Heather Mac Donald, writing in City Journal, criticizes a New York City program to help the poor by giving them cash rewards for constructive behavior, saying it’s built on a misunderstanding of why inner-city Americans (versus, say, Mexicans) are poor. Excerpt:

Of course, it’s ludicrous to suppose that what keeps America’s inner-city residents poor across generations is a struggle for subsistence in an economy of limited opportunities. The main drivers of poverty in America are family breakdown (in 2004, single-parent households nationally were six times as likely to be poor as married families) and nonwork (only 5 percent of all families with one full-time worker were poor in New York City from 2005 to 2007, compared with 47 percent of families with no workers). The antisocial behaviors that contribute to multigenerational poverty also have nothing to do with suffocating economic pressures: very few inner-city students cut classes or drop out of school to help their parents work; they do so because their peer culture is toxic and because their parents exercise little control over their lives.


Nevertheless, lurking beneath the Family Rewards rhetoric about “our impoverished campesinos” was an implicit acknowledgment of a truth rarely spoken in antipoverty circles: it’s the behavior of the inner-city poor that perpetuates poverty, not just “structural inequalities,” rapacious capitalism, or racism. That covert acknowledgment was enough to earn the initiative the opprobrium of many in the traditional poverty industry.
But the program’s proposed cure is potentially worse than the disease: paying families for activities that are part of the normal repertoire of what it means to be a responsible parent or student.

Chris Rock spoke to this point very well in his (in)famous “Whaddya want, a cookie?” routine.

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