A recent poll from Rasmussen Reports provides evidence that many Americans are increasingly skeptical that poverty programs from government are effective in alleviating poverty. In the same survey nineteen percent of people believe the programs have no impact. Forty-nine percent of respondents believe the programs actually hurt people. Twelve percent of respondents are not sure. These are telling percentages.
A lack of confidence such as this can reflect common folklore, political beliefs, cynicism due to one’s own economic situation, or even class envy, but in this case the empirical evidence that would be needed to refute the skepticism is either lacking, inconclusive, or biased. Consequently, many Americans continue to perceive poverty increasing and society deteriorating as government spending has increased dramatically since the War on Poverty began during the Johnson Administration in 1964. In fact, according to a recent article in USA Today, poverty has increased in the United States since 2008, despite significant increases in Food Stamp and Medicaid spending.
Proponents of poverty programs and indeed all programs designed to help poor and disabled Americans criticize anyone who threatens to withhold program funding. But given the lack of empirical support for the effectiveness of many such programs, independent thinkers believe they have a right to evaluate whether or not these programs are effective and thus should continue. Especially in these austere times, Americans want to continue to help people but they want to be smarter about how we go about doing it.
When the legislators in New Hampshire released their latest budget that included substantial cuts in social services, there was a loud appeal to emotion from service providers and editorial writers from across the state. The alarm centered on two anticipated effects of the proposed cuts – loss of services for recipients and loss of jobs for providers. However, in the absence of adequate data to prove the worth of many of these programs, citizens have little information with which to evaluate their spending decisions. Americans are not in favor of creating jobs from government funding if those jobs are not producing results. This is a situation that makes many Americans cynical as the Rasmussen poll above reflects. Americans want hard data, and that data is often absent.
Many Americans believe all public program funding allocations should be contingent on program effectiveness outcome data. Programs should only be funded if they work. Support for this idea has been growing. Elements of this philosophy are apparently included in what a majority of voters still believes is an otherwise overly cumbersome and burdensome Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Regardless of how one feels about Obamacare, this aspect may be a common sense notion whose time has come.