The Intellectual Poverty of Richmond’s Poverty Report

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An anti-poverty commission appointed by Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones has produced a schizophrenic report recommending how to address poverty in the city. On the one hand, it proffers some common-sense proposals on how to help poor Richmonders find jobs and otherwise improve their condition. On the other, it advocates anesthetizing the poor from the need to find those very same jobs by expanding social safety net programs — food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Medicaid, and more aggressive “outreach” to ensure that low-income individuals get all the benefits they qualify for.

Such contradictions are inevitable, no doubt, from a commission that divvies up the job between six committees, each headed by a different chair reflecting very different views. But the consequence is a report that is uneven in quality and very often fights with itself.

One result of dueling philosophies is that the report abdicates meaningful discussion of the role of family structure — the dissolution of marriage and out-of-wedlock births — in causing poverty, even though, according to the report’s own data, the breakdown of the family is central to any understanding of poverty in the city.

While 25% of the city’s residents live in poverty, 39% of the city’s children do. That is a result of financial incentives and a welfare culture that encourages single women, often teenagers, to bear children whom they have no hope of supporting themselves. Yet the report largely ignores how the absence of fathers from the family contributes not only to material deprivation (although that is offset significantly by federal transfer payments) but moral/spiritual deprivation.

However, some commission members apparently do understand the critical need for intact families to raise children capable of becoming productive members of society. The report alludes to a split:

Some members of the committee favor making a public campaign on behalf of fatherhood and strengthening traditional two-parent families a prominent part of Richmond’s anti-poverty strategy. Other members of the committee have reservations about the wisdom and effectiveness of such an approach, and believe our focus should remain on improving the economic prospects of all types of households and families, and that public policy should generally respect the choices made by individuals under conditions of duress.

Think about that for a moment: Public policy should generally respect the choices made by individuals under conditions of duress. In other words, people can do any damn thing they want, abdicating responsibility for themselves and the children they bring into the world, and society has an obligation to mitigate the effects of their horrendous decisions.

As it happens, I am nearly finished reading, “Life at the Bottom,” by Theodore Dalrymple, who describes how the pathological behavior of poor (predominantly white) Englishmen dooms them to dependency, violence, substance abuse, fractured families and purposeless, meaningless lives. Dalrymple argues that the dysfunction stems largely from (a) a welfare state that relieves people of taking responsibility for themselves and (b) a pervasive moral relativism, first articulated by English elites and since embraced by members of the underclass, that discourages anyone from rendering judgment against atrocious, self-vitiating behavior. A similar relativism appears to infect authors of this report as well.

That’s not to deny that Richmond’s poor face very real problems accessing jobs. There is a real spatial mismatch between where the poor live and where the jobs are located. There is a mismatch, too, between the skills acquired in K-12 schools and the demands of the workplace. The stigma associated with incarceration poses an acute problem, especially for young black men. It is exceedingly difficult even for motivated people to elevate themselves from poverty, and anyone with an ounce of compassion should feel moved to help them.

Unfortunately, the manner in which society has chosen to help had had a corrosive effect on the objects of compassion. Many remedies called for in this report simply extend or amplify the same measures attempted over the last 60 years, all to little avail, as family structures disintegrate and dependency deepens. Despite some good ideas and some useful research, the poverty commission settles for more of the same. By skipping over the dissolution of the family structure and ignoring the critical importance of personal responsibility, this report is a recipe for perpetuating poverty, not eliminating it.


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About Jim Bacon

James A. Bacon is the author of “Boomergeddon” and publishes the Bacon’s Rebellion blog at www.
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3 Responses to The Intellectual Poverty of Richmond’s Poverty Report

  1. Baird Stokes says:

    I had a construction Company in Churchill, Richmond, Va., and hired from the community as much as possible, this required training people but I found that my job sits were more secure , because off times those working on the sit lived so close they just naturaly kept and eye on it. The problem I had was if I paid my workers at lunch on Fridays most of the time they didn’t return to work until Tuesday. Moving payment until the end of the work day on Friday only Insured me of workers until the end of the work week. Still not having the lion share of workers back until Tuesday, I decided to move payday to Monday, to my surprise, I now had a workforce Monday through Friday. And also to my surprise girlfriends and the mothers of the children of my workers came by thanking me as they now had money for the househole. With this problem behind me a new one arose, worker were returning to the job on Monday without there tools, ( they were selling them on the weekend to pay for partying), this time I restructured how one was paid those with tools received higher pay them those without, and if you had tools and returned to the job without your pay was lowered to to no tool rate. Fyi most were hired without tools and I would work with them in get their tools, a little money held back each week. Also most of the time those who were hired didn’t know how the read a measuring tape and had to be trained. These measures proved to be successful and other contractors at least in Churchill picked up the practice from what I heard after leaving the Business.

  2. Baird Stokes says:

    Fyi, I also give bonuses at the end of the job if loses had by low, and made payroll in cash so no one had to paid to have their check cashed, many of the Banks like BB&Fee would charge a fee to cash their checks and most didn’t have the ID required by the Bank.

  3. Baird Stokes says:

    Rereading my last post, I need to edit before posting, Just one last comment, after some close calls, was almost robbed, it was time to issue Pay Checks to my employees, but there was still the issue of my workers not being ripped off by Check Cashing Fees, One of my employees was 60 yrs old and had never been in a Bank, knew Banks as a place he was not welcome and you put your money in never to see it again, so with my employees with me we went to the Bank and I introduced them to the Branch Manager and had them ask him any questions they had about Banking, all opened an account and I heard some five years later that 70% still were Banking with that Branch. Teach a men ……..!!! They all were very loyal employees, even coming to me first when offered better pay else where, sometimes I had to let them go wishing them the very best. Not going to say I didn’t have to fire some and that everyone was easy to work with, but here I am 30 plus years later telling the story.

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