I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.--Benjamin Franklin
One classic raccoon trap involves drilling a hole in a log, driving nails into the log next to the hole at an angle that brings the points out into the hole, pointing toward the bottom, and putting something shiny at the bottom. Don’t drive the nails in too far, though; you want enough room for the raccoon to reach in and get the piece of shiny, but not pull the shiny out. The nails should catch on a closed paw, not an open one. The raccoon can get loose—all he has to do is let go of the shiny.
This trap works every time. Raccoons don’t let go of the shiny.
Welfare works pretty similarly. There are individuals that, if they were promised a living just for breathing, told that they deserved a certain standard of living no matter how unwilling to work for it they were, would do anything for that piece of shiny: jump through any hoop, reach down into any hole.
The trap doesn’t work every time, just most of the time. And unfortunately, it’s the next generation that gets caught on the nails.
How does that happen? Two ways. First, you have individuals, like those I grew up with, that see their own baby-making equipment as an income source: they have a baby, the government supports them and their child with income, food, and medical insurance (more on that later). Second, you have individuals who either grew up in those homes and don’t fully realize that there is another way of life, or they have no idea how to go about reaching for prosperity. Depending on the neighborhood and/or school district, they may know how to reach for prosperity, but don’t have the tools—social skills or educational. And often, children born to the first type become the second.
The first type of individual who gets caught on the nails of the trap uses her own uterus for income. She gets pregnant, usually without a husband, sometimes without even anything more than just a baby-daddy sperm donor, has a baby, rides the government benefits until her part of the medical insurance runs out. Lather, rinse, repeat. With each child, she gets free medical care and a slowly increasing income. Many times, she spends this entirely on herself. There is a term for this: welfare queen.
This type of individual was criticized as a myth by those opposed to welfare reform. I can attest, from personal experience observing many of my high school acquaintances and their families (often single mothers that, if they did work, worked at truck stops and bars, and neglected their children), that welfare queens do exist. From my time living in a low-income housing district, I can tell you that it's not as rare as opponents to reform would have you believe. Much of the time, the daughter was only following in the mother’s footsteps. She doesn’t necessarily see anything else as a viable option, or if she does, can’t escape because without the guidance she needs, she gets pregnant early, and gets caught on the nails.
The second type of individual is often a child of the first type: children who grow up to depend on the government simply because a) they don’t fully realize that they can get out of the trap, b) they know that there is a way, but don’t know how to find it, or c) they know there is a way out, have a vague idea how to go about it, but don’t have the social or educational tools necessary to bend or break the nails holding them fast.
The worst part of this second type of second generation victims of welfare is that, not only are there very few people telling them that it’s possible to escape, but the majority is telling them that they can’t. They can’t do it. Because of the color of their skin, their sex, their parent’s or parents’ education level, they cannot make it on their own. They must have the assistance of their benevolent government to be able to live.
So, rather than Franklin’s take on how to help those born into or who’ve sunk into poverty, we help them live comfortably in their trap. Glenn Beck says it quite well:
He knew if you made poverty more comfortable, there's a lot of people that would be like, you know what, I'm just going to kick back here. I'm just going to -- you know what I -- I'm going to sit back and, you know, let the state give me a candle, you know…
Instead what happens is we enslave people in poverty because we give people everything, we make it easy for them to live in poverty and at the same time -- it's the combination of the two -- at the same time the leaders will say, "You can't make it, you can't make it." …
Make people comfortable in poverty and then tell them that
they'll never get out and you are going to be the king of the world.