Friday, October 12, 2012

On poverty programs

A little over a year ago I posted about the jobs bill before Congress that would cost $447 billion and create 1.9 million jobs -- this boils down to $235k per job.  I then asked the question of whether the country would be better off if the funds were channeled directly to the 14 million unemployed workers, each of whom could receive a check of $32k. 

Harvard MBA and ex-CEO Gary MacDougal had an op-ed piece in yesterday's NYT that took a similar approach to our country's poverty programs.  He cites a recent Cato Institute study (caveat: Cato runs Republican to libertarian in its ideological bent) that found $1 trillion in federal, state and local spending on spread across 126 federal and countless more state and local programs.  There are an estimated 46 million Americans living in poverty.  So do the math: that boils down to $21,739 per person and $87k per four-person household.  Of course precious little of this money actually gets to those who need it. 

This raises a challenge that neither political party is addressing.  Obviously direct cash grants to the poor are not going to happen, but reductions in overhead need to be more carefully examined.   MacDougal, who was an advisor to former governor Jim Edgar (R, Illinois), suggests turning many of the federal programs into block grants to the states.  Consolidating programs is another possible approach.  A poor family has to deal with multiple agencies, all with different offices, forms and criteria -- could we not come up with a WalMart equivalent of "all programs under one roof" that would save the government money and make the lives of the poor better?  And wouldn't this be more constructive than Republicans focusing solely on budget cuts (except for defense) and Democrats standing up for Big Bird?

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