If there's one thing Republicans hate, it's "social engineering" -- they really can't stand it when government tells We The People how to run their lives. Unless of course you're talking about poor people, and especially poor black people. In that case, plenty of states are very happy to tell people exactly how to live, as documented in research by Zach Parolin, a post-doctoral researcher at Columbia University's Center on Poverty & Social Policy. Parolin summarizes his findings in an Atlantic piece, showing that states with large African-American populations tend to spend "welfare" money not on basic assistance that could actually alleviate poverty, but instead on telling poor people to stop fucking, get married, and generally not be so shiftless.

The vehicle for all that right-wing social engineering is the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which used to be called "welfare." TANF at one time was mostly about cash assistance to poor people. But since states have considerable control over how to spend the federal funds (in the name of "flexibility" to meet their residents' "needs"), many states opt to spend hardly anything on actual cash assistance, shunting funds instead into programs aimed at making the poor straighten up and fly right.

Citing a study he wrote for Socio-Economic Review, Parolin explains,
I find that a state with a higher share of black families is less likely to allocate TANF funds toward the provision of cash assistance, but more likely to allocate TANF funds toward efforts to "encourage the formation of two-parent families" and "reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies." The stated assumption behind these initiatives is that strengthening the family unit has greater long-term benefits than simply giving money to needy people.

In mere reality, such diversions of TANF funding mostly accomplish a deepening of racial differences in poverty nationwide, resulting in a "familiar pattern" in which a "black family in poverty is more likely than a white family to be offered advice via a 'Healthy Marriage Initiative' in place of direct cash support. If states would just spend the same amount of money on cash assistance, Parolin estimates, the gap between black and white child poverty rates could be reduced by some 15 percent. On the downside, black people would be getting cash assistance, and that would be horrifying -- just think of the Fox News stories about "welfare queens" buying all the lobster and getting their palms read on Caribbean cruises!

Arkansas's experience epitomizes these findings. The state has a large African American population and no shortage of poverty. Yet in 2017, Arkansas spent only 4 percent of its total TANF budget on cash assistance. Instead, the state allocated two-thirds of the budget for the "formation of two-parent families" and the "reduction of out-of-wedlock pregnancies."

You can hear the right-wing spin already, can't you? Obviously, those people just aren't learning the lesson, so we need to make it even harder to get help.

Parolin notes that between the introduction of TANF in 1997 and 2017, national state spending for direct cash assistance has declined by two-thirds, in constant dollars. But that's not because federal spending has been cut. Hell naw, it's because states have chosen to spend the funds elsewhere:

The federal government provides states the same chunk of money each year to run their TANF programs. Thus, every dollar that a state does not spend on cash assistance should generally be spent on another program or service that, at least in theory, will support low-income families.

And wow, such programs! Mississippi, for instance, spends TANF funds on abstinence-only sex ed, and Louisiana blows its TANF money trying to convince pregnant ladies not to have abortions. (Presumably so lawmakers can then complain about all the ladies having babies to get more welfare money.) Joke's on them, though, since only four percent of poor Louisiana families get cash assistance.

Parolin dutifully notes that, despite our very mean Dixie-hating illustration, the phenomenon isn't limited to southern states:

In Maine, children were bused off to a TANF-funded Christian summer camp. In Connecticut, TANF money was diverted toward compulsive-gambler assistance.

Ah, former Maine Governor Paul LePage, what a legacy he left! In fact, the first time Yr Wonkette heard of such diversions of TANF funds involved LePage's 2016 decision to spend TANF funds on senior citizens and people with disabilities, who deserved it more than lazy takers like poor kids.

So why is this? Ever the radical leftist social scientist, Parolin cites a whole bunch of research showing

time and time again that many Americans tend to view black families as lazy, unworthy of help, and receiving "more than they deserve" from the state. [...] [The] answer nearly always begins and ends with evidence of racialized perceptions of the beneficiaries of social assistance. These perceptions have crept into many policy-making decisions, including those relating to TANF. Indeed, my results show that—unlike race—the share of single mothers in the state, a state's wealth, or which political party has control of its legislature explains little of the variance in states' cash-assistance spending.

But if states just spent their TANF money on actual needy families, wouldn't that just create (shudder!) welfare dependence? Not so much, says Parolin, since, as you may recall, the cash assistance would actually reduce poverty, which is kind of a good thing, yes?

For context, the estimated 15 percent reduction in the black-white child-poverty gap is comparable to the effect of moving all children from single-mother households into two-parent households (while keeping all other characteristics of the households as is).

Parolin closes by reviewing how this racialization of poverty programs extends beyond TANF, noting that, of the 11 states with the largest portion of the black population, eight have refused to expand Medicaid. Or that while about half of states supplement the federal earned-income tax credit with a state EITC, "the average black family is less likely than the average white family to live in one of those states." And then there's this monstrous hypocrisy:

In 11 states, at least one in 20 black men is incarcerated. Ironically, the states most likely to chide black women for raising children alone—and to promote marriage as the key to poverty reduction—tend to be the same states that incarcerate the largest share of black men.

But surely this is all just a big coincidence -- after all, the laws aren't written to treat black and white people differently -- it just happens that the states with the most punitive policies also have more African-Americans living there. Jesus, you people see "racism" everywhere, when in reality it's just that some states believe the biblical injunction that those who do not work must not eat, and that's all there is to it. And please ignore the details about how most poor people work, OK? Only a wild-eyed Marxist would suggest that

state governments often function as a source of inequality rather than its cure. Instead of narrowing gaps between the advantaged and disadvantaged, social policy can, when deployed unevenly across the country, act to deepen them instead.

Well of course. Conservatives just hate social engineering, except when they're teaching single mothers to fish -- while making fishing poles harder to get. Also, the fishing hole is full of PCBs, because regulation is theft.


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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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Yr Wonkette is not the only website run by brilliant peoples unafraid to poke people with sharp, pointy sticks. – a website for knitters, crocheters, and other folks interested in textiles and fiber arts – is poking people with knitting needles, which are very sharp indeed.

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"I don't know. I wish I had done more. I'm ashamed," I'll say. We will all have to answer for this atrocity. But some of us will have to answer more than others. Not just the archvillains like Stephen Miller and John Kelly, but the people who kept right on doing their jobs, even as those jobs morphed into defending concentration camps.

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