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Omdahl: Dependents Change American Dream

By Staff | May 21, 2015

The America Dream is slowly fading as the size of our dependent population grows. North Dakota has thousands and the nation has millions of dependents who are being propped up with a wide variety of private and government programs designed to alleviate or reduce poverty.

The term “dependent” is being used here to designate people who can’t make it on their own. Among them, I count single mothers, unemployables, underemployed, victims of exported jobs, loafers raised in a subculture of n’er do wells, and predators that count on illegal activities.

To help these dependents make it, we have churches and other charities supplementing government programs with food drives, soup kitchens and overnight shelters. Some end up homeless on the streets.

But the best laid plans for reducing dependency have not been very successful. The food stamp program is indicative of our failure. In 2000, six percent of the population depended on food stamps; dependence increased to 13 percent by 2014.

Another measure of success is the Medicaid program created to finance health services for people too poor to pay. Medicaid is busting state budgets even though most of the money comes from federal sources. The pressure on Medicaid will escalate as health care costs skyrocket.

As public costs increase, taxpayer compassion for the dependent population is declining. According to Gallup, satisfaction with anti-poverty programs is at a new low, with support dropping from 26 per cent in 2001 to 16 percent in 2015.

This has policy implications. A backlash is brewing and state governments are responding politically to this decline in public support.

In April, Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas attracted national attention when he signed legislation to limit the range of purchases that may be made with welfare benefits. No more spending of taxpayer money on worldly pleasures.

Other states are promoting policies designed to force dependents into full time employment, better incomes and economic independence. Unfortunately, all of these efforts are mere Band-Aids for a problem that requires a tourniquet. There is a growing shortage of good jobs and qualifications to fill them.

Rachel Sheffield, a policy wonk with the conservative Heritage Foundation, has concluded that passing laws restricting the use of benefits is no substitute for crafting truly effective policies.

Looking to the future, the dependent population is going to increase if we depend on the failing programs of the present to produce different outcomes.

Wages have remained stagnant over the past 10 years and there is little hope for improvement. Companies are stripping pensions and health care from their benefit packages, meaning that underpaid employees will have only Medicaid for health care and Social Security for retirement.

National policymakers think that the job market will pick up and unemployment will return to four percent. Looking at the mismatch between available workers and job requirements, we must conclude that we are stuck at six percent unemployment – and this may even get worse in the future.

There will be no increase in worthwhile walk-on jobs for high school graduates. Those jobs all lead to dependency. In fact, the good jobs will decline as more of them go overseas and the repetitive jobs taken over by robots.

While Kansas is concerned about the integrity of its welfare program, it is also one of 10 states funded to explore pilot programs aimed at reducing dependence on welfare and attacking long term unemployment.

Let’s hope these 10 states can come up with some effective ideas for preventing future dependency as well as reducing present reliance on government and charities.

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