What kinds of anti-poverty programs really work?

Christians ought to be concerned about poverty. Is there a way to help the poor without making them dependent on the government?

Yes! In this article, the American Enterprise Institute discusses a great program called the Doe Fund, which is run in New York City.

Excerpt:

[…][F]or more than 25 years, the organization run by George and Harriet McDonald has helped homeless men. The program they run is based on a clear contract between the shelter managers and the homeless men. “You get up every day and go to work and stay drug free-and we will pay you and house you and feed you. It’s as simple as that,” Mr. McDonald said at his shelter on 155th street in Harlem. Doe Fund facilities are funded by revenue generation from their maintenance and cleaning business, government funding for homeless services, and private donations. The breakdown is roughly one-third each.

Anyone who enters one of the four Doe Fund facilities in New York City is handed a paper entitled: “Some of the Rules that You Will hear ALL the time.” Among the regulations are Rule No. 4: No standing or loitering in front of the building at any time of the day. Rule No. 10: You must not drink or drug while you are in the program. Rule No. 11: No cellular phones are allowed while you are working.

In return for a roof over their heads and a salary, residents of the Doe Fund shelters clean and maintain commercial strips all over New York City-real jobs, with real demands and shifts that start at 6 a.m. The Doe Fund crews add an extra touch not provided by the sanitation and park employees of New York City, and every day workers face real customers who include not only local business groups who pay for their services but also residents and pedestrians who benefit from the improved quality of life.

Hourly wages start at $8.15, which gives shelter residents a chance to save, as room and board are provided. Some men accumulate as much as $5,000 while they are in the six- to nine-month program.

According to the McDonalds, over the past three years 57% of the men who completed the six-month program got jobs at an average wage of $10.86 an hour. And 65% of those retained the job for at least six months. A 2010 Harvard University evaluation found similar results. For a program that works with homeless men, many of whom have served prison sentences, those are solid results.

In addition to a strong work and drug-free requirement (enforced by random drug tests), the Doe Fund also requires the men who are fathers to provide financial support to their children and to identify themselves to the city’s child-support enforcement office to be sure they comply with their child-support orders.

What is important about the Doe Fund is that it explicitly links aid with a strong enforcement of the rules. Doe Fund managers enforce the rules by restricting noncompliant residents to the shelter, reducing benefits or referring them to another city shelter where these opportunities are not offered. The Doe Fund is not alone in its approach-there are similar setups across the country, but in most such programs it’s still rare to tie behavior to consequences.

Now, this is the kind of anti-poverty program that I support. It’s not just handing out money with no strings attached. It’s easing people into the work force in a structured environment. I think that deep down, poor people really want to work, and this program is exactly how we should be getting them started at that.

But there is one thing that might hurt this program, and the article mentions it. Can you guess what it is? Look at the hourly wages these entry-level workers are being paid.

Here’s what it is:

It is troubling that at the same time the president has announced a new focus on helping young minority men, one of his administration’s top legislative priorities is a substantial hike in the federal minimum wage-a mandate on employers that is likely to reduce job opportunities for the very young men the president wants to help with My Brother’s Keeper.

If we really wanted to help the poor, we should be LOWERING the minimum wage, and then maybe the government can make up the difference. I would much rather have the government subsidizing work by topping off lower salaries than subsidizing bad behaviors.

One thought on “What kinds of anti-poverty programs really work?”

  1. A solution should the minimum wage proposals be implemented: could the charity raise the wage it pays the workers, and make a charge (perhaps nominal, but that would cover the difference between current wage and minimum wage) for food and shelter?

    Like

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