October 2, 2009
By Israel Ortega
According to a recently released federal government report, the
U.S. poverty rate is at its highest level since 1987. Some 13.2
percent of Americans -- 39.8 million -- live in poverty. A stark
figure, to be sure, but it particularly hits home because,
according to the report, Hispanics were among the groups that
suffered most in the last year.
These disheartening figures will prompt many to instinctively
look to the government for an answer. Unfortunately, that approach
So we're left asking: If not the government, then whom?
To properly answer the question, look to our country's history.
For over a century, our government has poured trillions of dollars
into programs to combat poverty. In the 1960s, President Lyndon
Johnson started a "War on Poverty," a massive national campaign to
set up federal programs to, supposedly, help the least fortunate. A
recent paper by one of my colleagues at The Heritage Foundation
shows our country has spent $15.9 trillion on poverty-related
initiatives since 1965.
Yet recent poverty numbers indicate it's been misspent. Worse,
generous government programs have actually created perverse
incentives for needy individuals to remain poor. Rather than truly
lifting people out of poverty, many social welfare programs have
made the poor permanently dependent on government.
It's time to find better ways to help the poor. We live in one
of the most generous and philanthropic countries on earth. The
United States celebrates generosity and gift giving.
Such generosity isn't limited to financial contributions.
Americans volunteer hundreds of hours in soup kitchens, homeless
shelters and food drives. Some even volunteer their services, such
as legal or financial counsel.
In addition to the thousands of various organizations and
non-profits trying to meet these needs, churches, synagogues and
other religious congregations are also dedicated to helping the
least fortunate. As my colleague Ryan Messmore wrote in a
compelling research paper, "traditional religious congregations in
American have served as important social institutions providing for
those that are in need."
Then there are people like Jorge Munoz from Queens, N.Y. He's
known as the "Angel of Queens" and has been passing out free meals
from his van to the city's hungry. According to a recent "El Diario
La Prensa" story profiling this Good Samaritan, his generosity has
inspired others to give, including a program by the area's
restaurants to donate leftover food.
Where government fails, private charities have thrived, filling
an important void. The private sector does a much better job than
the government does in truly meeting the needs of the poor.
Poverty, hunger and homelessness are inescapable realities in
any society. We shouldn't turn a blind eye to the despair that
surrounds us. But rather than instinctively looking to the federal
government for help, we should look to the private sector,
religious institutions and the generosity of individuals first.
Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage
First Appeared in The Americano
According to a recently released federal government report, the U.S. poverty rate is at its highest level since 1987. Some 13.2 percent of Americans -- 39.8 million -- live in poverty.
Entitlements, Taxes & Spending Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
Strategic Initiatives Manager
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