Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Welfare destroyed the black family

A recurring argument that I have found in researching my paper (unintended effects of policy) is that the welfare system destroyed the black family. Thought I would share.

13 comments:

Ryan Karerat said...

"Today I doubt you could find any significant problem that blacks face that is caused by racial discrimination."

You gotta be kidding me with this stuff Megan...

PBM said...

"'I think it's important for people to understand the ideas of scarcity and decision-making in everyday life so that they won't be ripped off by politicians,' he says. 'Politicians exploit economic illiteracy.'

Which is why, he adds, the tea party movement is a positive development in our politics and long overdue."

I have people calling me telling me they are proud tea partiers and that the government needs to shut down, and the debt limit can't be raised. How is that not politicians/ Fox exploiting economic illiteracy? Failure to raise the debt limit would be horrible for our economy, and there are people on the right cheering this scenario on.

I also don't see where his proof is that welfare makes black fathers abandon their children.

PBM said...

There may be articles but I would still like the author and or you to point out the correlation, because on first glance, that doesn't make sense to me.

Megan said...

And I think the tea partiers understand a lot more than many politicians. Namely the fact that we can't spend money we don't have.

PBM said...

We do have the money though. Governments are not the same as households, and there is extensive research on their ability to continue spending when they are in debt.

If your trying to defend their position on the debt limit, which I'm not sure if you are or not, it would be incredibly stupid to not raise it. It would erase any economic gains we have made and possibly send the globe into another large recession. Rational people know this, but people who are brainwashed by Fox News and other sources of conservative talking points do not. The debt limit is not something to play around with, and tea partiers are completely wrong on this issue.

Julia G said...

Sorry, this guy totally lost me when he said that racial discrimination doesn't exist anymore.
I think you're being overly optimistic about the amount of progress we can infer from the fact that we have a black president. Obviously this is a major step in the right direction, but the mere fact that a majority of Republicans believe Obama was born outside of the United States shows that racial discrimination is still a serious problem. I think you have said in the past that you agree there is an element of racism there.
I would also like to see the articles you are talking about. And also, correlation does not imply causation. Just because two things are happening at the same time (welfare and a growth of single-parent households) does not mean that one is causing the other. I find this theory to be a significant stretch.

TJE said...

This conversation was actually begin in the 60's by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Here is a somewhat long intellectual history.

TJE said...

Oops:

http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_3_black_family.html

Patrick_Landers said...

There's a big difference between accepting the importance of "cultural" arguments about the problems with the current, predominate Black family structure (single motherhood) and accepting the claim that welfare destroyed the black family. The cultural arguments like those found in the Moynihan are gaining increasing support and interest among poverty scholars, sociologists, etc. The U.S. welfare system is a possible explanation for the cultural arguments about the self-destructive nature of current black family structures (These arguments get very complex because there is a lot of simultaneity and inter-generation cyclical effects occurring- aka a causes b which causes c and a, and then c causes a as well). However, welfare did NOT destroy the black family. The problems with the black family are related to a variety of factors affecting opportunity, such as discrimination, segregation, limited job opportunities, failing school systems, the criminal justice system (institutionally racist, unfortunately), etc.

Just think about it- contrary to Reagan’s imaginary stories, welfare benefits were never anything but modest. Why would people choose to stay on welfare if they had accessible opportunities to leave it? Do you think that receiving benefits equivalent to $20k in today’s dollars (a generous proxy for how much welfare beneficiaries might have received in the past), being barely able to cover your needs is going to be a living standard many people would choose? Or is it more likely that these families and individuals have struggled to move ahead, to find opportunities? What’s holding these people back- “generous” welfare benefits or factors like discrimination, education, segregation, job opportunities, criminal histories. You know that tens of millions of Americans spend various parts of their life below the poverty line, or qualifying for welfare benefits or even receiving welfare benefits. Most escape for long periods of time, many cycle in and their whole lives, and a small minority spend their entire lives in these programs for the most impoverished among us.

Why do some successfully transition out of welfare and others don't? it's an opportunity story that matters, and it is this opportunity story that explains the changes observed in poor, black families. However, I don't see welfare having a significant, direct impact on family structure- as we've discussed (talking to you, Megan) in Introduction to Public Policy and Economics of Poverty, government benefits are so meager versus the alternatives, and there are so many other factors that matter for these kinds of lifestyle decisions, that welfare has little direct explanatory power for the poor, black family structure. While it doesn't have direct effects, it may have indirect effects by exacerbating the causes of the poor family structure (which I argue are related to opportunity, namely job growth, education, and crime- just to name a few). However, I don’t see any evidence or casual stories for making this claim that welfare policy affects these barriers to success for poor, black Americans, which in turn creates changes in poor, black family structure that create the values and cultural norms that are so self-destructive.

Patrick_Landers said...

I have, and am aware of more arguments, that could cut against the argument that welfare destroyed the black family. I’d be happy to start posting them, but it would require a significant amount of time from me because I’d be checking the academic literature on the subject for every point I’d be making (aka, this isn’t a subject where I know the literature and authors by name so it’s easy for me to find them- I just know general results of the field, so it would be more time-intensive for me to do my usual research and posting). Also I have to read tomorrow’s book, do work-work, complete my paper on nuclear energy, etc.- so I’m not going to post anything more here unprompted. However, if people wanted to lay out their arguments and beliefs on the subject, I’d be happy to stick my two cents in (as if I could resist). I just don’t want to take the lead on this one (although this shouldn’t be taken as a sign of my lack of conviction on this issue- I strongly resist and question this argument that welfare ruined the black family).

I wanted to close by reiterating the point that one can accept the cultural arguments about poor, black family structures (aka single motherhood has negative intergenerational impacts that explain part of the current deep poverty of many black families) and reject the claim the welfare destroyed the black family. They are easily distinguishable , though I appreciate Professor Eismeier introducing Moynihan Report-style arguments because they are an important, defensible part of the explanation of why poor blacks have actually regressed over the past few decades. However, welfare did not destroy the black family. These are similar but distinct theories. (I know I repeat myself- I just wanted to make sure my points were being made clear, which requires repetition for my convoluted thinking and writing). By the way, I agree that for decades (and still to this day), much of the black leadership has concentrated on less-important problems and ignored more effective strategies for helping the poor, black American underclass- which has really sunk to a deplorable and unacceptable level for decades that needs to end NOW.
VERY MINOR TECHNICAL POINT: Also Megan, Peter’s right when he disagrees with your statement that “that we can't spend money we don't have.” Regular households through credit cards, mortgages, home equity loans, car loans, college loans, etc. do it all the time. The vast majority of Americans have to deficit finance, aka spend money they don’t have, for years at a time for a variety of reasons. And the government actually has more ability to do this because it’s theoretically an infinite institution, so there’s no need to every completely balance the books (which families eventually have to do). We’re obviously free to balance our books by eliminating the debt- there’s just no force that can or will make sure the United States only spends what money it has over a period of time. We do need to get deficits low so the debt as a share of GDP falls so it doesn’t become a burden on our economy or limit the government’s ability to respond to crises (like the financial meltdown for instance). However, the U.S. can spend money it doesn’t have for infinity- it just can’t spend TOO much money it doesn’t have. But that’s a small quibble that my personality insists I make ;)

Megan said...

Patrick, I haven't read what you wrote yet, but after reading the research I want to alter my position on this!!! I misread the research and posted too quickly.

I think economic conditions stemming from slavery, decades of racism etc. have lead to economic conditions which have lead to fatherlessness in low-income black families.

I still think that welfare has certainly not helped the black family, and think it is a factor in the problem although there is no conclusive proof (there are polls that suggest that welfare recipients have the same opinion as me- really this time).

I find it hard to believe that subsidizing single motherhood does not encourage people to become single mothers (and so did Bill Clinton and Congress apparently). BUT I think economic conditions are the main reason (and these economic conditions stem from decades of racism).

Yes, racism still exists. I would and have never argue otherwise. And yes, I was wrong about the research and Peter I owe you an extra apology for the sass!!

Megan said...

Basically, I think single motherhood is one of the biggest problems that blacks face today, and although I believe it stemmed from racism indirectly through poverty, I don't think racism is currently the reason for it.

Patrick_Landers said...

Don't worry Megan- I never believed that we were actually that far apart policy-wise or politically. You do a very good job of researching your points and making the best arguments (which adds to my workload in trying to respond). Debates like those we do on the blog just tend to highlight our differences of opinion, ignoring the fact that since everyone on the blog is intelligently thinking about these issues, our political and policy spectrum differences are relatively small (though still important). Though I have to admit I was a little worried when you posted that welfare destroyed the black family...

I would say that overall government policy (not just welfare like you said) has not helped the black family. I actually think our current welfare system, considered by itself, is actually a small/modest plus for these families (so we might disagree here), but it's not enough to overcome the other difficulties these families face. However, there are many reforms to our current welfare system that I definitely think we should pursue. There are always to improve- i wouldn't want to cut total funding, but there's a lot of consoldiation, streamlining, economizing, and other reforms that we could due to just the welfare program that could get us a mich bigger bang for the buck. But it would take more than that to help these families- we need education reform, criminal justice reform, and a much stronger economy which provides opportunities for these disadvantaged, segregated pockets of poor, black Americans. Plus, we need to do a better job thinking about how policy (and maybe public awareness campaings on things like waiting to have children until you get married- Ron Haskins, a conservative at Brookings talks about things like this)can improve these cultural downsides of the current poor, black family structure.