Chris Powell: Stop manufacturing poverty


Connecticut's impoverishment continues, as was recognized the other day by Hartford's school system, which decided to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students because more than half of them qualify as impoverished, the federal government will pay for it all, and keeping track of who qualifies and who doesn't is no longer worth the trouble.

It was the right decision -- somebody has to feed the kids, and some schools in Connecticut are already providing not only free breakfast and lunch but dinner as well. Indeed, some schools also are providing medical and dental services to their students, and good for them, since, again, somebody has to.

But this stuff raises urgent questions the rest of government is ignoring: Where are all this poverty and child neglect coming from and how can they be reversed? Why do so many kids today have poor parents or none at all?

How can it be a problem of a lousy economy? The federal and state administrations are both controlled by the "party of the people" and say the economy is great. (Of course that also means poverty no longer can be blamed on anyone named Bush or Reagan.) So what is it exactly and what can be done about it?

Eighty years ago during the Depression the journalist Upton Sinclair ran for governor of California on a platform called End Poverty in California. As Sinclair was a socialist who became a Democrat only to help his candidacy (the technique was not invented by Bernie Sanders), his platform was nationalization of industry, a progressive state income tax, and old-age pensions. Connecticut and the country already have progressive income taxes and the country already has a good Social Security system. As for nationalization, this is not the week to argue for having the entity that runs the state Motor Vehicles Department run everything else as well.

So what should a campaign to end poverty in Connecticut do?

Probably it should inquire into why most poverty in Connecticut is a matter of fatherless families, why 40 percent of the kids being born in the state are being born outside marriage, and why the fatherlessness rate in the cities approaches 90 percent.

Most social science in recent years confirms the huge correlation between childbearing outside marriage and poverty, so ending poverty in Connecticut would begin with understanding what causes this phenomenon and induces people to have kids before gaining a committed spouse and the education and training necessary to earn an income sufficient to support a family. After all, the fatherlessness phenomenon is relatively recent. People began behaving this way in such large numbers only in the last four decades or so, a period corresponding with the vast increase in government financial support for people behaving this way -- cash, food credit cards, medical insurance, housing vouchers, and such.

Of course financial assistance from the government is necessary for people who have encountered unavoidable problems. But what about avoidable problems? What about poverty that is self-inflicted and facilitated by the availability of government assistance for what is really antisocial behavior? Why does government fail to distinguish between such situations?

Government will always get less of what it taxes and more of what it subsidizes. So to end poverty in Connecticut, first government must stop manufacturing it.

Until government stops manufacturing poverty, schools that are providing free meals may not be able to do much more for impoverished students than to have the teachers take the kids home with them at night.

As for why government hasn't realized all this, Sinclair explained it: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." If poverty was ever ended in Connecticut, half of government would be out of business.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer.