Commentary Magazine


Welfare

To the Editor:

In “What To Do About Welfare” [December 1994], Charles Murray alludes to one of the road blocks in the way of welfare reform, but he does not elaborate upon it: more tax dollars are used to pay for the administration of welfare programs than are distributed to welfare recipients. . . .

Directly, or indirectly but in obvious ways, millions of Americans owe all, or a significant part, of their livelihoods to the existence of social-welfare programs at various levels of government. Consider the case of the typical social-welfare worker and her (or, less often, his) role in contemporary society. She typically has two university degrees and has passed a stiff civil-service written examination (those who doubt that it is stiff need only consult the “Arco” series to be found in many bookstores) plus an oral examination and a job interview rounded off by a one-year probationary period. She either belongs to the “cognitive elite” or is at least at or near the fringe of it. She has about the same job security as a tenured professor and, after a few years, is likely to command a decent salary (especially at the federal level).

Try to imagine the consequences of putting hundreds of thousands, if not several million, of such people out of work. The multiplier effect would devastate Washington, D.C. (not to mention New York City) beyond the wildest dreams of Newt Gingrich. . . .

Along with teachers at all levels and (though perhaps they are a dying breed) union workers with seniority, civil servants not only enjoy what has to seem to many the luxury of secure employment and good retirement plans, but they in turn contribute to the stability of society. . . . It is easy to say the magic words “job retraining,” yet such programs will not produce hundreds of thousands of secure positions but, at best, hundreds of thousands of insecure jobs. . . .

Perhaps Mr. Murray would argue that the “grandfathering” of current welfare recipients would slow down the process of discharging civil servants in the area of social welfare. Although there would be a good deal of dislocation and a number of blighted careers, over time, as the schools of social welfare shut down and the various support agencies closed their doors, other careers would be open to talent and the net result would be, one hopes, a large social gain. . . .

Perhaps modest steps along the path recommended by Mr. Murray will be taken in the 104th Congress, but only the boldest of the bold will abandon much of the status quo (the Platinum Age of American capitalism) on the gamble that Mr. Murray’s plan—however good on paper—will not go the way of Murphy’s law in practice.

Stanley Paluch
Boulder, Colorado

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To the Editor:

Charles Murray mentions penalties for unwed fathers as one means to end illegitimacy. But he dismisses the effectiveness of such penalties, saying, “. . . it is next to impossible for anyone, including the state, to force a man to take on the responsibilities of fatherhood.” He is thinking, of course, in terms of inner-city men who seldom have any financial assets to penalize. But I believe the penalties he is considering are unduly onerous. Let us downsize our objective to one of persuading a man who is contemplating having sex with a single woman that if he wants to avoid serious trouble he had better use a contraceptive. . . .

The “serious trouble” would begin with a . . . new rule to specify that no Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) payments would be made to a pregnant girl until she identifies the father of her child. He must be located and (if necessary) proven by blood tests to be the father. He would then be asked to sign appropriate papers agreeing to make minimum child-support payments, thus negating the need for AFDC. If he said he could not make the payments, he would be classified as a delinquent father and be subject to penalties such as having his driver’s license revoked, a practice the state of Maine began using against deadbeat fathers last June (. . . “deadbeat” fathers are those who are not making court-ordered child-support payments to their divorced wives). . . .

Anyone who has pondered the problem of how to make unwed fathers assume responsibility for their children will question whether these young men would be concerned about losing their licenses when it is doubtful that they even have them. . . . But I assume that one of the most important ambitions of every young American is to have a driver’s license. . . . So if he knew that he would lose all chances of obtaining a driver’s license . . . if he got his girlfriend pregnant, he would in all likelihood use some form of contraception. . . .

Mr. Murray has treated both unwed fathers and mothers as a single welfare problem. I suggest that now is the time to separate them, leaving the welfare problems of unwed mothers . . . for the social scientists, and the legal responsibilities of delinquent fathers (married or unmarried) . . . for the legal/political profession.

I hope the President will create a new Office of National Coordinator to Enforce Paternal Responsibilites which would be charged with bringing together federal and state laws. . . . It might then become feasible to have the police records of unwed fathers indicate their indebtedness. If any of these men went to court, for any cause, their police records would become an important factor in determining judgment. . . .

When we add to the above legal penalties the fact that condoms provide protection from AIDS, we now have a list of reasons for using birth control that should impress most men. . . .

E. Nelson Kimball
Fort Pierce, Florida

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To the Editor:

I found Charles Murray’s article on welfare thoroughly convincing, except for his emphasis on the moral component of the problem. He seems to be engaging in a kind of teleological optimism in thinking that illegitimacy would be reduced almost to zero if only girls would come to realize that it is wrong to have children when they are not in any way ready to take care of them. But if moral sanctions have not helped reduce homicide, robbery, rape, and the like . . . , why should we assume they will be effective with girls whose IQ’s, as Mr. Murray points out, are not very high?

Mr. Murray also says that “the kind of response that works” occurs when a young girl is convinced that if she were to get pregnant, “My father would kill me.” But that assumes that the young girl knows who her father is and that he is not indifferent to her welfare. Moreover, where 80 percent of all births are illegitimate, how many girls have fathers who would react in this way? . . .

I might be mistaken in all this, but thanks, in any case, for publishing Mr. Murray’s instructive article. . . .

Bernard Adelman
Winthrop, Massachusetts

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