Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family 5

My latest reading of Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family focused on welfare reform and how to help the poor. I have five items:

1.  To his credit, Rick Santorum appears to be supportive of the earned-income tax credit for the working poor, something that Newt Gingrich in Lessons Learned the Hard Way was open to abolishing on account of the fraud within it.  I think that it's good to supplement the income of the working poor, since that could encourage work.  At the same time, I did not care for how Santorum pooh-poohed the idea that the poor are entitled to a living wage.  He talks about the financial burdens on middle-class families and the necessity for tax reform to alleviate those burdens, so doesn't he realize that there are financial burdens for the lower-income as well----that they need an income that is sufficient to support their families?  I'm tempted to say that Santorum does not understand the problems of the poor, but I have to give him some credit: He employed people on his staff who had been on welfare, and he was open to learning from them.

2.  Santorum makes the point that Bill Clinton vetoed welfare reform twice, and then signed it the third time, after which Clinton sought to chip away at the welfare reform law's provisions.  But there are two sides to every story.  And, whether or not you trust Bill Clinton, it's a good idea to consider his side.  In this opinion piece, Clinton says: "The Republicans wanted to require able-bodied people to work, but were opposed to continuing the federal guarantees of food and medical care to their children and to spending enough on education, training, transportation and child care to enable people to go to work in lower-wage jobs without hurting their children."

Both Santorum and Clinton treat welfare reform as a success, and, in a sense, it was.  But, as Jason DeParle (whom Santorum cites as an authority on welfare in his book) points out, it has not been overly successful during the latest recession and hereafter (see here and here).  Rather, the time-limits for receiving welfare have placed a number of poor families in desperate straits.

I agree with Santorum that welfare before welfare reform was problematic, for the goal of welfare should be to bring the poor into the workplace.  The question is how to do that.  Personally, I think it's a good idea to put the people on welfare who are having difficulty finding work in New Deal-like programs, where they can work, make money, and then spend that money to stimulate the economy.

3.  Santorum says that welfare reform should prioritize work over education, for those who enter the workplace from welfare make more money, plus they gain work experience.  But, as Ruth Conniff of The Progressive pointed out, that attitude contradicts a story that Santorum glowingly told in his book about a woman who left her abusive husband, got an education, and got off welfare.  Santorum believes in encouraging the poor to marry, but the problem is that women may be married to abusive spouses whom they should leave.  And, while Santorum questions the value of education in helping the poor to advance, his anecdote demonstrates that education can be a means to advancement.  I wonder if there is a way, though, for the poor to receive education and training, and also to get work experience.

4.  Santorum says that welfare mothers should work, when, earlier in the book, he recommends that mothers stay at home to raise their kids rather than pursuing careers.  It annoys me when people on the right do not spot this contradiction in their mindset (but at least some of the right-wing contributors to the books that Phyllis Schlafly edited criticized welfare reform that pushes mothers into the workforce).  Santorum says that parents should spend time with their children.  Well, remember that working welfare mom on Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, who had to work long hours (and thus be away from her children) to satisfy welfare reform requirements? 

5.  Santorum speaks highly of the Nehemiah Project, which seeks to help the poor to purchase a house.  Santorum states on page 148 that some who worked in HUD feared that there would be default rates as a result of the Nehemiah Project's work.  Well, some have argued that the Nehemiah Project helped set the stage for the defaults and the economic crisis that resulted (see here and here).


  1. Hi James, I'd find it helpful if people would say what they mean by 'work'. They seem usually to mean anything that brings in money. But surely ideally we don't want people to just be doing anything that brings in money, we want people working at things that are actually useful. My impression is that almost all work done in Western society is not only not useful but in fact is positively deleterious of social and material resources.

  2. I think that's pretty much how it's defined, at least when the economy is discussed: as what brings in money. It's a matter of people being able to support themselves, on some level. But I agree with your points.


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