by Allan Sheahen
America is awash with money.
Yet poverty continues to grow.
Does anybody care?
The latest government figures show that 46 million Americans live in poverty, more than at any other time in our nation's history. That's 15.1 percent of our population. One in five children live below the poverty line of $22,314 for a family of four, compared to one in twelve in France and one in 38 in Sweden.
Yet whenever elected officials ask their constituents what issues are most important to them, poverty isn't even on the list. The economy, jobs, Afghanistan, the environment, health care, and education always show up. But not poverty.
Accordingly, Congress is now debating not whether to cut food stamps for the poorest Americans, but by how much. The Senate is proposing $4 billion in cuts. The House wants to cut $20 billion,. Many Democrats are supporting the Senate version.
More than a half-million people are homeless in America. Food banks and homeless shelters are serving more people now than a year ago. Unemployment is at 7.6 percent.
The problem is that all the private charities in America can't end hunger and poverty. Ending poverty demands government programs, such as Social Security, unemployment compensation, Medicare, welfare, food stamps, childcare, and more.
The 1996 Welfare Reform Act was sold to us as a way to get people off welfare, and it did. Welfare rolls in the United States are down more than 50 percent. But it didn't reduce poverty. That's because welfare reform dumped many recipients into low-paying jobs -- with no benefits or ability to move up.
Does anybody care?
Maybe we care, but we don't know what to do about it. So we shrug, say the poor will always be with us, and forget about it.
In 1969, a Presidential Commission recommended we establish a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) at the poverty level for all Americans.
On that Commission, the chairmen of IBM, Westinghouse, and Rand, former California Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown and 17 others unanimously agreed with economist Milton Friedman that: "We should replace the ragbag of welfare programs with a single, comprehensive program of income supplements in cash -- a negative income tax. It would provide an assured minimum to all persons in need, regardless of the reasons for their need."
Fast-forward 44 years, and we find that welfare has failed because it has destroyed people's ability to take control of their own lives and make their own decisions. We assume the poor are incapable of making sound decisions; that they can't be trusted with cash and have to be protected from themselves. It's as if your employer thought you so irresponsible that he sent part of your paycheck to your landlord, another part to your grocer, another to the bank that provided your car loan, another to your doctor.
There are more than 300 income-tested social programs costing more than $400 billion a year. Much of that money goes for administrative expenses, not to the needy.
Charles Murray, whose 1984 book: Losing Ground claimed that welfare was doing more harm than good, now agrees with the BIG approach.
"America's population is wealthier than any in history," Murray writes in his new book: In Our Hands. "Every year, the American government redistributes more than a trillion dollars of that wealth to provide for retirements, health care, and the alleviation of poverty. We still have millions of people without comfortable retirements, without adequate health care, and living in poverty. Only a government can spend so much money so ineffectually. The solution is to give the money to the people."
Murray calls for giving an annual cash grant of $10,000 -- with no work requirements -- to every adult over age 21.
Indeed, the U.S. is a wealthy nation. Our 2011 Gross Domestic Product was $14.4 trillion. That's an average of $46,000 for each man, woman and child in the country. It's an average of $61,000 per adult. It's more than enough to end poverty.
Poverty is wrong. A Basic Income Guarantee would establish economic security as a universal right. It gives each of us the assurance that, no matter what happens, we won't go hungry.
Allan Sheahen is the author of the new book, Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security. He is a board member of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee (USBIG) Network. email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web sites: www.basicincomeguarantee.com, www.usbig.net,www.basicincome.org.