pathway to work, not more federal entitlements. The goal for any American must be a full-time job, not a full-time handout.

Amend the tax code so companies have more funds to invest in innovation, thereby adding jobs.

Get rid of the massive, suffocating regulations plaguing our economy. Start with Dodd-Frank, which is forcing our community bankers out of business because they cannot afford the cost of compliance. Our community bankers have historically been the front line of providing credit to our entrepreneurial community.

Create an environment whereby the manufacturers that left our country begin coming back home to establish a presence here and hire American workers to produce their products and services.

Let’s ensure our businesses have the same access to foreign markets that foreign manufacturers have to our market. This alone would create millions of good-paying jobs.

There are solutions that are imminently doable. It only takes leadership with a vision.

We don’t need a war on poverty — we need a re-evaluation of the policies that have failed to solve poverty so we don’t implement the same ill-conceived policies again.

I came across an interesting quote attributed to Muhammad Ali: “Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change.”

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