NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Government Policies

May 31, 1996

The theory that poverty breeds crime, illegitimacy, drug use and a host of other social problems has led to giving the poor more money through welfare programs in the belief that the problems will go away.

But the results of the massive American welfare experiment in the last third of the 20th Century indicate this belief is mistaken:

  • In the 1920s, roughly half the population was poor by today's standards -- declining to a still-impressive one-third of the population by 1950.
  • Yet crime, family break-up, drug-addiction and most other social problems were nowhere near the levels they are today.

Both history and common sense show that the values within families are a more important determinant of children's achievement than family income. Welfare, on the other hand, also has behavioral side effects: it engenders dependence and illegitimacy, both injurious to children's development. For example:

  • Among the nearly five million families currently receiving benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, the lifetime total of time spent on welfare will average nearly 13 years.
  • A 1994 report by current Congressional Budget Office director June O'Neill shows that increasing the time a child spends on welfare may reduce the child's IQ by as much as 20 percent.

Researchers are coming to the conclusion that government policies themselves are responsible for undermining the moral foundations of inner cities, toppling marriage, gutting the work ethic and leaving a rubble of social pathology in their wake.

  • By rewarding mothers for having more children out of wedlock, welfare plays a powerful role in promoting illegitimacy.
  • Being born outside of marriage and raised in a single-parent home triples the level of behavioral and emotional problems among children.
  • Further, it nearly triples the level of teen sexual activity; doubles the probability a young woman will have children out of wedlock; and doubles the probability a boy will engage in criminal activity and wind up in jail.

Source: Robert Rector (Heritage Foundation), "Welfare Reforms on the Sidelines," Washington Times, May 31, 1996.


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