Carson’s HUD Decision and What I Learned When I Taught in a Welfare-to-Work Program

 

Dr. Ben Carson, as director of HUD, has proposed raising costs and imposing work requirements for people in public housing or receiving public housing money. I was a little iffy about that – I mean, who’d want to live in the projects or deal with Section 8 requirements if they didn’t have to? I grew up dirt-poor, and I was a poor single mom for over a decade after that. I know what poverty is like. I know the people who struggle at the bottom. It sucks, and having expenses raised sucks worse.

But after reading the details of Carson’s plan, I agreed enthusiastically. His ideas are perfect, and not because they are cost-saving or because they get those deadbeats going.

Because for the most part, those deadbeats aren’t deadbeats. They are people who have been beaten down. They are the same people I taught for about a year in a welfare-to-work program, during the tail-end of the 90s. They are the poor in spirit, in a sense. They don’t believe in themselves, which makes them fail, which makes them poor in cash. They have given up because they don’t know how to work or how to react in a healthy way to failure.

In many ways, they are just like I used to be, before I overcame my own barriers out of sheer stubbornness.

Our program teaching basic office skills was centered around a classroom/lecture segment and a hands-on practical segment. I considered the lecture piece pretty worthless, or at least too extended in time. It was all about how to conduct yourself in an office, how to dress, how to answer a phone, stuff like that. The mostly female classes I taught got that. They weren’t stupid, not by a long shot.

The practical hands-on side was taught by me and another teacher in a room filled with computers. The main problem students had going in was a fear of computers – I solved that by bringing in an old computer, disassembling it in front of the class, passing around its innards, and explaining what each part did. Then I put it back together as each piece returned and – turned it on. Voila! Suddenly the computer was not a magic box; it was just a tool with replaceable parts, like a car.

The next barrier to learning office technology was fear of failure. We overcame that by celebrating each error with great excitement – a learning opportunity! Gather around, everyone, this is how you fix this problem! Thank you, Sarah, for giving us that opportunity to teach! (We used the word “opportunity” a lot.)

Within a week, the fear was gone, replaced by enthusiasm. And they learned. Oh, how they learned! Our eight-week program turned out success after success. We had broken through a cultural barrier!

But there was another element to the poverty culture that caused an equally high barrier. I learned about this by going out with the students on smoke breaks, even though I’m not a smoker. In this relaxed atmosphere, the women bitched about their boyfriends, their family issues, their living situations.

One lived in fear of an ex-boyfriend. One day, she woke at 4 am to find him standing over her, hands around her throat. She didn’t come in the next day; she was ashamed of the bruises. Ashamed.

Another had been a stripper until rheumatoid arthritis took its toll. She had a terrible opinion of men as a result. A mother and daughter – both absolutely beautiful, smart, charming women – were the result of generations of poverty. They had never known anything but welfare.

During smoke breaks, we all worked through these problems – and our two-person teaching team ensured that appropriate interventions were taken in other ways, like posting the boyfriend’s picture and banning him from the premises, encouraging police reports, helping find transportation to potential downtown work sites, ensuring the other barrier-busting programs offered by my employer were available to them.

It was a highly successful program. We had about a 95% completion rate, and about 80% of these landed entry-level office jobs. And because of the way the Gingrich welfare-to-work programs were structured, they continued receiving government assistance for quite a while as they adjusted to work life and even moved up the career ladder a bit.

Now, picture a different world – a world in which Gingrich never pushed for welfare reform, or in which Clinton was never forced by circumstance to sign them into law. NONE of the women who were on welfare would have sought out office skills training on their own. The woman with a violent boyfriend might have turned up dead one day instead of finding a way to stop him. Technology would have continued being an alien thing to them. They would have stayed paralyzed by the fear of failure, instead of learning that mistakes are teaching moments.

They would have been trapped in the black hole that is welfare, never seeing a way up or out or over. But they would have continued receiving welfare, and politicians who enabled their imprisonment would have campaigned on it.

I have nothing but contempt for those who criticize Dr. Carson’s upward-moving ideas. Ephemeral compassion – compassion not tempered by a consideration for the future – is empty, even damaging. Money is not the solution to poverty. Productivity is. And it’s far harder to teach a person to fish than it is to hand them one of your ample catch. It also doesn’t feel as good at first – it’s expensive in time, you have to provide equipment, you have to overcome barriers and help them figure out the right way to do it. And then you have a fishing competitor instead of a daily supplicant!

But there really are plenty of fish in the sea. And our capitalist economy is multiplicative of resources. It needs skilled labor to become more productive, and that increased productivity ensures even more skilled labor is needed.

Earlier I mentioned that my students were in a sense poor in spirit because they lacked faith in themselves. Well, liberals lack faith in them as well. Liberals don’t trust other human beings to make the right decisions, or to be capable of caring for themselves. Instead, they fear those impoverished masses. They make “compassionate” choices for them that, in fact, trap them in the lowest class layer. And then they act as if conservatives, who want them to fish for themselves, are being cruel!

Many conservatives aren’t a whole lot better. Their attitude is laissez-faire – they don’t see the help that does need to happen, so believe that simply cutting off welfare will make those deadbeats get jobs. That doesn’t work either.

Carson is one of the few political figures who really, really understand – his impoverished background, his amazing mother forcing him to learn and overcome the truly damaging impoverished attitudes he grew up around – all those things ensured he would make the correct decision in HUD, to raise prices in order to encourage people to enter programs like the one I described above. Unlike liberals, he believes in the bottomless potential of other human beings, and in giving them a hand up to crawl out of the swampy, sucking pit of poverty. Those who are changed by his decisions are sure to thrive — if his modest changes are allowed to stand.

There are 25 comments.

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  1. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Jamie Wilson: Earlier I mentioned that my students were in a sense poor in spirit because they lacked faith in themselves. Well, liberals lack faith in them as well.

    Yep.

    An excellent post. 

    • #1
  2. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Outstanding.  Thank you.

    • #2
  3. GLDIII Reagan
    GLDIII
    @GLDIII

    Jamie Wilson:

    Carson is one of the few political figures who really, really understand – his impoverished background, his amazing mother forcing him to learn and overcome the truly damaging impoverished attitudes he grew up around – 

    The left fails to understand that being poor does not negate having pride. Nor does it stop you from being your children’s tiger mom, and an example on how to overcome whatever circumstances into which you find yourself born. 

    He was a local Baltimore hero long before the rest of the nation heard about him, and over priced tables and other bureaucratic infighting nonsense withstand, still a fine human being.

    • #3
  4. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Jamie Wilson: Money is not the solution to poverty. Productivity is.

    This needs no further comment. 

    Great post. 

    • #4
  5. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    My subscription is up in 3 days. I’ll be renewing for a year.  This post was worth 12 months’ dues.

    • #5
  6. Jamie K. Wilson Member
    Jamie K. Wilson
    @JamieWilson

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    My subscription is up in 3 days. I’ll be renewing for a year. This post was worth 12 months’ dues.

    I’m flabbergasted and flattered. Thank you!

    • #6
  7. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Jamie K. Wilson: Money is not the solution to poverty. Productivity is.

    Great post JKW.  The above and your detailed experiential explanation is worth the price of admission.  

    • #7
  8. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Thank you. 

    • #8
  9. Mim526 Member
    Mim526
    @Mim526

    Jamie K. Wilson: Earlier I mentioned that my students were in a sense poor in spirit because they lacked faith in themselves. Well, liberals lack faith in them as well.

    Besides being informative and inspirational, what shines through to me reading this wonderful post is faith.  The kind that puts action to words, that makes a way where none is readily found.  Thank you, @jamiewilson…for the post and the overcoming faith behind it.

    • #9
  10. Nerina Bellinger Inactive
    Nerina Bellinger
    @NerinaBellinger

    Excellent, excellent post!

    • #10
  11. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher
    Goldwaterwoman
    @goldwaterwoman

    How very fortunate those students were to have you as a teacher. Thank you for a most informative post.

    • #11
  12. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Jamie K. Wilson: And it’s far harder to teach a person to fish than it is to hand them one of your ample catch. It also doesn’t feel as good at first – it’s expensive in time, you have to provide equipment, you have to overcome barriers and help them figure out the right way to do it.

    A brilliant analogy, and it explains why the left wants to simply hand out the fish – immediate gratification for their politicians and their voters, even though it doesn’t solve the problem.

    Oh, and the rest of your post is brilliant too, and eye-opening . . .

    • #12
  13. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Stad (View Comment):

    Jamie K. Wilson: And it’s far harder to teach a person to fish than it is to hand them one of your ample catch. It also doesn’t feel as good at first – it’s expensive in time, you have to provide equipment, you have to overcome barriers and help them figure out the right way to do it.

    A brilliant analogy, and it explains why the left wants to simply hand out the fish – immediate gratification for their politicians and their voters, even though it doesn’t solve the problem.

    Oh, and the rest of your post is brilliant too, and eye-opening . . .

    Oh, but it does solve the problem. Because, as Thomas Sowell pointed out, a politician’s most important problem, once elected, is getting reelected. 

    We made laws preventing buying votes with meals or beer just before an election. 

    There are no laws regarding buying votes by providing free stuff for the rest of the year. 

    • #13
  14. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane Oyen
    @DuaneOyen

    I fully agree- our daughter found the same sort of thing when she was a grade school literacy specialist for AmeriCorps.

    People vilify Paul Ryan because he is not a total libertarian, least government possible, lowest taxes, etc. person- he actually also cares about people, as GWB did (and was equally vilified by the Freedom Caucus enthusiasts).  Reality is that in a country of 350 million people, when government has destroyed a lot of them, government has to be involved in the fix.  The key is ensuring that the responses are rational and useful:  that is, maximizing freedom with the right incentives to promote personal responsibility, eschewing the tops down directives, and maximizing free markets to achieve results.

     

    • #14
  15. Sash Member
    Sash
    @Sash

    I do think state of mind holds people back, but so does peer pressure… family and friends who will treat someone who is successful differently.

    Maybe there should be education for whole communities… maybe it’s part of the training now, but it is hard to rise above your family and friends, and it’s hard to see other succeed and you stand still.  There is a belief that all success comes at the expense of others.

    This mentality is confirmed continually by the Democrat Party and by our media…  successful people are always the villains.

    • #15
  16. CarolJoy Coolidge
    CarolJoy
    @CarolJoy

    More people in our society would understand the various items Carson is proposing, and the various things that Trump is proposing if the media didn’t shut those ideas out.

    I am pretty sure if I tune in for news at 6 or 11 tonight, the only thing that I will hear about is “the 500 poor people from Honduras who so badly want to come here from that gang-infested nation. All they want is their chance at becoming citizens.”

    If one of the usual culprits like ABC, CNN, MSNBC, et al actually interviewed Carson I would probably die of shock.

    • #16
  17. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    TBA (View Comment):
    We made laws preventing buying votes with meals or beer just before an election. 

    True, but now they buy votes after an election by passing laws that give voters the same stuff.

    As for a politician’s most important problem is being re-elected, perhaps we should relieve them of that burden with . . . term limits!

    At this point, I’m even willing to consider “one and done” . . .

    • #17
  18. CarolJoy Coolidge
    CarolJoy
    @CarolJoy

    Stad (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):
    We made laws preventing buying votes with meals or beer just before an election.

    True, but now they buy votes after an election by passing laws that give voters the same stuff.

    As for a politician’s most important problem is being re-elected, perhaps we should relieve them of that burden with . . . term limits!

    At this point, I’m even willing to consider “one and done” . . .

    Although the idea behind term limits is sound, believe me, the inner cabal of who it is who controls which possible candidates  receive  a Big Party’s backing   is such that kicking one person out for the sake of another hardly makes sense.

    I have not been a Republican long enough to know who is in that inner cabal on our side of things. But one Diane Feinstein is definitely part of that cabal on the “D” side of things. And she has actually arranged twice to let the “R”‘s have their guy become the governor of California. What she got in return for that favor was probably assorted state contracts for her hubby Richard Blum’s contracting business. (And it is not necessarily so  that Ahnold even knew about this.)

    • #18
  19. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    CarolJoy (View Comment):
    But one Diane Feinstein is definitely part of that cabal on the “D” side of things.

    But out of office, her power would be greatly diminished.  It’s about weakening the “inner cabal”.  It will never go away, but let’s make it easier for more citizens to serve in office, rather than put down roots . . .

    • #19
  20. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    Great Post!

    • #20
  21. Rōnin Coolidge
    Rōnin
    @Ronin

    Sash (View Comment):

    I do think state of mind holds people back, but so does peer pressure… family and friends who will treat someone who is successful differently.

    Maybe there should be education for whole communities… maybe it’s part of the training now, but it is hard to rise above your family and friends, and it’s hard to see other succeed and you stand still. There is a belief that all success comes at the expense of others.

    This mentality is confirmed continually by the Democrat Party and by our media… successful people are always the villains.

    It’s the old “you think your better then me?”  If you say “yes” you are in for a fight.  As for educating a community, how do you educate a group of people who do not value education anyway?

    • #21
  22. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Inspiring! 

    I think everyone wants the pleasure of succeeding, of feeling competent.  To be able to give that–wow! 

    • #22
  23. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Hypatia 

    Inspiring! 

    I think everyone wants the pleasure of succeeding, of feeling competent. To be able to give that–wow! 

    In the future everyone will have fifteen minutes of giving that ‘wow!’ 

    • #23
  24. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    God bless you for your work, JKW. It’s obvious that you care deeply for the people you taught. People like you make the best teachers.

    • #24
  25. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Hypatia (View Comment):

    Inspiring!

    I think everyone wants the pleasure of succeeding, of feeling competent. To be able to give that–wow!

    And in the words of one of our mission vicars: No one washes a rental car. (That when discussing progress to parish -and self-sustaining – status.)  It matters to have skin in the game. And some5hing of your own to be proud of. In this case, something you have paid for.  Enabling that, rather than the non-productive model? now that’s generosity.

    • #25

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