David French, writing for National Review Online, explains that there’s nothing wrong with the poor except a bit of old-fashioned depravity:
It is simply a fact that our social problems are increasingly connected to the depravity of the poor. If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely — very rarely — be poor. At the same time, poverty is the handmaiden of illegitimacy, divorce, ignorance, and addiction. As we have poured money into welfare, we’ve done nothing to address the behaviors that lead to poverty while doing all we can to make that poverty more comfortable and sustainable.
It’s worth conceding off the front end that this is, in a sense, true. A two-earner family (“gets married, and stays married”) both of whose adults “work hard” for 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year at minimum wage jobs will earn $29,000 a year. That would put you above the poverty line even with two or three kids. That said . . .
. . . what if dad runs off, leaving mom with the three kids and having trouble working full-time consistent with her child-raising responsibilities? We turn around and say that we need to withdraw your public assistance in to make an example out of you for others?
. . . what if dad is abusive?
. . . what if a pile of misguided Wall Street shenanigans lands the country with a 9 percent unemployment rate and you can’t find work?
. . . what if you didn’t finish school seven years ago and now you’re 24?
. . . what if you got hooked on heroin?
Now I suppose you could argue that the availability of drug treatment programs, battered women’s shelters, and food kitchens creates “moral hazard” and encourages people to become heroin addicts and/or bed down with abusive partners. But I don’t think that this is a very plausible story. People don’t become homeless drug addicts because the downside to being a homeless drug addict isn’t severe enough in the contemporary United States. And affluent parents don’t treat their children in this kind of punitive way. If a prosperous teenager develops an addiction problem, he’ll be given help. Any halfway responsible parent with the means to do so would bail out a daughter whose live-in boyfriend is abusing her. Poor people have, typically, made some mistakes in life and it’s often the case that had they lived lives free of error, they wouldn’t be poor. But it’s not like middle class people are living mistake-free lives. The difference is that middle class people have lives that give them a fair margin for error, whereas people who start out in bad circumstances can be crippled by a bit of misfortune, impulsiveness, or bad decision-making.