Why Conservatives Can’t Fix Poverty

Newt Gingrich's new idea offers a stark reminder.

By James Thindwa

Newt Gingrich's recent utterances about poor children--they "have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works"--reflect not only the inability of conservatives to talk seriously about poverty, but a mean-spiritedness that, unfortunately, largely eludes public scrutiny. Apparently, Gingrich and the approving [RETURN TO ARTICLE]

  • Reader Comments

    In an article on poverty I read, one lady said “We already live in HUD housing, we’re already on Medicaid, we already have food stamps and we still struggle.”  She was referring to herself and one kid she still had at home.  She is getting $50 per month from the absent father.  She said she is living in the land of plenty and she didn’t have plenty and that wasn’t fair.
    What about the taxpayers who are paying for all the giveaway programs she is getting? When my family wants something that I expended part of my life earning, do you think they are happy when I tell them “you can’t have that because I am paying the bills for somebody in HUD housing, getting food stamps and on Medicaid?”
    When are people going to start making responsible decisions, carrying your own weight in society? I am not rich, just sick and tired of paying other peoples bills.  Since the mid 1960s our means tested welfare programs have transferred over $16 Trillion from people who earned it to people who did not.  It was an attempt to get rid of poverty.  We are now over $15 Trillion in debt.  It didn’t work, we paid for poverty and we got what we paid for.

    Posted by Taxed Enough on Dec 11, 2011 at 11:00 PM

    I assume you mean a STARK reminder.

    If you need to hire a copy editor, please contact me. I live in Chicago and am out of work.

    Posted by Catbus on Dec 12, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Dear Taxed Enough. Federal taxes are now at their lowest level since before World War II. They are far lower than prevailed in days when the economy thrived and top earners did not earn such outrageous margins over their employees as now.

    I can remember personally a marginal rate I was paying higher than the top bracket for folks earning well over a million dollars per annum.

    When the <sarcasm on> Sainted Market <sarcasm off> was not so tilted toward the rich, when <scorn on>  Idolators of the Market <scorn off> were not so influential as today, the working poor could pay their rent, buy their groceries, pay their auto insurance, buy their used car, and otherwise move right along with life. No more.  Every since Taft-Hartley there has been a slow. usually stealthy effort to rip the heart out of the labor movement, to deny the vote to the less well off, to cut taxes for those with ample surplus income, and etc and etc and etc ...

    The lady who started this message string was telling a tale that represents the lives of far too many in this land, who are victims of the campaign for license for the rich. Unless you are one of a small class, dear Taxed Enough, you are one who has been conned into working against your own interests. No one in this country is taxed too much, unless it is the poor guy on minimum wage loaning his FICA taxes to Uncle and looking at a refund come tax time.

    Being a member of society carries with it the moral obligation to pay a fair share of the costs of having a society. Being a member of the Judeo-Christian tradition comes with it an obligation to share freely with the poor, the sick, the stranger, the outcast. Inasmuch as we no longer live in fairly uniform villages, it takes an agency like government to connect those who should share with those who are in need.

    And in the Christmas season also ...

    Posted by Nanabedokw'môlsem on Dec 13, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    wow, this is amazing.  so you think the last 40 years of liberal “anti-poverty” programs HAVE fixed poverty??  or you think that’s not enough money?  who could possibly write drivel like this?  did you go to journalism school?  did your parents pay for you to learn how to “think” like this?  staggering.

    Nanabedokw’môlsem -  you have no idea what you’re talking about.  not even a little.  americans, considering fed, state, local, property and sales tax, are taxed LIKE CRAZY relative to the “services” they receive from a bureaucratic, liberally biased government sector.  you spit up the tired old canard of “paying their fare share”, while the numbers indicate that the top 2% of wage earners pay 40% of federal taxes.  but that’s not enough; since you’ve never made any money, you have no idea what drivel you’re regurgitating.  sad, really…..

    Posted by subframer on Dec 14, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    “Poverty” in America consists of a car, a microwave, air conditioning, color tv, and these days, even computers and cell phones. “Poverty” in America is middle class in most of the rest of the world. If you want to see real poverty, try Africa.

    When liberals talk about poverty, they are not referring to the physical conditions of poverty, they are worried about income inequality, and when you start trying to equalize incomes we all wind up equally poor, since no economy can function without incentives. Why work hard if any surplus gets taken away, and why work at all when you can just wait to receive somebody else’s surplus?

    Posted by Willaim Wallace on Dec 14, 2011 at 9:37 AM


    If you dont think permanently poor people make bad decisions, you havent been around any.  Having served the homeless for 5 years I can tell you their personal histories are FILLED with poor decisions.  We dont see people who are temporarily poor.  They lose their job, recognize they need to change their skill set and get another job.  Maybe that means moving in with relatives or what not.  Why arent the poor changing their skill set????  You know why because they arent educated.  No Republican has made a decision regarding education in the inner city for the last 30 years.  These “prison prep” schools were under your empathetic watch.  You educated 25% of the students for the last 3 decades.  Nice work. 

    Get laid off, make yourself marketable, get another job.  Or, how about moving to where the jobs are?  North Dakota?  There are 18,000 job openings there right now.  If you dont want to move, than its clear we have lost the immigrant mindset that made this country so great.  Dont want to be so INCONVENIENCED on my way to a better life.  Best to just have a hand out.

    Posted by coley on Dec 14, 2011 at 10:26 AM

    You people have it all wrong - you think with your hearts, but haven’t a clue about human nature.  Let’s look at what Democrats good intentions have done with poverty in the black community over the last 50 years:

    Democrats have taken the promise of the civil rights movement and ground it to dust,  and molded African Americans into the perfect Democratic community - by destroying the family by subsidizing unwed mothers and ensuring money wouldn’t be paid if a father was around (I remember the articles in the Newark New Jersey Evening News in the 60’s - welfare “cheats” with the father at home),  criminalizing the community, co-opting the leadership into being more Democrats than community leaders, gangs replace family since to be human is to have family, millions of immigrants come to America at the behest of Democrats taking jobs traditionally done by blacks thereby making the community ever more dependent.

    Most sad of all - having Democratic media adopt a political correctness standard so that the crimes and corruption of black Democratic leaders are well hidden as are the awful statistics in the community - and using media to ensure that Democrats get get close to 100% of the vote by driving out Republicans so that there is no alternative to the corrupt Democratic leadership.

    The result of good intentions (probably not good intentions at all -  - D. Patrick Moynihan told everyone that this would happen, back in the 60’s and ‘70’s) is the awful state of the black community today - shattered family, criminalized community, low educational achievements and more - we all see who are in those flash mob videos - those are children (!) who should be working to be educators, scientists, engineers and the like - instead Democrats have corrupted their community.

    Or to put it another way - after 50 years of Democratic control shouldn’t black leaders be calling for tax cuts for the wealthy? Instead of what we have today? I’ve seen this, I know what’s going on, I was a Democrat - all first hand in my home city of Newark, New Jersey - go to Juvenile Court, Essex County, Newark NJ and see for yourself how children are abused by a system created by Democratic policies. It’s Dickens in the 21st century!  And we are all silent even though we know the crimes and corruption of the Democrats in the ghettos. We think it is none of our business, that it is up to these people to get under the boot heel of the Democratic repression, or we don’t think about it at all, we figure it’s other people’s problems. And most of all we don’t want to be called a racist. 

    So we have a media that is scared stiff at even mentioning the terrible stats, that will say nothing since to do so would risk being called a racist by the people who loot and pillage the community. So gangsters like Marion Barry and Sharp James, Kenneth Gibson and all the rest have a free hand because people have no spine. 

    As immigrants cycle through the ghetto on their way to the American dream - immigrants imported by Democratic leaders as voters for Democrats, and who in the process take jobs in areas that African Americans traditionally worked - who do you think used to do the “jobs Americans won’t take?.”  Well those jobs could have been a way to better things but..well Democrats needed the vote and if maybe Republicans participated too, maybe Democrat should have protected a community that gave them 100% of the vote?

    And what Democrats have done to blacks over the last 50 years is nothing less than a national holocaust - and no one is saying a darn thing about it since Democrat media has silenced critics by making any criticism of the black Democratic leadership the same as racism.

    So what you going to do about it? Blame Gingrich?

    Posted by B. Samuel davis on Dec 14, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    Of course conservatives can’t “fix” poverty. Neither can liberals (or “progressives”). If one looks at the well documented and vetted data poverty is almost certainly avoided by (1) graduating from high school, (2) not having children until being married and (3) getting and holding a job, any job.

    Rather than attack “conservatives” (talk about stereotyping) perhaps the author should try a constructive approach and promulgate the solutions that will “fix” poverty. I’d be anxious to hear them as well as see the evidence that the same have worked somewhere.

    Posted by Jim Triller on Dec 14, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    Jim Triller beat me to it.  There are limits to what government can do, whether run by liberals or conservatives. American poor are not starving; the safety net accomplishes that, if little else.  The root cause, if there is a single one (and there probably isn’t) is illegitimacy, which used to be VERY much lower among everybody including the poor. LBJ’s Great Society has a lot to answer for, particularly in making it possible for unmarried girls to have babies with fewer economic consequences. (There are plenty of OTHER consequences.)  Probably too late to fix that, but it’s one of the underlying pathologies, and one reason conservatives distrust liberal programs: they seem so often to do HARM more than good.

    One thing liberals might be able to do, if the Democrats were not so completely owned by the teachers’ unions: make public schools work. That would not fix everything, but it would eliminate one of the most severe drags of the poor getting themselves out of their circumstances.

    But to a great extent the problem is spiritual, and beyond the ability of any POLITICAL ideology to repair.

    Posted by John McBride on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:06 PM

    Oh, and how is it that liberals cannot avoid calling names?  “Newt Gingrich’s recent utterances about poor children—they “have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works”—reflect not only the inability of conservatives to talk seriously about poverty, but a mean-spiritedness that, unfortunately, largely eludes public scrutiny.”

    Is participating on this thread talking seriously about poverty? Most of the posters so far seem to be right of center.

    Are we mean-spirited? 

    Calling people names is usually not a very good way of persuading them of anything.

    Posted by John McBride on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    To those of you convincingly and with civility eviscerating the author on the absolute ignorance of this article I commend you.  Wish I could.

    Several have pointed out the utter stupidity of the premise of this article.  The grotesque liberal hypocrisy is sickening.  Liberals and Democrats have created more poverty and hardship than anyone.  More people on welfare, foodstamps, unemployed, under-employed - you name it.  Look at the liberal / democratic cities around our country - bankrupt, poverty-stricken cess pools after decades of democratic control. 

    The arguments about “morality” and “judeo-christianity” are equally as repulsive.  If you want to make that argument - remember this - Faith is based on individual accountability and responsibility - one has to decide personally if he/she is committed to Faith - no one imposes it.  No one distributes it.  In societies like Europe where liberal, socialist, big-government policies have run amok for decades not only are they financially bankrupt - they are spiritually dead (Faith in Europe has declined exponentially - that’s fact).  Why are they spiritually dead?  WHEN INDIVIDUALS ABDICATE PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY AND RESPONSIBILITY TO “THE GOVERNMENT” THE GOVERNMENT BECOMES GOD.

    This mindless ignorance has destroyed cities and countries.  It’s WHY PEOPLE LEAVE OTHER COUNTRIES TO COME HERE. 

    It’s truly sickening that garbage like this article qualifies as some type of journalism.  More people will suffer because of this kind of ignorance.

    Posted by chris B on Dec 14, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    While I agree with chris that ultimately it is individual choice that matters, and that government becomes Father (or Mommy, actually) and then God, I do think Christians (of whom I am one) have an obligation to involve ourselves in the lives of the poor in ways, and to an extent, that most of us resist. (I emphatically include myself.)

    One of the many problems with the welfare state is that it undercuts genuine private concern that is more likely to help. (Help the poor? Hey, I pay my taxes!)

    Christianity is not JUST about individual decisions. The church is the Body of Christ, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are to be the means whereby God’s love reaches the poorest. If you are a Christian and want to read something really scary, look at Matthew 25:31-45. The ONLY thing that distinguishes the righteous who enter the kingdom from those who are consigned to eternal punishment is their treatment of the poor.

    But this isn’t about liberals or conservatives.

    Posted by John McBride on Dec 14, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    One final point and then I’m off to a family wedding for the weekend.

    The author buys in to the common Democrat fallacy that labor unions and minimum wage laws help the poor. That is simply wrong, as a matter of fact: unions and minimum wage laws have been the principle barriers to the working poor. They block people with few skills from lifting themselves through hard work.  I assume he doesn’t know this, but ought to educate himself on the economics of it. Milton Friedman would be a good place to start.

    The schools of DC and other Democrat-governed cities are the worst in the nation. They also spend more money per student, and are overwhelmingly run by officials from the same minorities as the students. So why are they so bad? It isn’t money and it isn’t racism. It’s unions, whose PURPOSE is to protect their members and not the welfare of the larger society..

    Posted by John McBride on Dec 14, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    oh, so all one need do is to “demand” good paying jobs and poverty will be eliminated. ok, i demand them for everyone, and right now!

    drats, that didn’t work.

    well, here’s the best anti-poverty plan of all. tell people to get married and stay married if possible.single-parenthood is the single biggest poverty creator there is.

    Poverty rates are higher among single-mother families, regardless of race

    Among whites, single-mother families are six-and-a-half times more likely to be poor than married-couple families; among African-Americans, four times more likely; and among Hispanics, more than twice as likely.

    Poverty rates for families with children, by marital status and race

    Poverty rates are higher among single-mother families, regardless of race

    Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2010.

    keevan d. morgan, esq., chicago

    Posted by Keevan D. Morgan on Dec 14, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    this online magazine has the world’s slowest server. it is beyond the pale. can we trust a website with the world’s slowest server to come up with the solution to cure poverty?

    i think not.

    keevan d. morgan, esq., chicago

    Posted by Keevan D. Morgan on Dec 14, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    “Nanabedokw’môlsem” says to “taxed enough” that FEDERAL taxes are historically low.

    in a way, that’s true . . . but of course when rates were much higher there were more deductions. for instance, ALL interest was deductible and there was no “alternative minimum tax” so the stated rate was not the actual rate.

    more important, the TOTAL taxation at all levels of government hasn’t changed much at all. last time i checked it, it was 24+ as opposed to 28+. this was occasioned by such things as in illinois there was zero state income tax, but now it is 5%. there is only so much to take.

    regarding the “poverty” issue, total government military spending has been reduced from about 60% to 20% since eisenhower. so, the social side has been getting giganto increases.

    yet, the only real anti-poverty program that works is jobs created mostly by “millionaires and billionaires.”

    look, we don’t want children with no food. we need government programs. but at some point, one has to look around and see that there is only so much a hand-out can do—a valuable so much for sure, but the modern liberal state has no boundaries. there is always more “need” and always more desire to take from one and “spread it around.” we long ago reached the point of diminishing returns.

    we need to cure poverty through encouraging family life, which will encourage schooling, which will encourage the desire to work, which will create the desire to risk and invest in some, which will result in a richer society.

    if one doesn’t get to the “values” the author condemns, all the money won’t, and hasn’t done anything other than act as a place holder while society decays almost imperceptibly. but, decay it does.

    and i’ll place this wage—if the author has children, he teaches them the very same values he criticizes newt gingrich for wanting to impart to poor children. that’s how, whether or not the author is personally guilty of so doing, liberal children of privileged liberals taught good habits can maintain their societal built-in advantage over the poor children.

    keevan d. morgan, esq., chicago

    Posted by Keevan D. Morgan on Dec 14, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    I have to first appreciate “Nanabedokw’môlsem” for being so well-spoken on poverty, the social contract, the nature of taxes, etc. It was also refreshing to see someone on this thread who didn’t use liberal like a curse word that was supposed to insult people. People talk about calling others names when they use a label like it is supposed to be a dirty word.

    Since my PhD was in social work with an emphasis on poverty, I work with low-income college students to help them get through college, and I grew up on welfare, I am well qualified to speak on this topic. Nowadays, expertise doesn’t matter, because intensely studying something for years is less credible than just writing your opinion, but there are a lot of factual errors in these comments. Also of note is that my husband has nearly 20 years of experience working with the homeless, and while many make bad decisions or have generally unlikeable personalities, they are also usually troubled people who couldn’t work if they wanted to. If you have to be told that underwear goes inside your pants, you aren’t up for a job: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2Sv21NV9CE

    First, the War on Poverty began in 1965 and ended in 1980. Everything done to address poverty since 1980 was done with a conservative retrenchment policy. The trajectory to helping with poverty was going well and reducing the poverty rate substantially when the programs were capped or cut. The alleged loss of the War on Poverty is also false since there were successes. The rate for the elderly was cut by more than 50% after Medicare and Social Security were both in place. Today, it hovers around 9% where as it was 40% prior to the implementation of those programs: http://urbanpolicy.berkeley.edu/pdf/Ch6SocialEG0404.pdf

    Second, there have been no substantial increases in money to social programs for the poor even as the defense budget has dropped. Social Security and Medicare are unrelated to young poor people or welfare, and while they may have increased in costs over time, income maintenance programs such as welfare for poor people have actually consistently been *less* of the federal budget with each passing year. Right now, for example, the HUD waiting list for low income housing is 8 years long, and they closed the waiting list. Here is a link to a budget outlay: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/02/01/us/budget.html
    This country has encouraged isolation and concentration of poverty into certain areas of our cities, although the government did make the mistake of contributing to this phenomenon by the way that they built public housing.

    Third, the structural reasons for poverty have far more scientific weight behind them than the cultural reasons. In other words, people who say that it is the poor that bring it on themselves or have different values are not only being mean-spirited, but scientifically incorrect.

    The working poor make up about 30% of our population, and most people who go on welfare cycle between the program and working. No one can stay on welfare indefinitely. Perhaps welfare reform rules were missed back in the 90s. These are people with full-time jobs who have not earned enough to go above the poverty line: http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/herman/reports/futurework/conference/workingpoor/workingpoor_toc.htm

    Fourth, what about the children of the poor and their ability to learn so that they can escape poverty? Research has shown that just living under the stress of poverty leads to learning and cognitive problems: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081203092429.htm
    I’m sure these children will be able to compete with my stepson whose days are spent carefree and with exposure to high levels of enrichment. And people have the capacity to say they should just compete harder when their brain scans are showing damage similar to stroke patients.

    Posted by Deborah Foster on Dec 19, 2011 at 3:23 AM

    Some on this thread blame welfare for people being poor, like there was never poverty before welfare or as if the government caused intergenerational poverty. The people living in ghettos are only 4-5 generations removed from slavery. They have never had an enriched environment. Ever. They have never been financially recovered from slavery or Jim Crow. Spend some time working with poor people and you find that their family tree has been struggling against poverty since slavery and predictable problems with coping with that have arisen. Male-female relationships are still shaky after over 300 years of purposely splitting up slave families. Substance abuse and mental illness becomes an issue. In fact, research has shown that among poor people, the rates of serious mental illness are much higher.

    Finally, in 1981, I was ten years old, and I went along with my four younger siblings to foster care. Why? They cut the aid program my parents were on. They were 1) married, 2) waited to have children until marriage, and 3) they had jobs until the recession. So much for that magic formula, since people who are single parents are more likely to be poor, but married families have these issues as well. It’s the flip side of the census report. Who are all the poor families that aren’t single parent led? Oh my, their numbers are quite high as well.

    At that time, the monthly welfare check was not much different than it is today. They paid $430 a month for a family of seven. Welfare is so generous it won’t even cover most people’s rent. After they cut the program, we lived “off the land” and my paper route until there was no food and it was 32 degrees inside our house. It was in this desperate state that the child welfare investigators found us. The State paid $1200 a month to keep us in foster care. Each of the two families that took us got $600 a month. Based on the comments here, it is clear that conservatives would rather we all died than get help.

    My deceased father was a Vietnam era vet and diagnosed with schizophrenia that went untreated after he left the military. My mother is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. They never abdicated their responsibility to the government. They needed help. That happens. Quite often actually. My obnoxious extended family thinks the way that John McBride, Keevan Morgan, and chrisb does, but now one of their precious chosen ones is paralyzed from the neck down by an accident. Suddenly, they are all about government programs. This hypocrisy of using programs extensively while complaining about them is extremely common: http://policyispersonal.blogspot.com/2011/01/if-man-doesnt-work-he-shouldnt-be-fed.html

    I’d love for the conservatives here to explain why Finland has a tiny poverty rate, big government that people utilize, strong labor unions, and they now score higher than the USA on nearly every measure of quality of life, education, and equality: http://www.helsinkitimes.fi/htimes/domestic-news/general/12128-newsweek-ranks-finland-top-of-best-countries-list-.html

    What I don’t get is that these small-minded anti-tax people are always forgetting that their taxes can go toward national defense, even to the exclusion of social programs in their own minds.. I think of mine as going toward social programs to the exclusion of defense. That way we can each have our way.

    Posted by Deborah Foster on Dec 19, 2011 at 3:24 AM

    Conservatives can’t fix poverty, because conservatives don’t want to fix poverty. From a conservative perspective, poverty isn’t the real problem.




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    Posted by Faraz Ahmed on Dec 20, 2011 at 4:07 AM

    The Democrats can’t fix it either.

    Posted by alanmaki on Jan 27, 2012 at 12:33 AM

    U.S. citizens are being setup by government to be poor, and then to remain poor. Then, these government-setups tear families apart — sending them to state institutions. From whatever the children and adults suffer in the institutions, they may move forward through life working passively) as adults, or their aggressiveness or retaliation toward government-setups may propel them to prisons. Read the case of Lofton vs. School Board Members of LAUSD. Then read the testimonies of “Tracy” and “Steven,” survivors of government institutions, at:


    Is it possible that government is condemning people to poverty on purpose or is it accidental?

    Posted by Tee Ell on Feb 18, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    Yes, my conservative “friends”...you are mean-spirited. You have a cruel streak you don’t even recognize. You talk sadistically about people who aren’t present and you wildly assume social facts which simply don’t exist.

    I have been to tea party meetings and I have seen the Nazi flag waved proudly, and I have heard subversion and calls to overthrow the duly elected government, and I have researched to the best of my ability the sources of your ideas and the funds for your movement, and in spite of my open-mindedness, we will ALWAYS be enemies, and please take this as truth: you are NOT conservatives. You are CONFEDERATES, and you are at war with the U.S.

    And you will fail. Uncle Sam will win, truth will out, and the best of you…will recognize how badly you have been fooled, by Limbaugh and his ilk and their paymasters. When you do realize how much you have been lied to, I fear for the so-called conservatives leading the Republicans.

    But the rot goes very high and very deep.

    Posted by Leslie Victor Piper on Feb 24, 2012 at 6:56 PM