Tag Archives: children

Confusing Support and Autonomy for Welfare Recipients

Greenville       Some months ago I was reading about the demise of a significant social service and advocacy organization.

A former executive director, David Tobis, who had also written a book about the organization and was one of its founders was quoted saying, “Movements start, they rise, they have influence and then they abate.  Parents are parents.  They are not administrators.”

What a peculiar quote attributed to him.  His comment on movements is commonplace, though not necessarily correct, but more to the point, his point on the very constituency that made up his organization, many of whom were welfare mothers, is so sweeping that it not only reads wrongheaded, but patronizing.  Of course, a huge number of parents are administrators of businesses, nonprofits, government, unions, and whatever might be named.  His real point is that he doesn’t believe the former recipients of this organizations’ services were ever capable of running the outfit.  Wow!

The Child Welfare Organizing project had made it twenty-five years, according to the New York Times, as “a group of mostly low-income mothers in New York City whose children had been taken away from them” but they “managed to turn their pain into policy.”  This is already a moving story of exceptional women, and by their record, capable of great things, since “they were credited with pushing for changes that helped steer the precipitous drop in the number of children in city foster care, now at about 9000 from about 50,000 in the early 1990s.”  For my money, hats off to these sisters and their protests and advocacy.  They won proposals in the legislature recently and, be careful how you’re quoted Brother Tobis, “two former employees now hold key positions in the Administration for Children’s Services, the city’s child welfare agency.”

The postmortem seemed to hint at a loss of focus by one executive director and a trip o Fiji and other drinks of the self-help programs out there where she was a fan.  But the real story seems to have had a lot to do with race, class, and gender, as sadly Tobis’ comment seemed to reveal.  Most the child welfare bureaucracy was white and male, and so were many of the administrators of the Child Welfare Organizing Project.  Switching to a black woman director who was a former recipient seems to have exposed the hard truth that they were not really full-fledged members of the club.

Sandra Killet, who was that former director, seems to have nailed it better in her overview.  She argued that the mothers were capable of both advocacy and administration but that “leaders of child welfare agencies should not confuse a need for support with a relinquishing of autonomy,” according to the Times summary of her remarks.  She added, “You don’t have to follow their lead.”

Perhaps you do to get the money, it seems, but she has hit the nail on head.  Confusing recipients of services with sheep to be lead, rather than adults with lives to lead, has been a critical mistake in dealing with welfare recipients and low-and-moderate income families for generations when it comes to government programs and funding.


Poverty in America, Why So Bad, and What to Do About It

New Orleans      The answer to the perpetually plaguing question of why we have such intractable poverty in the United States, arguably the richest country in the world, is always perplexing.  Every comparison of the US with other economically developed countries finds us at or near the bottom.  Recently the conservative business weekly, The Economist, looked at the issue with a different set of eyes to try to determine why the results of spending trillions over the years still has us struggling.

The heart of their argument is that our poverty programs focus on the “problems of the past, largely elderly and the working poor, leaving behind non-working adults and children.”  And it shows:

  • 40 million poor in 2017 or 12% of the population that amounts to individuals in a family of four living on $17.64 per day.

  • 18..5 people make only half that amount.

  • Children fare the worst with 13 million in poverty or 17.5% of all American children.

The Economist writers were not afraid to ask “Why?”  Their answer: “the safety net does not work as elsewhere.”

Countering the rightwing consensus, they argue that the poverty program has been a success, as far as it went.  Using the supplemental poverty measure, the “1967 safety-net taxes and transfers barely dented poverty:  26.4% of Americans were poor before, and 25% remained poor after.  Without a safety net, nearly the same proportion of Americans… would be poor today as were 50 years ago.”

No back-patting though.  They also find that poverty is now moving to the suburbs where 15% are at that level compared to 11% in cities.  Youngstown, Ohio gets special attention as sinking fast and Cleveland, where half of the children live in poverty, is no model despite some claims and hype.

Of course, poverty is also not colorblind with people of color paying the most painful prices for poverty.  With reparations in the news but not likely on a short list of potential policy agreements not matter the overwhelming justice that lies in the arguments, what are race-neutral problems that would move the needle?

The Economist doesn’t have the answer here, but refreshingly they do not default to the notion that philanthropy and charity are the answer.  Even with total charitable giving at $438 billion, that only accounts for 2.1% of GDP, and despite all the claims of the techsters and the rich who claim they know and do better, “charitable giving has stayed roughly the same for 40 years,” as they point out.

What might help break the cycle?

Help on rent and more affordable housing, they recognize, as we have argued, would be huge.  A lot more investment in children, which means more for HeadStart, an entitlement to daycare for all, and other programs perhaps too far out for their taste would also move the needle.

Of course, just plain cash support for out of work men and women and a restoration of welfare supports that make a difference for mothers and their young children, would be huge.  Just saying, because The Economist hinted at those answers without advocating them.