November 2, 1997 in City

Real Poverty War Is Fought And Won By Individuals

Jim Shamp Special To Roundtable
 

‘Bill” and “Mary” have rented from us for several years. Neither can work due to severe mental disabilities.

Occasionally, Bill needs a change in medicine. If he doesn’t get it in time, he starts hearing voices and becomes violent toward Mary. For the most part, however, they’re gentle people who need and deserve every program available to them.

“Georgia” is a healthy lady in her early 20s. I suspect she’s always been on welfare. She was six months pregnant when she rented the apartment and brought her violent boyfriend with her. In the ensuing fights, furniture was smashed and holes punched in the wall. The neighbor moved to avoid the violence.

It didn’t matter what the boyfriend did to her, when the police came, Georgia always said nothing was wrong.

“Marta” was an older welfare mother. She never quit demanding things. I built her a new security fence (which she never kept locked) and fixed pipes that froze because she refused to close the outside basement door. She destroyed the new floors, broke windows and left us with a mountain of trash including drug paraphernalia.

She made one improvement. She planted flowers. A week after she left, her live-in “uncle” came back and dug them up.

When my wife and I started our rental housing business, the Great Society was in its infancy. As a nation our compassion for the poor was exceeded only by our belief that government could wipe out poverty. What a difference three decades makes. The support system needed for the Bills and Marys became the crutch used by the Georgias and Martas to avoid responsible behavior.

Self-created or avoidable “disabilities” such as substance abuse, domestic violence and single motherhood became accepted excuses for joining the system. The mission of the welfare bureaucracy became one of qualifying clients for programs rather than preparing them to work.

In 1965, approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population was on welfare. By 1970 this percentage had tripled. This wasn’t caused by a sudden onslaught of bad luck or hard times. It was the result of a proliferation of programs, each needing a constituency to justify its existence.

I’ve rented to at least 100 long-term welfare families over the years. I’ve shared a thousand cups of coffee with these folks. Most are good people. Very few have significant handicaps, yet all are characterized by an unwillingness or inability to solve even the simplest of life’s problems.

Most make the lottery counter a regular stop. The boyfriend, who doesn’t contribute a dime, is a standard feature in these homes. Violence and substance abuse are considered normal and unavoidable.

The work ethic is almost nonexistent. They don’t grow gardens. They shun regular employment. Most have no concept of cause and effect. They simply don’t understand that in most cases, their situation is a direct result of their personal decisions and lifestyles.

Worst of all, they don’t believe that they have the ability to change.

It’s only when you see the agility with which they jump through the hoops, and their skill in mastering the system, that you realize that most recipients have plenty of ability, and that their reliance on the state for their livelihoods is learned.

This attitude is now being unlearned. Since federal welfare reform went into effect, welfare rolls nationwide have dropped by a third. In Idaho, caseloads have declined to where the state has a surplus of case workers.

I’m not sure how Washington state’s success stacks up with the rest of the country, but we’re clearly making progress. As attitudes change and programs are disbanded, the welfare poor will become the working poor moving toward a middle class life. The increase in self-discipline and self-esteem that results both in and from self-sufficiency will benefit us all. I’ll have better renters. Government will have more to spend on schools and roads. Substance abuse and crime, both of which thrive in a welfare environment, will decline.

The welfare state teaches that people are stupid and government is smart. That we cannot survive without being subsidized and regulated by our betters in government. As reform proceeds, the success of the welfare poor will show us how totally wrong these ideas are.

Perhaps we’ll even develop the courage to eliminate corporate welfare. What a progressive step that would be!

xxxx


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