Listen To Peter

A former member of the Reagan administration issues occasional broadsides about social welfare policies, using the pseudonym “Peter the Citizen.” I almost always agree with his positions, which are deeply informed and far from the dismissive and inhumane proclamations of too many of today’s Republicans.

Recently, he sent comments on an exchange about “The Dignity of Work.”

He began by examining an assertion by Matt Weidinger of the American Enterprise Institute, to the effect that “FDR’s vision promoting the dignity of work is under assault by Democrats providing relief to able-bodied adults.” Weidinger was taking issue with the (widely lauded) expanded child tax credit, arguing that

These “child allowances” replace a program that today provides tax relief and associated assistance only to parents who work, amplifying the new program’s embrace of relief over work.

As Peter points out, many of Weidinger’s arguments about the “success” of welfare reform and the potential negative effects of a child allowance are misleading when they aren’t simply wrong. They certainly don’t reflect the mainstream view of researchers and experts who study anti-poverty programs.

Indeed, they also seem to be out-of-step with his one-time colleague, Ron Haskins, who is considered by many to be the “architect” of welfare reform.

Peter quotes from Haskins–another conservative, albeit one who seems much more knowledgable about the history and current status of welfare reform– on several points, and I encourage readers to click through for a broader, more in-depth analysis, but I was particularly struck by the back-and-forth on restricting child support to children whose parents work. As Peter writes, Weidinger is simply wrong to suggest that supporters of a child allowance are rejecting “work in favor of relief.”

Haskins served as a member of the Committee on Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 Years. That committee produced a report that recommended a child allowance.

In testimony summarizing the findings, conclusions, and recommendations from the Committee’s report, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, Haskins describes the possible pro-work effect of a child allowance: Because child allowance benefits are not reduced as earnings increase (at least not until incomes reach 300 percent of the poverty line in Policy, they provide a more secure floor than means-tested benefits, one that does not penalize intermittent work.

At least 17 developed nations have some form of a child allowance. The U.S. federal tax system’s current $2,000 child tax credit is akin to a once-a-year child allowance. Many families with children benefit from its $2,000 per child reduction in taxes. However, currently, these benefits are not universal: families with no or very low incomes (and the very rich) are not eligible. Haskins also explains the importance of extending aid to poor children living in “families with no or very low incomes,” citing the possible long-term employment (and other) benefits for children themselves. Child poverty compromises the health, learning and development of our children and their future employment opportunities and well-being. …

I would file this last observation under “duh.” An enormous amount of data demonstrates that children raised in poverty are stunted in later life–they are less productive, and less likely to be steadily employed. But even if that were not the case, what sort of person says “if your parent doesn’t have acceptable employment, kid, we’re taking it out on you”?

Weidinger echoes GOP talking points to the effect that welfare checks under AFDC “flowed mostly to households in which no one worked and many remained on benefits and in poverty for years.” As Peter notes in response,  AFDC checks “flowed mostly to households” without earners because it was targeted to very poor families.

In most states, a job would make a family ineligible for assistance because the income eligibility limits in all states were very low and recipients faced a high marginal tax rate when they went to work (100 percent for AFDC after four months of work).  Notably, the expanded child tax credit will be very different than AFDC, because checks will “flow mostly to households” with earnings.

The Weidingers of this world act on the longstanding and pernicious American premise that being poor equates to being morally defective–and evidently, they don’t want to feed poor children if that will help their morally-defective parents.

I understand arguments that focus on the best way to deliver social benefits. I will never understand the argument that we shouldn’t feed and clothe children if we disapprove of their parents.


  1. Nic Kristoff wrote a column in the NYT a few years ago about being poor in America and how so many righteous right wingers where only too happy to tell others they needed to “Lift yourself up by your boot straps like I did”. These proudly cruel folks refused to notice that many of the people they where condemning for being poor had systematically been denied the “bootstraps” by various factors, largely racism, but lack of access to a quality education and lack of parental example (ie: generational poverty caused by the same factors)

  2. Sadly so many of the same people who begrudge helping the poor will cheerfully spend boatloads on the very rich.

  3. It is not always feasible for both parents to work; lack of public transportation, parking fees, child care costs will eat up most of one working parent’s paycheck. Women are still paid less than men and the majority of Americans in today’s economy are low to middle-income workers who cannot keep up with the soaring costs of everything; not all of them are parents. It is always those who have money who do not want to offer assistance to those who have little or none; those with the least are always the first to offer help to those who need it. There are those who need temporary assistance, such as this past more than one year of joblessness and children forced into a home-school situation due to the Pandemic who will be struggling to provide basic needs until this country returns to our normal level of economic problems. And then they will continue to struggle to catch up on bills which have fallen into arrears.

    And does “Peter the Citizen” even consider the grown children with children forced to move back in with elderly parents or those who have taken in elderly and disabled parents or other family members to provide for? “Children” in need of services today are not always under 18 years of age.

  4. Note that it is very hard to pull yourself up by the bootstraps if you have no boots.

  5. The wealthiest country on the planet won’t bother helping out those who weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth but have no problem providing plenty of monies and opportunities to those born with the most silvery spoons.

    The poor don’t write checks to politicians and don’t have lobbyists teaching them the finer talking points to raise money for the impoverished.

    Meanwhile, I’d like to know what these Republicans are doing to prevent another major economic meltdown like the one experienced in 2008. I read a good article in The Intercept discussing the inflated NOI’s of commercial properties and a new player called Ladder Capital, who sells commercial mortgage-backed securities to investors (pensions) based on inflated values. By the way, Ladder Capital was a major lender to Donald Trump, along with DeutschBank.

    Tick tock, tick tock…

    When the working class figures out they’ve been hoodwinked since the inception of our country; I wonder how they’ll respond.

    The Democratic Party has a chance to bury the worst operators within the Republican ranks over the January 6th ordeal at the Capitol. It was either a coup attempt/insurrection, or it wasn’t. Many Trumpsters within the GOP ranks assisted the Proud Boys. Why aren’t they being removed from office? Why aren’t the billionaires who funded the insurrection being arrested as insurrectionists? Why is the FBI still lying about not having intelligence?

    The things that make you go, hmmm…

  6. one would have to live and seek work in inner city America. ive challenged many a local here in NoDak to move to Newark,n.j. get a apt,and then find a job,that, is close enough for bus fare or pass, cant own a car,no place to park it,or money to support it. just the idea of spending your last dollar for a trip across town to be interviewed is stress and never a guarentee you will get the job.ive seen many a new person start work,and they didn’t have a place to stay or a few bucks to make to the next day. if the parents of inner city can’t support a new worker out the door,where is the next step? dignity is a word used when one succeeds,and beyond,,its only used in inner city when one doesn’t live in a cardboard box,in skid row. the issue is mainly the whys. if the real estate market is gentrifying the vast areas of inner cities,there will be no place or the workers,and ya wonder why they don’t want to work around the very people who,made thier lives harder,while the dignity is bitching at a living wage for anyone else.. many of those dignities take the profits and pocket them,without regards to who,it affects. tax breaks always trickle up,seriously,$20 bucks a week in a working persons pittence wouldn’t feed many in one shot,unless of course you feel gruel is a staple.. social programs are now made to openly slander those who seek it. (ebt cards etc)those in congress who feel they are above helping those they have generationally made poorer,should be led to a public square and made to admit,who gets what,and who,passed that legislation,to benifit the rich,,and how said rep ignored poverty by their own hand,and the vehicle they used to continue it.

  7. They’ve had options like keeping wages at levels that allowed families to exist without assistance. Pulling yourself up was easier with labor unions empowering workers with their fair share of company profits that supported the general economy. Getting to work would be much easier if workers could had access to quality/affordable children – tax credits to companies for vouchers or sponsoring on site childcare for all shifts. And support birth control without cost or stigma instead of condemning women (and men) with unplanned pregnancies to make very difficult life choices, often with negative educational and earnings outcomes – out of the workforce or stuck in low wage careers.

    It’s cruel to demand people pull themselves up by the bootstraps when the system cuts the straps and steals the boots!

  8. the republiqans bitch of who gets what in the relief from the covid bill that wasn’t targeted etc. ive heard many a caller in to say c spans washington journal,and the like,complain of i didn’t need the check,it’s a waste,etc.. i bet they never donated to a food bank,or slipped a single mom a $20 and smiled as they walked away..i made a effort to target the ones who didn’t have shelter,living in one of the major leaders in energy production in the U.S. ya gotta hear the BS from these so called dignified asswipes.

  9. One blatant difference between conservatives and liberals (read Republicans and Democrats) is the role of money in life. To conservatives, it is the only measure of the quality of life and so important it is to be collected and displayed like trophies. To liberals, wealth is a tool by which the future is created. It’s investment fodder. As poor people by definition have little wealth to display conservatives believe that they have earned positions to be disregarded and ignored. Liberals see them as indicative of a failure of the present and they represent untapped talent that society has failed to employ.

    Unfortunately, no investment is 100% efficient in creating the desired future just like no fuel is 100% efficient in releasing energy to do work. Entropy exists throughout nature. Conservatives focus on the wasted energy, liberals on the work that can get done.

    Like wealth, children are investments in the future. We all hope to leave behind those who can continue our work in creating a better world for everyone and they will not only be continuing creators of better but beneficiaries as well. There is entropy in childbearing as well. Some are spectacularly successful, some are average, some fail to launch.

    Which category deserves investment in? I would propose that they all earn satisfactory lives. Wealth will take care of itself.

  10. Conservatives, LOL!

    Exactly what are conservatives conserving?

    Conservative leaning governments seem to preside over shrinking equality all the while assaulting human dignity! But a lot of it lies upon those who keep them in power. Individuals who have been so brainwashed as to work against their own best interests because they feel others that are different from them, shouldn’t be allowed rights that they themselves demand or wish for.

    We don’t have to make it complicated, there is a reason why conspiracy theories and racist tropes permeate conservative right wing echo chambers. The Nazis were right-wing nationalist socialists. Exactly what the Trumpophiles probably espouse!

    The General Assembly of the United Nations proclaims: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. (1948) They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Since the dignity of man is under attack, it is with good reason that the Charter of the United Nations and the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes this quality. They affirm “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person.”


    How could this be? They’ve been talking about this since 1948? And, what progress has been made?

    A report presented in 1997 to a meeting of the 54-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe stated: “Religious Freedom is one of the highest values in the constellation of human rights, going to the very core of human dignity. No system that violates, or allows the systematic violation of, such rights can lay legitimate claim to membership in the community of just and democratic states that respect fundamental human rights.”

    Unfortunately they missed the part where corruption in the religious realm cannot sustain equality or dignity.

    Philippians 2:1-4 reads, ” If, then, there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any spiritual fellowship, if any tender affection and compassion, 2 make my joy full by being of the same mind and having the same love, being completely united, having the one thought in mind. 3 Do nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with humility consider others superior to you, 4 as you look out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

    James 2:14-17 reads, “Of what benefit is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but he does not have works? That faith cannot save him, can it? 15 If any brothers or sisters are lacking clothing and enough food for the day, 16 yet one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but you do not give them what they need for their body, of what benefit is it? 17 So, too, faith by itself, without works, is dead.

    I sure haven’t seen much of this Self-sacrificing from the conservative ranks, almost all of it comes from those condemned by the conservatives!

  11. Well said, John.

    They also claim that Conservatives or Republicans are the party of wealth and the Democratic Party is the opposition party or representative of working-class interests.

    We must see through the two-party capitalist duopoly given to the masses for the appearance of choice. It’s basically two forms of oligarchy and oppression — helluva choice.

    The insurrection, John. What about the plot against our democratic form of government?

  12. The “bootstrap” proponents forget that this culture has cut those very bootstraps!
    “I understand arguments that focus on the best way to deliver social benefits. I will never understand the argument that we shouldn’t feed and clothe children if we disapprove of their parents.” That’s because you have a functioning brain
    BTW, the Reagan people knew that “Trickle down” was bogus, some admitted to this many years later.
    Jack, if they moved to Newark, N.J., and bought a car, there is a very good chance that the car would be stripped. I can, however, understand how people living a totally rural life can be that myopic.

  13. Many women have dropped out of the work force to take care of their children. Those who are paid the minimum wage or less struggle. Paying for child care can be very expensive. We have shifted from the extended family to the nuclear family. Grandparents used to take care of their grandchildren and charged nothing. I was lucky enough to have grandparents who took care of me before I started school.

    Republicans are too locked into a highly individualistic outlook. They deny how interdependent we all are. They deny that no one is a “self-made” person. Those who become successful almost always have good mentors and others helping them along the way.

    The children are our future ,and too many of them are now living in poverty. If we want to ensure the future of America, we need to ensure that the children have their needs met. America would become much more prosperous if every child in this country had all of her needs met and there was NO child abuse or neglect.

  14. Todd,

    Yesterday I quoted Cyril Connolly who said “there is no hate without fear”

    So, people hate what they fear, and if they fear government, they would hate government, that’s obvious by the amount of weapons floating around in the conservative ranks out there, not to mention all of the militias.

    Fear the others because government wishes there to be an equality, therefore it’s time to get rid of it, to burn it all down!

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