FiveThirtyEight: Most Welfare Dollars Don’t Go Directly to Poor People Anymore

The result has been a dramatic shift of resources away from cash assistance and toward spending on other programs. In 1998, nearly 60 percent of welfare spending was on cash benefits, categorized as “basic assistance.” By 2014, it was only about one-quarter of TANF spending. That shift has happened despite a burgeoning economics literature suggesting that direct cash transfers are in many cases the most efficient tool to fight poverty.

Varieties of Giving

Not all giving is the same. Not every gift means the same things, takes the same form, or has the same motivation. An anonymous cash gift to a homeless shelter, for example, is different from a gift of stock to an elite university in exchange for the university’s business school being named after the donor; and both of those are different from a gift to a family member at Christmas. There are varieties of giving. And the differences between those varieties matter.

Here, for example, are three different – and major – forms of giving.

Patronage was the dominant form of giving in ancient Greece and Rome, based in an ongoing relationship of reciprocal exchange between two parties – sometimes people, sometimes communities – of unequal power. The more powerful person (the patron) would give things like protection, housing, land, loans, political appointments, and even cash handouts to the less powerful person (the client). The client would respond in kind by providing his patron with visits, votes, gratitude, and loyalty. At the core of this relationship lay three simple aspects of the broader social imaginary: an acceptance of social and economic hierarchy, an ethic of reciprocal exchange, and an obsession with the worthiness of the recipients of gifts. While no longer a major form of giving, patronage continues as a force in some parts of the nonprofit sector.

Charity was the dominant form of giving in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. This is what we think of when we think of giving to a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or even a person on the street. In many ways, charity takes an approach that is opposed to patronage: it’s rooted in divine command, directed specifically towards the poor, and unconcerned with the ‘worthiness’ of the recipient. In fact, charity is much more concerned about the worthiness of the donor: it is a way for the donor to fix herself by helping others.

Philanthropy is often imagined as a classical form of giving – the word itself has Greek roots – but it’s a relatively recent development and the dominant form of giving in the modern world. It’s the kind of giving that we see in towering figures like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and, more recently, billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. It’s also the kind of giving that many of us who are not billionaires participate in when we give to foundations and large nonprofit organizations. Bearing certain similarities to patronage, it’s based in the concentration of wealth, the institutionalization of giving, and the idea of reforming society.

Why does this matter? Because how we give reflects how we think about wealth, poverty, justice, compassion, and event the structure of the cosmic order. It reflects how we think about organizing life. The person who gives out of a sense of a divine preferential option for the poor is doing something very different from the person who gives out of the hope of public recognition and honor. They are shaping the world very differently.

And that has real consequences for both the people giving and the people receiving.

Quartz: The Myth of Millennial Entitlement Was Created to Hide Their Parents’ Mistakes

Indeed, terms like “preference” and “choice” still dominate media coverage of millennials. But if anything holds this tenuously defined generation together, it is a lack of options. Americans who have lived much of their adult lives in the aftermath of the Great Recession have lower incomes, less mobility, and greater financial dependence on older relatives than any other generation in modern history. Many millennials do not have a lot of choice. They are merely reacting to lost opportunity.

You Can’t Play Someone by Doing What They Want (a Story)

Once upon a time, a woman went to a park with coolers full of 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

She gave the sandwiches out to anyone who came to her. Some people took a sandwich and left. Some people took a sandwich and, a little while later, came back for a second one… or a third… or even a fourth. Some were children and some were adults. Some were dressed in rags and some were dressed in business suits. Some said ‘thank you’ and some did not.

After a while, she had given out all of her sandwiches and she left.

The next day, she came back with 100 more sandwiches and the same thing happened. Some people took a sandwich and left. Some people took a sandwich and, a little while later, came back for a another. Some were children and some were adults. Some were dressed in rags and some were dressed in business suits. Some said ‘thank you’ and some did not.

And again, after a while, she had given out all of her sandwiches and she left.

On the third day, as she was setting up her table and laying out her sandwiches, some other women who usually sat nearby came up to her.

They said, “We think you’re doing such a great think, giving out sandwiches to people who are hungry. But we’re worried that you’re getting played. Some people are taking a sandwich and, a little while later, coming back for another. Some people are adults who should be working for their food. Some people are dressed in business suits and could clearly afford to buy a sandwich. You really should be more careful.”

And the woman said, “No, no. You don’t understand. I’m here to give out sandwiches. Anyone who takes one is helping me do that.

“They’re helping me if they take a sandwich and leave. They’re helping me if they take a sandwich and, a little while later, come back for another.

“They’re helping me if they’re children. They’re helping me if they’re adults.

“They’re helping be if they’re dressed in rags or if they’re dressed in business suits.

“I cannot be played when people are doing what I want.”

And the other women left her, bewildered.

People I Read: Vital Signs and Statistics

In the early-ish days of blogging, it was normal to have a blogroll: a list of links to other (often more popular) blogs that the author was interested in. The blogroll would sit calmly in the sidebar and let readers browse their way to other blogs and other authors, discovering fresh ideas and insights. Now, nobody maintains a blogroll. The best hope you have of finding someone else is to follow a link in the body of a post or in a comment or in a link dump. Around here, they also show up in link posts that I share fairly frequently.

But the fact is that I kind of miss the blogroll, and I think that it’s worthwhile to share some of the blogs I read and a note one why I read them. I’ll try to put up one example every couple of weeks.

This post’s person I read is everyone at Vital Signs and Statistics.

I’m an advocate of data. The choices we make in congregations and other nonprofits tend to be better when we have a firm grasp on what is happening in our communities and organizations. And good data is a vital tool in making sure we have that firm grasp.

But raw data by itself isn’t very useful. In order to make it useful, we need to contextualize it, interpret it, and turn it into information. The distinction between data and information is important: data is raw, information has a context. For example: the number of visitors to your website, broken down by country, is data; knowing that your number of visitors in the United States is going down is information.

What does that have to do with this post’s person I read? Vital Signs and Statistics is the blog of the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data. These are the fine folks who collect data on a variety of topics from throughout the United Church of Christ. For example, they maintain Access UCC, where I can look up any congregation and see financial data, membership information, and so on. At Vital Signs and Statistics, they make the data that they collect – and data from other sources – and turn it into information. If you want to learn how a pastor spends her time, the benefits of youth programs, or how a church welcome affects people, among other things, this is the blog for you.

Houston Press: The Houston Man Who Refused to Plead Guilty Does Not Want an Apology

Gilbert Cruz said he does not want an apology from the Harris County sheriff’s deputy who punched him in the face and arrested him. He said he does not want an apology from his court-appointed defense attorney, Abel Izaguirre, for failing to put more pressure on prosecutors to drop the case sooner. And he does not want an apology from anyone on the outside world who stripped him of his livelihood.

Proof of Identity

For people who are low-income, it can be surprisingly difficult to obtain identification. The reason for that is surprisingly simple: you need proof of identity (and often residency) in order to get proof of identity! This creates a vicious circle where not having documentation of your identity means not being able to get proof of your identity; and not having proof of your identity makes it harder – if not all but impossible – to get documentation.

This is something that most people – people who aren’t in this vicious cycle – don’t realize. Since I recently encountered some people who couldn’t believe that it can be so difficult to get identification, I thought I’d do a little thought experiment.

Meet Bob. Bob needs to obtain proof of identity in the form of a state ID card. He lives in Iowa in an ‘informal’ arrangement: he crashes in the spare bedroom of his sister’s apartment. He isn’t on the lease. He also doesn’t have a copy of his birth certificate or Social Security card. He’s unemployed and has been for several months. Put simply, he’s an adult who isn’t in the system.

The first thing Bob needs to do to get an Iowa ID card is… prove his identity. There are several documents that he can use to do this, including a valid passport, a birth certificate, a certificate of citizenship, or various immigration records. He doesn’t have his birth certificate, but that’s the document that will be easiest for him to get.

Bob was born in Illinois, so he’ll have to get his birth certificate from that state. Since he doesn’t have an ID, he needs to submit two pieces of documentation with his name, one of which must also have his current address. One of them can be a bill or another piece of mail, and we’ll assume that he can produce that. The other must be one from a list. He doesn’t have any of those documents, but his sister will help him open a bank account – a pretty big feat since he has no ID – so he can produce a bank statement. With those documents and $10, he can get his birth certificate mailed to him in about a week.

Now he needs a document with his name and Social Security Number. He doesn’t have his Social Security card, a W-2, or a 1099. Looks like it’s time to go get a Social Security card!

In order to get a replacement Social Security card, he needs two things: proof of citizenship and proof of identity. Since he has his birth certificate, he can prove his citizenship (he was smart enough to get multiple copies… for an extra $2 a piece). Identity is going to be harder. He doesn’t have any of the standard documents – state ID card, driver’s license, passport, military ID card, etc. – so the Social Security office will ask for other documents.

It’s hard to know what proof of identity they’ll ask for and accept, so this might be a dead-end for him. We’ll assume he eventually manages to get a Social Security card.

Having sufficiently proof of his identity – the very thing he’s trying to get – Bob must now prove his residency. He has his bank statement now, since he needed that for his birth certificate. His sister also got him a subscription to The New Yorker for his birthday, so he has a postmarked magazine with his name on it.

With those documents and $8, he can now go to the DMV and get his ID card. Provided, of course, that they actually accept his documents.

But there’s a problem here. This scenario is unrealistically easy. Many low-income individuals are unbanked, and opening a bank account without an ID or source of income isn’t always possible. If Bob hadn’t been able to open that bank account, he wouldn’t have been able to get a bank statement, and that would have kept him from getting his birth certificate. Perhaps he would have been able to find another form of documentation. More likely, this would have been a dead-end for him.

Similarly, there’s no reason to assume that the Social Security office would have accepted whatever alternative documents he would have been able to provide. In all likelihood, this would have been another dead-end.

Of course, this is only meant as an illustration of how difficult it can be to obtain proof of identity even when things go in your favor. When things don’t go so smoothly, it quickly becomes impossible.

Faith

This sermon was delivered at Union Congregational United Church of Christ in Moline, Illinois on August 7, 2016. The scriptures for this sermon are Hebrews 11:1-3 and Luke 12:32-40.

You may not know this, but I’m a professional fundraiser for a little nonprofit organization in Biloxi, Mississippi. I live here in the Quad Cities and I world from home quite a bit. But I also travel about a quarter of the time. And that means a lot of time in airports. And that means a lot of kind of awkward conversations in gate waiting areas.

One time, I was chatting with someone while we waited in line for zone three to be called to board the plane. He asked me what I did, and I told him pretty much like I just told you. He asked what my organization did, and I told him that we worked on issues around housing, homelessness, and poverty on the Gulf Coast. He asked me how I liked it and – since I had been on a stressful trip and I had been in the airport for a while – I said that I liked it enough… it keeps a roof over my head.

And someone a few people ahead of me in line – someone who I’m guessing had also been on a stressful trip and spent too long in the airport – turned and said, “so you’re better off than the people you serve.”

Ouch. Burn.

But I was convicted. I complain about work just like everyone else. And sometimes I forget that I am incredibly fortunate. I have a place to live. I have plenty of food. I have a steady income and health insurance and a loving family. And while I’m far from the top 1%, I’m doing a lot better than far too many in the United States and around the world.

But, like everyone else, I worry. I worry about my job and about bills and whether I will ever pay of my student loans. Like every one else, I worry.

And here’s Jesus, saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms.”

Let me back up.

“Faith,” writes the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Abraham had faith; he left the safety of his home and followed God’s call to Canaan. Moses had faith; he confronted Pharaoh and demanded freedom for his people. Jesus had faith; he endured the cross.

Now, it’s easy to think that faith is about putting little checkmarks in little boxes on a list of beliefs.

It’s easy to think that Abraham had faith because he believed that God would make a nation of his descendants. Or that Moses had faith because he believed that God would make Pharaoh let his people go. Or that Jesus had faith because he believed that he would sit at the right hand of God. But belief – the intellectual assent, the little checkmarks in little boxes – isn’t the same as faith.

Believing things, after all, is simple. Some people can even believe six impossible things before breakfast.

In Petersburg, Kentucky, there is a creation museum. And about forty-five minutes down I-75, in Williamstown, Kentucky, there’s a “life-sized” Noah’s Ark Encounter. Both of these are owned and operated by the same group: a group that has put little checkmarks in little boxes on a list of beliefs.

They believe that the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible are the written word of God, divinely inspired and inerrant in every detail. They believe that the Bible is inerrant when it makes spiritual and theological statements. They believe that the Bible is inerrant when it makes historical and scientific statements.

They believe – with the fervor necessary to build a museum – that God created the world in six twenty-four days about six thousand years ago. They believe – with the passion necessary to build a “life-sized replica” – that God commanded Noah to build an ark and save his family from a global flood.

They’ve put their little checkmarks in their little boxes on their list of beliefs. They believe their impossible things.

But those beliefs aren’t faith.

Faith is like this. There was a swimming class for adults who almost died from drowning. At one lesson, their teacher told them to float: lie back, relax the body, let the water carry them. And they believed their teacher. They believed that if they lay back and relaxed their bodies, the water would carry them. They could check the box.

But they couldn’t do it. They had survived drowning. They were afraid. They couldn’t relax. They couldn’t lie back. They couldn’t let the water carry them.

They believed. But they didn’t have faith.

Belief is having it in your head that the water will carry you. Faith is lying back, and relaxing your body, and letting the water carry you.

Abraham believed many things; his faith was going into Canaan. Moses believed many things; his faith was confronting Pharaoh.

Jesus believed many things; his faith was going even to the cross and the tomb.

And in his faith, Jesus could say, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms.”

Let me back up again.

A few minutes ago, Jesus finished telling a story to a crowd. And a few seconds ago, Jesus finished giving some advice to the disciples.

The story went like this. There was once a man whose fields produced so abundantly that he didn’t know what to do with all of his crops. So he tore down his barns and built bigger ones. And he said to himself, “Self, you’ve all you need for years now stored away; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”

And God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

And because Jesus had faith, he could say, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms.”

The advice went like this. Don’t worry! Consider the ravens. They neither sow nor reap, but God feeds them. Consider the lilies.

They neither toil nor spin, but God clothes them in glory. Don’t worry about what you’ll eat or drink or wear. Instead, seek the kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

And now we’re here: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms.”

Now… I can tell you’re worried about where this is going to go… I’m not going to tell you to sell your possessions and give alms.

I’m not going to sell my possessions and give alms.

But I will tell you that it never hurts to think about our possessions. And it never hurts to ask if we’re just building up bigger barns to store more stuff or bigger accounts to store more money. And it never hurts to ask where all of the things we’ve prepared will end up. It never hurts to give alms. It never hurts to be rich towards God.

In fact, I’ll tell you this. Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. Be charitable. In the broadest definition of the word, be charitable. Be charitable with your money. Be charitable with your time. Be charitable with your companionship. Be charitable with your love.

Because, when you get down to it, that’s what charity is: love.

Worry is not love. Being so worried about my student loan bill that I won’t give to a child who needs school supplies is not love.

Being so worried about my rent that I won’t help someone who needs a place to stay tonight is not love. Being so worried about my bank account that I won’t give up a little of what I have to make sure that people are fed and clothed and housed and cared for it not love.

Fear is not love. Being so afraid for my property that I won’t let ‘those people’ live in my neighborhood is not love. Being so afraid for my life that I won’t let refugees into my country is not love. Being so afraid for my purity that I demand control over other people is not love.

I know that it’s easy to worry. I know that it’s easy to be afraid. I know that there are people in this world – it is election season after all – who will tell you to be worried and afraid. But I also know that my faith is not in my bank account. And my faith is not in the things that I own. And my faith is not in my reputation.

My faith is in the God who feeds the ravens. My faith is in the God who clothes the lilies of the field. My faith is in the God whose good pleasure it is to give us the kingdom.

And I can’t think of any news that is better than that.

People I Read: Samantha Field

In the early-ish days of blogging, it was normal to have a blogroll: a list of links to other (often more popular) blogs that the author was interested in. The blogroll would sit calmly in the sidebar and let readers browse their way to other blogs and other authors, discovering fresh ideas and insights. Now, nobody maintains a blogroll. The best hope you have of finding someone else is to follow a link in the body of a post or in a comment or in a link dump. Around here, they also show up in link posts that I share fairly frequently.

But the fact is that I kind of miss the blogroll, and I think that it’s worthwhile to share some of the blogs I read and a note one why I read them. I’ll try to put up one example every couple of weeks.

This post’s person I read is Samantha Field.

Samantha Field grew up a military brat in the deep South, spent a number of years with her family in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church, and is now “dismantling [her] life, deconstructing it.”

Her blog covers a range of topics, including the hard reality of leaving a cult, theological reflections, and discussions of important social issues. All of these are excellent. But where she shines, in my opinion, is in her extended reviews and examinations of evangelical relationship advice books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Real Marriage. In these posts, she takes us through each book – usually one chapter or so per post – with a deeply critical eye. Through these posts, we learn about relationships in the evangelical world. We also learn about her life, how she’s been shaped by her fundamentalist youth, and how she is working to reshape her life.

My wife was once in charge of a swimming class for adults that included a number of individuals who had had near-drowning experiences in their younger years. This naturally led to an extraordinary fear of the water. Now, anyone who has done a proper investigation of the physics of water knows that the human body is buoyant enough to float quite naturally on its surface. But in order to exploit this fact, you have to be relaxed, and, in turn, must trust the capacity of water to hold your body afloat… Knowing something and acting on that knowledge are often two quite different things.