Charities are not enough to help the poor

Conservative thought is wrong in suggesting that charities are enough to help out the jobless.

by Ronald Dixon

One of the common talking points that I hear from conservatives and libertarians is that we need to “reduce dependence” on government, particularly with regard to unemployment insurance and food stamps. Instead, these people want the economically disadvantaged to rely temporarily upon charities for support.

A recent survey from the Chronicle of Philanthropy seems to challenge this ideology.

According to the Chronicle’s analysis of Internal Revenue Service data, the richest Americans are donating a smaller percentage of their income to charities than they did only a few years ago. At the same time, those in the middle and lower classes are donating a higher percentage of their income to charities. Moreover, according to the Chronicle’s editor, Stacy Palmer, the richest Americans typically donate to the arts and higher education, not social services.

Our social safety net is already inadequate. While it’s true that the United States has a much lower unemployment rate than it did just a few years ago, there are still millions of Americans who have given up looking for a job after months of trying. Meanwhile, many who have jobs are unable to afford basic necessities.

Despite these facts, the federal government has unjustifiably cut millions of people from its food stamp and unemployment insurance programs within the past year, and many states have reduced spending on their social safety nets.

In North Carolina, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed off on cuts so that out-of-state residents (who he claimed only moved there for the free lunch) would go back to where “they came from.”

While I admit that charities have their value, they should not be the only way for the economically disadvantaged to receive basic necessities. However, because of national and statewide budget cuts, the poor have had no other choice but to rely upon non-governmental services.

When we test the right-wing theory that charities should be the norm, we find that it fails. Millions of people in the U.S. are still at risk for hunger, and donations to charities have generally been on the decline.

It doesn’t take an in-depth analysis to realize that the charity system is an inadequate means of economic security. Why do conservatives and libertarians then insist that the poor rely on charities instead of government services? It seems evident that these political groups are most concerned with the interests of the rich, despite the fact that the gap between the rich and the rest of us has grown unsustainably wide.

Ultimately, right-wing economics fails to address the basic needs of the poor and systematically pampers the rich. The alternative to their theories is a liberal approach.

The government should enhance the social safety net, stimulate the economy through job creation and reduce the income gap by increasing taxes on the rich.