Politicians and pundits have expressed concern that civil unrest will be the byproduct of a decision by a federal judge to lift the restraining order on Michigan’s plan to end welfare benefits to nearly 41,000 families and children.
“Michigan will be a point of crisis,” claimed the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
“It gives us cause for great concern,” said Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee who fears crime in the nation’s deadliest city could escalate.
Sowing the seeds of a social revolt may just be scare mongering, intended to get the Legislature to reverse its edict placing a 48-month lifetime cap on cash assistance. But if these initial cuts signal a new era of personal responsibility, and I suspect they do, doomsday predictions could become a self-fulfilling prophecy for all the wrong reasons.
To suggest that Detroit, and other urban areas, are on the verge of an explosion of civil unrest projects images of rampaging youth and frantic parents taking to the streets to participate in hit-and-run skirmishes with residents and police; the have-nots taking from “them that got.”
In reality, this pandering to the welfare poor is reckless feel-your pain populism that stimulates their self-pity. It paints a picture of callous, insensitive politicians turning a blind eye to the truly needy. Its premise is that government is the ultimate destroyer and savior.
Granted, a myriad of economic dilemmas exist throughout the state, which makes assessing the long-term plight of recipients difficult. A deluge of high-quality, innovative products from China and other Third World countries that mass-produce goods using inexpensive labor and technological advances, contributed to the bleeding of jobs from urban areas.
Unemployment is also a powerful testimony to the failure of education. As evidenced by virtually every measure of academic performance, the system of public education has arrested the intellectual development of generation of children in welfare families. Deprived of basic reading, math skills and the confidence to compete in today’s workplace that requires a higher level of learning and competence, many of these children may never take that first step up the economic ladder.
But what role does the government have in extricating the poor from welfare rolls and into jobs? Can government substantially alter the behavior of adults and adolescents living under conditions found among welfare recipients? Maybe not. The core of poverty tends to transcend joblessness or government intervention.
The welfare state both encouraged and financed dependency among those mired in learned behavior that is generally void of the work ethic. Current strategies –extensive welfare-to-work programs — wasted energies and squandered taxpayer dollars.
For black Americans, particularly black men, unemployment rates have remained twice that of the general population for several decades – in good times and bad — and for a number of reasons. In some cases, the unemployed did not qualify for, or refused to accept the low-income jobs best suited to their skills. These disparities existed before welfare cuts came into play and will likely continue.
Those welfare recipients willing to work must now compete directly with legal and illegal immigrants at the margins of society for low-wage, low-skill jobs. But can they?
Most taxpayers would agree that those addicted to dependency must demonstrate more of a willingness to escape from the shackles that rob them of individual initiatives. If they have a future with a job, self-help initiatives will need to shift toward encouraging a hardened underclass to change behavior, not by continuing to drip-feed more handouts without accountability.
In the short-term, it is irresponsible for welfare activists to sound the alarm that cuts to cash assistance will create conditions so hopeless that mayhem is the only available option. Under the guise of compassion, these advocates of the status quo only promote cynicism. And to suggest that social disorder is imminent, inevitable and even understandable is inexcusable. It completely dismisses the obligation to work.