Virtual Voices
<em>New York Times</em> columnist Nicholas Kristof
Associated Press/Columbia University
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof

‘Soul-crushing dependency’

Poverty

When New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof gets out and reports, he learns that reality differs from what his fellow Times columnists (and sometimes Kristof himself) like to proclaim. On Sunday he wrote, “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 soul-crushing dependency.”

Kristof came to that insight after a visit to one of Kentucky’s Appalachian counties, where some parents discourage their children from reading because literacy will lose them $698 monthly checks from a governmental program that began with kindness and has now turned hellish, Supplemental Security Income (SSI). (See WORLD, Dec. 17, 2011, “Disabling security: Hundreds of thousands of Americans are gaming Supplemental Security Income—and doing great damage to themselves and their children.”)

Kristof quotes Cornell University economist Richard Burkhauser, who has studied government disability programs and concluded, “If you do better in school, you threaten the income of the parents. It’s a terrible incentive.” He quotes school district official Melanie Stevens’ lapidary line about how children learn to be dependent on government: “In second grade, they have a dream. In seventh grade, they have a plan.”

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He notes that SSI was a compassionate program four decades ago when most children covered (about 1 percent of all poor kids) had terrible physical handicaps or mental retardation. Now, most SSI disabilities are fuzzier psychological ones, and 8 percent of all low-income children are in it. Our WORLD article presented one story of a little girl who died because her parents, seeking SSI money, overdosed her. That tragedy led even the hyper-liberal Boston Globe to cry for SSI reform, but I see no indication of significant change. Maybe Kristof can wake up Washington. Godspeed!

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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