Challenge 69: The urban crisis; #3 (Reel 1)
Challenge 69 the European crisis. The student's response. I observe that there are two problems that seem to be emerging. One is a generation gap. That is quite this horrible between the speakers and the young men and women who have come here to hear them. And also something of a communications gap. Comments were made by the men and women. Who came to hear a number of the speakers that we live in a competitive society which is all very true but they fail to understand that one must compete on something close to equal competitive grounds. It isn't fair for a six foot 200 pounder to take my young 10 year old son into a ring and propose to box or to wrestle with him. And I submit to you that the one fifth of all Americans who have to compete with the 80
percent of us that seem to have the full measure of the blessings of this society are competing not on a very very fair basis at coal. And I think that that's what challenge 69 is all about. The Wake Forest University symposium on contemporary American affairs presents challenge 69 the urban crisis. The student's response. This is the third in a series of nine programs that seek to focus attention on the problems of American cities. The topic of this program is the welfare system and the crisis of the unemployed. The speaker on today's program Michael Harrington was educated at Holy Cross Yale and the University of Chicago in an effort to examine the problems of poverty. He has worked with sharecroppers migrant workers and miners. His studies of poverty are included in his books The Accidental century
and the other America books that are said to have greatly influenced President John F. Kennedy in the formation of his anti-poverty domestic policy. Here now to speak on the welfare system and the crisis of the unemployed is Michael Harrington. And there is as anyone who reads the press or watches television knows a welfare crisis in Iraq. Despite nine years of unprecedented economic prosperity. There are more people going on welfare rather than less. In a city like New York today. The number of people receiving welfare is actually higher. Than at any time during the Great Depression of the 930. What does one do about this problem. How does one approach. I would like to suggest to you in broadest possible compass. That right before his tragic death Martin Luther King stated
basically what has to be done and what we are not doing now. He said we must have in this country now an economic bill of rights. Whereby every citizen is guaranteed as a matter of law. Either a job. Or a little income. As a matter of law a guaranteed economic right to a job or an income. The economic equivalent of our political bill of rights so to speak. Now in raising that. Slogan of an economic bill of rights. Martin King was attacking to one of the greatest conservative myths in our country. Because you see a great many Americans and I suspect perhaps even a few in this. Auditorium. Think that the poor are either a bunch of lazy freeloading people who don't want to work. Or as they think that the poor were a bunch of welfare children who want to cheat the rest of the society. In the course of my analysis arguing for Martin Luther King's economic bill of
rights. I intend to suggest to you that those two stereotypes are preposterous and have nothing to do with the facts. Let me develop my analysis in three different ways. First of all I have to define the problem of poverty particularly under the aspect of welfare or unemployment. And under-employment. Secondly to talk about programs are required to deal with the crisis best defined. And finally to talk briefly about the political struggle that will have to take place if these programs if this conception of Martin Luther Kings. Is to become a reality in the United States of America. So first of all let us define the problem of poverty particularly as it relates. To welfare. And here let me start. By dealing with the stereotypes. The overwhelming majority of poor people who are able to work do work. The overwhelming majority. Their problem is not as the Conservatives think that they are lazy. Their
problem is that they work long hard hours and are paid a poverty wage. The overwhelming majority of the poor who are capable of walking do work. Because you see half of the poor cannot work. They cannot walk through no fault of their own they cannot replicas they are too young to old or disabled. As a matter of fact one of the most tragic aspects about poverty in America today is how useful it is. Almost 50 percent of the poor people in the United States as defined by the federal government are under 18 years of age. Which means the poverty has a great future. Which means it's not something that's dying out. It's not something that just to flex a few aging people. It is something that is more useful when it is anything else. But so you have half of the poor roughly speaking in families where the head of the family can work. They do work and they get a poverty wage. And secondly you've got this other half of the poor who cannot work through no fault of their own. Because of their age their disability
and so forth. Now some of the people whom we today are only employable. And who because they are only employable are on the welfare rolls are actually employable. If we had genuine employment in the United States we would discover that there are literally thousands tens of thousands and perhaps even hundreds of thousands of people whom we now say are unemployable. They would be employable. We discovered this once before. Just before World War 2. The United States government defined millions of people as being only employable they could not work they could not survive on the labor market. And then when we got into a war which we took seriously unlike the war on poverty. World War Two. And we needed people to work. We were willing to pay people to work.
And we suddenly discover that literally millions of people whom we thought were on employable were very employable. Because we needed them. And I suggest to you therefore that the problem of poverty is even a little more complicated than half on employable and half working poor. It is that many of the unemployable people in the United States court work. If we would only make use of the enormous resource which I represent. Now in talking about these figures you've got to understand that we literally don't see part of the problem. In order to become a government statistic in order to be unemployed as far as the government is concerned. You have to be out of work and looking for work. But the Department of Labor in. November of 1966 did a survey that was a little bit more sophisticated than that. They took the people out of work and looking for work and counted them. Then they took the people who were working but paid poverty wages and counted them. Then they took the people who were part time workers and therefore part time unemployed and
counted their part time unemployment. And then they took two interesting groups. They took the group of people who aren't looking for a job because they know they won't get a job. The people who have literally been driven out of the labor market and do not have the dignity of a statistic. They added them. And then finally they added in the most extraordinary category of all. The invisible poor. Because you see we have discovered in the nineteen hundred and 60s that the 1960 census systematically under-counted poor people and black people in America. That as a matter of fact we have now discovered by mathematical computations that in the urban slums there are 15 to 20 percent more adult poor and black males than the United States census says they're wrong. All of our poverty figures there appear are little. I first became sort of aware of this some years ago when a friend of mine a civil rights leader by the name of Byard
Rustin said about the 60 census. When the census taker goes to the door knocks on the door and says how many people live here. And the lady in Harlem says that means six. Or eight. Fired said. Because there are people who are on the ride there are people who are not being counted there are people who don't have anything to do with the government. And it has not turned out the fire that's in the site which I thought was a joke at the time is scientifically true. That there are people in this society certainly marginal. Without a job an address a social security card a draft card a telephone and people who don't receive mail. That quite literally the census did not see them. And when the Department of Labor took over of these other factors and counted them in not into a definition of unemployment but a definition of under employment it discovered that underemployment in the slums of New York City primarily black was at a rate of about 30 percent. That is to say higher than the Great Depression.
And then under employment in the slums of New Orleans Louisiana was around 50 percent. So you have to understand in dealing with the problem of welfare and those people who go to work and those people who cannot work. There are many people in this society whom we make on employable. We're not on employable through there but who are employable through our fault. Because we don't have the intelligence to use. The resources. They represent. Moreover if there were full employment genuine full employment not one we have known. But further employment where everybody has a right to a decent job. Not a right to a janitorial job at poverty wages but a right to a decent job. If we had that kind of a situation which is what Martin King was advocating the time he was them that would affect many of our other social problems. For example there is no question. That one of the reasons for higher rates of illegitimacy among poor people. Is not that they are less moral than
other people. But that they economically do not have the basis for a family life. And this has been compound it in a good number of cases by welfare policies which have put a premium on destroying marriage because you see in a good many states in the United States to this day in order to get aid for Dependent Children aid which is designed to go to the child. There cannot be an able bodied man in the house. And therefore in a good many cases a family is not on their luck the man can't find work through no fault of his own. Let's say he lives in Appalachian where this problem is acute and the husband leaves about House. The marriage breaks up. In order to qualify people for welfare. And what I am suggesting is that if we had genuine full employment if we had a right to work in the real sense of the word in this
society. It would not only affect the immediate individuals who would be working but it would have a very salutary effect on family structure. On marriage on many of the social and even intimate problems. That one finds in the slums and among poor people in the United States. So our definition then has to be so awful we are dealing with a complex reality. Moreover. As the Council of Economic Advisors told us in their report of January of this year the outgoing report of Lyndon Johnson's Council of Economic Advisors. We are now confronted with a paradox that as we make some progress in dealing with the problem of poverty. The problem of poverty that remains becomes more difficult because what happens when you have a program is first you go and solve the easy problem. And as you make. Progress. As you solve the easy problems on the top you begin to go
down down down until you get to the very hard core problem. And therefore the Council of Economic Advisors told us this year that the number of poor people in families headed by a woman that tends to be a family with lots of kids and a woman who can't work because she has lots of kids. The number of poor people who are disabled. And the number of poor people who are elderly these categories are increasing now precisely because we have had some success. So therefore. We have to understand that. As we make progress we create difficulties for ourselves. And more than that. We have to understand that the problem of poverty in America. Is not just a problem of people who don't have enough money. That's only the very beginning and most obvious aspect of the problem and goes much deeper than that. Let me quote an analysis made by.
Miller and resubmit in a book that came out just a few months ago called social class and social policy and they say poverty is not just income poverty it's also asset poverty. Poor people don't have pensions. Poor people are discriminated against by the Social Security system which is based on a regressive tax and which gives the highest benefits to the people who make the most money and the lowest benefits are the people who make the least money. That is to say it is inversely proportional to need. It gives the middle class the most and the poor the least so poor people don't have enough money but they don't have assets either. Poor people don't have decent services. Like transportation one of the reasons for the riots in Watts we've discovered is Los Angeles put all of its transportation money. Into freeways. For middle class people with cars and for trucking companies and let the people of watts be isolated in a situation where they had to spend a couple of hours and over a
dollar just to go look for a job. Are do you get even more specific if you ever happen to go to a poor neighborhood you notice that the streets are no good but the garbage collection is not as good as in a middle class neighborhood. Nothing is as good for us Lee Miller in response suggests. Poor people are politically poor. They're not organized. They do not have the political strength even of their numbers. Because political participation in America varies in direct proportion with income and education. The richer you are the more likely you are to vote the poor you are the less likely. But this political poverty is not just in voting. It's in the way you're treated. I've been arrested twice for civil rights violations in New York where they're very nice too. Used to be at least two. Civil rights people getting arrested fairly temple but the minute you get in jail in this country you see the difference between being educated in middle class and being poor. Because
I was Mr. Harrington. Even though I look pretty crummy even though I had a growth of beard even though I wasn't planning to get arrested the first time it happened. But they looked at me and they know this is the kind of guy that might have some politician's phone number in his pocket. This guy we don't push around. He might have influence but the negroes in Puerto Ricans who are in the tank with me were not called mister. In some cases they were called things which I suspect I should not repeat in the chapel. That is to say there is a poverty in every level of our Legal Society brought bureaucracy if you are right and middle class and rich you're OK. If you're poor we're black and white you're not. Our society is this think we are equal in that sense. And finally Miller and Reese men say there is the psychological dimension of poverty. Which has to be taken into account. To have two bowls of rice in a society in which most people have half a bowl of rice is to
be affluent. But to be poor in the United States of America even though your living standard is well above that let us say of the poorest people in India. To be poor in the richest society in the world where every. Means of communication is telling you that you should be a consumer and you should buy buy buy. That psychologically. Is a more better experience than to be poor in a country like India. AS. Some theorists have remarked the American poor are the first minority poor in history. In most societies most people are poor. Or at least the majority of people are poor. This is the first society. Which has had this extreme not of simply affluence and poverty but there are a lot of people strung out in between. We're almost poor just a little bit above poor etc. etc. But nevertheless this is the first society in which poverty is a minority phenomenon. So I'm suggesting then that when we talk about the problem of poverty and income and work.
We have to not only define statistically questions like unemployment underemployment unemployability we not only have to define them with awful things but we also have to get some sense of the complexity of poverty itself. And realize that it is not simply a deficiency in income but also a deficiency in assets and services and political rights. And it's a psychological deficiency. Now given this background let me now come to the second great conservative myth. Of the poor people living it up on welfare. Because lots of Americans believe that and it is nonsense to the people defined as poor in the United States of America do not receive one penny of federal relief. Only a minority of the poor get anything from the federal government. You find that in any statement. Of the federal government that's detailed in the 1967 report of the Council of Economic Advisors. Just to mention two thirds of the poor don't get a nickel.
And among those two thirds more than 10 million of them are children who are poor. We have 10 million poor children the United States we don't get a system the Kerner Commission the National Commission on Civil disorders the riot commission so call. It a special study of the ghettos in Detroit. New Haven and New York. And they took the five major federal programs for education for manpower for anti-poverty and the like. And they discovered that the median number of people in those ghettos are reached by any one of the five Pro programs. With a third. Two thirds of the people in these got out and I said before in some cases of rates of underemployment like those of the Great Depression to the words of these people receive nothing. However. That should not suggest I'm one of those people who do get on welfare are living it up because the riot commission also told us. That the average amount that a person on welfare or the one third of the Americans lucky enough to
be on welfare. The average amount they receive is one half of what they need. And you imagine a society that says to a person. Here is what you need as a minimum. And here is one half of that. Go out and live. That's what we systematically do in this country. And as the riot Commission pointed out the national average is one half of a need. But it is not at all uncommon to have situations in which those minority of the poor are lucky to get any welfare at all. Have one fourth of what they need to give you an idea and I'm here citing the latest figures from the Council of Economic Advisors this year. The average old age pension in the United States of America is today $200 below the poverty line. And yet in theory in old age insurance is supposed to provide the basis of a decent humane final years of life. But the average is $200 below the poverty line.
In aid for dependent children which is probably the biggest single welfare relief program today. You find that there is only one state in the United States which has a program of aid for dependent children in which they receive enough to be over the poverty line. Every other state 49 states Connecticut is the exception. Forty nine states AFDC levels are below the poverty line. And of course it's in the poorest states where the levels of the lowest and most outrageous that is to say. The level per child. Is $55. And Connecticut. And they dollars and 50 cents in Mississippi. It's scandalous and outrageous when you think about it that in the United States of America you have not only two thirds of the people excluded from coverage but those covered in adequately covered by the government's own. Statistics its own definition. Now one last aspect of the definition.
And that aspect is the fact that the federal government itself. Is in the business of creating welfare problems and that has to be understood. Since I'm in a state which has a far more to let me. Take off on the farm program. Just consider this in this fiscal year in 1969. But one sixth of the richest farmers in America with average incomes of $20000 average incomes of $20000. Are going to receive two and a half billion dollars in subsidies. And you imagine. We are subsidizing farmers with average incomes of $20000 with more money than we are spending on the entire war on poverty. Those are the proportions that exist in the society today. It's what Charles Abrams called in. An analysis of the housing problem. Socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.
But more than simply being unjust. An obvious inequity. That kind of a foreign policy creates problems because it means that for the last generation. The federal government has been paying billions of dollars to wealthy farmers. To enable them to mechanize. And automation goes twice as fast on the farm as an industry in the post-World War Two period. And. Not only to automate and mechanized but to drive poor people off the land and into the cities. The crisis of welfare in New York City is to a certain considerable extent a crisis of Mississippi. The fact that James always slim the impartial plantation owner from the Senate Agricultural Committee. Gets shot last year over $200000 for not growing thing. And he knew some of that money to mechanize and export some of his civil rights problems to the north.
We've been driving these people off the land totally on educated and unprepared for urban life into cities and New York City today in the black ghettos 50 percent of the people weren't born there they moved in. Imagine a community in which 50 percent of the people are moving in where that is the typical pattern. Are another federal program to create welfare problems is the fact and federal and state local is that we are song. Frightened about people chiseling on welfare that in this country we've had the system of a 100 percent tax on earnings when somebody on welfare makes money. That is for you simplified mythical figures which should give the year a reality. If somebody is getting $50 from welfare and they go out and get a job for $25 they reduce their welfare payment by 25 dollars. This in a society which believes that there should be incentives to work. As they were saying to somebody if you go out and get a job for $25 you're not going to raise your own standard of living
at all. Therefore in addition to our family policy of the man in the house rule so call our taxing policy on poor people has a tax rate of 100 percent which is something that no corporation or businessman in the United States would ever pay that call Bolshevism. So I'm saying In summary then in terms of the definition of the problem. The problem of poverty in America is not a problem of a lazy nonworking people are welfare chiselers. It is a problem of about half of the poor who work and are not paid enough. And half of the poor who don't work and are typically not covered by welfare provisions and when they are covered by welfare provisions are covered at scandalously low level. I'm suggesting that in a great many cases it is actually federal programs which contribute to these problems as in the case of our farm. Program as in the case of our. Taxing of people on welfare who. Go out and get a job as in the case of our sneaking around at 3 o'clock in the morning to see if there's a man in the house or somebody can be thrown
off of welfare. There is just a Supreme Court decision that might be the basis of changing that. But that's going to take a lot of litigation. So that's the problem. That's the problem which is not the problem of conservative myth but of the American reality. And the problem which Martin King addressed himself to when he said all right then. Guaranteed job. Are a guaranteed income. So secondly let me then talk about what the programs are to deal with these problems. And the first is a guaranteed income. Here let me warn you of the fine print. Everybody knows brother is now getting to be for some form of a guaranteed income or income supplement. Including Barry Goldwater's former economic advisor Milton Friedman. The dean of the less a fair right wing economist in the United States of America. But when very good Rhetors economic advisor is for something a way to route the results so far. You've got to examine it because there might be a difference in what they're for
are. And it turns out there is a huge difference. What Milton Friedman and the conservatives want to do is they want to take the guaranteed income and substitute it for the entire welfare state. They want to say to people here's a few bucks Friedman is about fifteen hundred dollars. What he wants to do. And there you go take care of yourself and we will dismantle the welfare state. The problem with that idea one of the problems with it. Is that the poor are not simply deficient in their individual income in the money in their pocket though that's a problem. But the poor are also deficient in their social income. So that if to morrow morning at 9 o'clock you raised every American above the poverty line. Which is currently fixed at three thousand three hundred thirty five dollars for an urban family of four. The woman in the audience that means it's based on a budget in which the woman gets to spend 70 cents a day per person on food. It's not living it up. In the air but it's not living it up.
If everybody in America were raised above that poverty line tomorrow morning they still wouldn't be able to buy a house. Because the housing market doesn't start at three thousand three hundred thirty five dollars. It starts at about eight or nine thousand dollars. Therefore even if we have a guaranteed income it's going to be necessary to have medical insurance and not just parading people but for every one. Housing program and not just for the poor but for a lot of working people and there are middle class people as well. And they have many other programs. They're for the guaranteed income as a substitute for the welfare state is I suggest to you reactionary but the guaranteed income as one aspect of the measures with which society deals with the problem of poverty is something good. Now secondly in terms of a guaranteed income the Council of Economic Advisors this year has come up with a. An outline of a guaranteed income program. It would cost 20 billion dollars a year when it's completely funded. That is to
say it would cost. All a little more than half of one year of the war in Vietnam.
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