Strengthening families is key economic issue


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For those in long-term poverty, there are two causes: physical or mental illness or some form of failing families.

Indiana gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence recently raised some eyebrows by arguing that the condition of families was an economic issue. This is a tough matter to discuss, so it is best to begin with fiscal issues and poverty.

Throughout their lifetimes, perhaps half of Americans spend some time in the formal definition of poverty. Most of it, like my decade, is fairly benign and caused by short-term job losses, college and other common vicissitudes of life.

For those in long-term poverty, there are two causes: physical or mental illness or some form of failing families. The latter of these is far and away the bigger problem, manifesting itself not only in our economic performance, but in local, state and federal budgets.

It bears wading through the meretricious babble about the economic causes of poverty and simply acknowledge that the proximal causes of poverty, dropping out of school (one in five kids) and single parenthood (two in five kids), are best described as failures of families.

Federal spending on Medicaid and welfare (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) alone exceeds the defense budget. Add to that Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services, and sundry spending at the departments of energy, agriculture and education, and the entirety of the federal deficit in its worst year is consumed by programs to mitigate long-term poverty.

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