Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, former president Jimmy Carter remarked that the “growing gap between the rich and poor” is the most elemental problem facing the world economy. But the gap between the rich and the poor is also a very old problem.
Alice O’Connor, a historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says that her students laugh when she talks about how Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in the 1960s. Apparently the idea strikes them as quaint.
Are the poor blessed or lazy? The prevailing answer in America is lazy. The welfare revolution of the past decade put the poor to work. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 changed the social support system. As the name of the law implies, people are held personally responsible for getting out of poverty by taking advantage of work opportunities.
Funding for the 1996 law that changed welfare had an expiration date of September 30, 2002. So last year, Congress had an opportunity to renew and revise the system. The House and Senate disagreed, however, about funding amounts and changes for the system.
Welfare reform has triggered experimentation by states, which are responsible for its administration, and copious research about what works. In this search for effective answers, the prevailing way of thinking about welfare and poverty has also cast a spotlight on religious congregations and the potential support they provide.
Six years after Bill Clinton signed into law a controversial bill ending “welfare as we know it,” Congress is debating how to extend or revise the welfare program. Funding guidelines must be reauthorized by October 1.
The United States “has too much power for anyone’s good, including its own.” So argues Timothy Garton Ash, who observes that since the demise of the Soviet Union there is no countervailing force on the world scene to check the use of U.S. power. Economically, the U.S.’s “only rival is the European Union. In military power it has no rival.