What a spectacular column from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. Kudos to him for writing it and kudos to the New York Times for placing it on the front of the Week in Review section:
This is what poverty sometimes looks like in America: parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.
Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way — and those checks continue until the child turns 18.
"The kids get taken out of the program because the parents are going to lose the check," said Billie Oaks, who runs a literacy program here in Breathitt County, a poor part of Kentucky. "It's heartbreaking."
This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America's safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.
Some young people here don't join the military (a traditional escape route for poor, rural Americans) because it's easier to rely on food stamps and disability payments.
Antipoverty programs also discourage marriage: In a means-tested program like S.S.I., a woman raising a child may receive a bigger check if she refrains from marrying that hard-working guy she likes. ...
Most wrenching of all are the parents who think it's best if a child stays illiterate, because then the family may be able to claim a disability check each month.
This story should be a part of the budget debate in Washington. It's bad enough that we're borrowing money from China and future generations, running a $1 trillion a year deficit in part to pay for programs that provide these sorts of perverse incentives. But probably worse than the effect such programs have on the federal budget picture is the effect they have on individual Americans. It's the sort of article that probably wouldn't get much attention if it came from a conservative think tank, but that coming from a self-described liberal such as Mr. Kristof writing in the New York Times, should make some waves.