When did it all start to go wrong? In the early 20th Century, Americans fighting poverty not only lost sight of the goal—lifting families up—but even of the problem itself, and instead sought to remake society through government intervention, often at the expense of the very people they were meant to help.
In 1920, Owen Lovejoy, president of the National Conference of Social Work, set a “new task” for the increasing number of social workers—they would become “social engineers,” who would create “a divine order on earth as it is in heaven.”
As Marvin Olasky writes in his book, “Renewing American Compassion,” such a goal is far too lofty for individual acts of charity; “As some leaders forgot that compassion means suffering with, they looked more and more to government. They combined power seeking (for the good of others, of course) with social universalistic faith.”
Who has time to worry about that man under the bridge when we’re remaking the world?
This helps to explain failures in the war on poverty. Even setting aside the Great Depression and World War II, our most concentrated efforts have failed to move the needle on the official poverty rate.
Nationally, about $25 trillion (adjusted for inflation) have been spent to combat poverty since 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “war on poverty” engendered the Great Society. And the nation spends about $1 trillion per year on more than 80 federal safety-net programs. However, the country’s official poverty rate was declining before 1964, which was the primary measure available, but remained virtually unchanged between 10-15% since then, suggesting a failure of these redistributionist measures to substantially mitigate poverty.
In addition to losing sight of the goal, we’ve lost sight of the problem itself—poverty. We haven’t done a good job of defining it, much less fixing it.
To define the official poverty measure, the U.S. Census Bureau provides an estimated income threshold annually. When a family’s income falls below that threshold, they are considered to be in poverty, which the rate was 11.4% in 2020. There are flaws with this measure. So, if we merely look at it, we know a lot less about real poverty than we might think we do. While there are now better measures of poverty based on broader income levels or consumption, which tend to show much lower rates of poverty since 1964, these measures are focused primarily on material things rather than other important issues that influence poverty.
What can we know about other issues related to poverty? We can look at statistical correlations and learn a lot.
The strongest correlation we see with poverty is a job. Employment, in general, drives down poverty, irrespective of wages, although the effect is more pronounced with higher wages. The availability of jobs has a significant impact on poverty in both the present and a decade into the future.
Education matters, as those with a high school diploma have a 24.7% poverty rate. Graduating high school is vital to help stay out of poverty.
Demographics also matter. Perhaps the most powerful demographic structure, and the most powerful predictor of poverty in general, is single motherhood (25.6% poverty rate overall or 46.2% for those with children under 6 years old). Single motherhood is also a strong predictor of intergenerational poverty.
Location matters; for example, there are 41 Texas counties within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border that have been considered “persistently poor,” meaning at least 20% of the residents have been living in poverty for the last 40 years.
Age is also a factor in poverty, but its impact varies depending on other group characteristics. Metro areas with a younger Black population have higher poverty rates, while areas with an older Black population have lower poverty rates.
What does this tell us? It tells us where we can focus our efforts—and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.
The path forward must consider these facts for increased opportunities for people to find financial self-sufficiency through a more holistic approach to poverty relief through an education, job, training, community, social capital, intact families with a mother and father, and other avenues provided by civil society whereby government provisions are available as a last resort.
This follows much of what’s in the success sequence which is a formula of at least graduating high school, working full-time, and marrying before having kids (in that order) to have a 97% chance of not being in poverty.
By connecting people to work, education, or training, enhancing community-based case management, streamlining safety-net programs, and getting resources to those who need it most, we can provide more opportunities for people to be self-sufficient.
Top Stat: Average hourly earnings (inflation-adjusted) down by 2.6% over last year. Link
Key Point: Total nonfarm employment down 1.2 million jobs since February 2020. Link
Overview: The economic costs of the shutdown recession from February to April 2020 and subsequent policy errors have been persistent and substantial across the nation. The U.S. labor market has been improving, but this is not a “booming economy” as weaknesses remain. This is in spite of Congress adding $6 trillion in deficit spending since January 2020 to reach the new high of $30 trillion national debt. And the Federal Reserve has monetized much of the new debt, leading to 40-year high inflation. Given rampant inflation and a stagnating economy, stagflation is here for the first time since the 1970s. Specifically, the Biden administration, Congress, and the Fed should stop overregulating, overspending, and overprinting, respectively, and instead provide pro-growth policies that support productive activity so that Americans can improve their livelihoods.
High property taxes are not just an urban and suburban problem. In rural Hays County (San Marcos and surrounding), for example, property appraisals are shooting up.
“The overall market value of Hays County’s 2022 preliminary appraisal roll rose to nearly $59 billion, up 53.27% from $38.4 billion in 2021,” the Hays Free Press reports. “Commercial and industrial real property increased in value nearly 41%, up from nearly $3.6 billion in 2021 to $5 billion this year.”
One year. And that burden will have to be shouldered by rural Texans who tend to be older and have less income than their urban counterparts.
Yet opponents of property tax reform will use rural Texans as a prop in their argument. But rural Texans need property tax relief, too. And our plan, which will use state surplus funds to buy down the maintenance and operations (M&O) portion of school taxes (the biggest part of your tax bill), will benefit all property owners in every part of the state. The Foundation’s Lower Taxes, Better Texas plan provides a practical way to achieve this goal while funding critical government provisions.
Some have expressed concern that rural counties won’t be able to pay for their first responders—police and firefighters.
But the fact is, our plan is revenue-neutral and would continue to fund critical government services. It would allow for budgets to grow, but would limit increases in spending to no more than the rate of population growth plus inflation—anything more than that is just growing government. Yet within that framework, both schools and local governments would be fully funded. In fact, if cities, counties and special districts use the same formula (population growth plus inflation) to keep their spending in check, they can use surplus revenues to buy down their own property tax rates.
Sales taxes are also a key part of our longer-term plan.
Some have worried that rural Texas, with its more limited sales tax base, would suffer under our plan to broaden the sales tax to completely eliminate school district M&O property taxes within 10 years. But that’s not the case.
Local governments (i.e. cities, counties, and special purpose districts) would have the option to raise their sales tax rate along with the increased funding from the broader base to eliminate their own M&O property taxes. If they don’t do this because they don’t have a sufficiently large sales tax base, then they have the flexibility to not eliminate their M&O property taxes but rather buy them down over time.
There are also concerns that if the economy takes a hit, the state’s general revenues will decline, forcing higher school district M&O property tax rates in response. But our plan would have the state lower school district M&O property taxes only if there is a sufficient general revenue surplus while making permanent past reductions.
There looks to be at least a $12 billion available in general revenue surplus at the end of the current budget period for this property tax relief. If there is a major recession, then the state could call on state agencies to find savings to soften the blow. That has been done before. And the state could turn to the at least $12 billion in the state’s rainy day fund created to cover unforeseen revenue shortfalls. And school districts are sitting on about $20 billion in excess reserves. That could also help them get through a tough recession.
Property taxes are a major problem for rural Texans, whose budgets are already hurting from high gasoline prices (they drive longer distances), high food prices, and general inflation. Don’t use rural Texans to argue against the relief they need.
Texans are facing a crisis when it comes to paying for their skyrocketing property taxes, inflated bills, and saving for a rainy day. In fact, many Texans are living with the fear that exorbitant taxes could take their home away or keep them from buying their first home. The Foundation has developed a balanced, practical solution to lower property taxes by eliminating the maintenance and operations (M&O) property taxes while also funding the needs for critical services.
Invited Testimony Before the Texas Senate Finance Committee
Did you know there’s a state park in Arkansas where you can search for diamonds—real diamonds? And you get to keep what you find. In April, Adam Hardin was visiting Crater of Diamonds State Park and came across a 2.38 carat stone—the largest found so far this year.
Diamonds can be found in the 37-acre plowed field, but naturally, they’re rare. It’s a little like the successes that can be seen in our nearly 60-year-old War on Poverty: valuable, but rare.
Nationally, about $25 trillion (adjusted for inflation) have been spent to combat poverty since 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty engendered the Great Society. However, the country’s poverty rate was declining before 1964 but remained virtually unchanged since then, suggesting a failure of these redistributionist measures.
But over the years, we’ve learned much. And we know what works in combatting poverty. We also know which key institutions and factors contribute to keeping people in poverty. With good policy—and clearer objectives—we can reverse this trend and truly lift people out of debilitating circumstances that lead to generational poverty.
But first, a little history. The 1920–21 recession was the last major economic downturn in American history that was not met with federal intervention designed to stabilize the economy and mitigate poverty. A decade later, Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt presided over the first large-scale and nationwide anti-poverty measures during the 1930s and the Great Depression.
Despite these large-scale interventions, the unemployment rate remained in double digits for the remainder of the 1930s. More people were dependent on new government programs, and the costly economic effects of these and other government actions reduced both productivity and job creation.
A quarter century later, President Lyndon B. Johnson advocated his War on Poverty as part of domestic policy initiatives commonly called the Great Society. But again, poverty relief programs did not substantially accelerate the poverty rate’s reduction—in fact, the rate of decline slowed before essentially stalling.
Why? Because these efforts failed to address the real drivers of poverty—in many instances, they became drivers of poverty themselves.
There are several factors that are strongly linked with continued poverty and an inability to build income and wealth. The most powerful predictor of poverty in general is single motherhood. Another factor is where you live (including all 41 Texas counties within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border, considered “persistently poor”). And age is also a factor in poverty, but its impact varies depending on other group characteristics. Metro areas with a younger Black population have higher poverty rates, while areas with an older Black population have lower poverty rates.
But possibly the most pertinent factor in keeping people trapped in poverty is an incentive not to work or to be more productive. For example, a “benefits cliff” occurs when a safety-net recipient goes back to work, increases their workload, or accepts a higher rate of pay, resulting in increased total earned income—which then triggers a greater loss of payments from government programs.
What works? Work. Employment, in general, drives down poverty.
By connecting people to work, education, or training, enhancing community-based case management, streamlining safety-net programs, and getting resources to those who need it most, we can create more opportunities for people to be self-sufficient—and thereby reduce the number of Americans experiencing poverty—so long as we have the will, perseverance, and right approach.
Finding diamonds in a field of dirt isn’t easy; nor is providing people with a real path out of poverty. But with diligence, and a keen eye, we can see more and more success.
Celebrating the Life of Melody Kay Lane -- The Karaoke Princess (12/19/1957-4/27/2022: 64 years old)
John 8:12 – Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Revelation 12:4 – “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Welcome to the stage the Karaoke Princess, Melody Kay Lane. (Read obituary here)
Let me tell you about this wonderful woman, my momma, who overcame many challenges throughout her life. Her overcoming nature shines in her performances and in life no matter the obstacle. It may not always have been perfect, but she overcame it and grew stronger. And this strength was rooted in her passion for her Savior, Jesus Christ, who was her guiding light in every venue and song.
She originally joined life’s stage on December 19, 1957, in Fort Worth, Texas to loving parents, Vandol Lane and Oma Lane (Denny), who were both from Peerless, Texas. As momma told it in her writing and stories, her earliest memories were of living in Houston where her family had moved from ages 2 (1960) to 5 (1965). They then moved back to Haltom City in Fort Worth, where she lived from ages 5 to 16 (1976).
Momma told stories about how she hated school (I shared that sentiment until college), loved playing with baby dolls and barbies, always had a dog growing up, remembered JFK being shot, recalled a Christmas when Santa brought her a doll and stroller, loved her childhood boyfriend Teddy Ray Coon, sung in front of the mirror with a perfume bottle as a microphone, made up songs and dances with her friends, and overcame the challenges her family faced, especially when her parents divorced when she was 5 years old.
Her parents’ divorce was something that really rocked her throughout her life because she loved her mom and dad so much but spent most of her childhood seeing her dad just during the summer. She wrote that while she seemed like she was laughing on the outside she was sometimes hurting on the inside. This challenge contributed to her coping through eating excessively, dating many boys, and other ways; but the key thing that kept her going was her Christian faith. She watched her parents and grandparents sing in church and have a devout faith. Momma accepted Jesus as her Savior at an early age.
She grew up relatively poor. She said that her mother, Becky (her middle sister—mom was the baby), and her lived in little houses and usually all shared a room with two beds. But they had plenty to eat and her mom did her best to provide for them.
Momma went to Westbury Senior High School in Houston, Texas. She lived with her dad then for a while. She was proud to drive her dad’s truck with loud pipes and wide tires, something she told the family about many times. When she was about 16, she quit school and moved out of the house, and started working and living at a hotel in Brookshire, Texas. This is around the time that she met my dad, Harold Ginn. She eventually got her GED when she was 29 years old and started college, which was at the behest of one of her best friends and mentors Mrs. Chris Smith, her husband and her continue to be blessings to our family many decades later.
Momma went on to work at daycares for many years. She started as a teacher at Christian Care Learning Center, which Mrs. Chris owned and directed. She then moved up the ranks over time, worked hard to get licensed, and eventually was director of daycares, such as Discovery Kingdom, Kinder Care, and other facilities. Her passion for kids was uncanny, as she wanted better for them than what she had growing up and it showed in her work. This love was also shared with Tiffany and me at home. It wasn’t always perfect, as there were two years when I went to live with her mom and Gene near Fort Worth, but we all learned lessons during those years, and she did her best as a single mom, and we turned out okay…I think. HA!
She married Harold Ginn on August 25, 1979, and had two kids, Tiffany (38) and me (40). She said that she met dad at a place called Big Reds in Monaville, Texas, where she asked him to dance, which dad was a great dancer, and the rest was history. She would visit dad on weekends, and it took about a year to convince him that he loved her. They had many great moments and many not-so-great moments. A great moment was when they were married at the Justice of the Peace in Monaville, Texas. Another major challenge in her life was marrying dad without any sickness and then several years later he started having seizures and would later be diagnosed with epilepsy (he passed from SUDEP in 2011). This hurt her so much. This along with other issues eventually led to them being divorced when I was 5 years old, then they would get remarried a couple of years later, and then divorced again later. Even with these ups and downs, she always loved him and tried to do as much as she could for him over time, even having him live with us off and on. This was a major challenge for her, and I don’t think she ever recovered from it.
She had me in 1981 when she was 23 and said she would never have kids after me. I guess I was that special. Ha! She did have a huge scare when the doctor told her that I would die before they prayed for me, and I went home after being 9 days old. Then Tiffany was born 22 months later. That must have been another challenge with us being so close together in age. We were her greatest gifts from God, as she was once told that she couldn’t have kids. We have many great memories growing up. The many parties at our house, the go-kart rides behind Dairy Queen, the movie nights, baseball and softball games, Astros games, the wonderful holiday celebrations, and so much more. We have our tough stories, and some of them are very tough, but just like most parents and children, though we didn’t always see eye to eye, we were very close. Her dream was to always be a momma, and while she was challenged by it as a single mom for most of our lives, she persevered. It wasn’t always pretty, but we survived. She is a survivor! She wasn’t happy about happened in her past but tried to do all she could to show us love with all her heart. There’s not a day that she didn’t worry about us, even in recent years when I was ill, she said she wanted to hold me. We kept her going.
Another thing that kept her going throughout whatever struggles she may have had were her grandkids: Hailey, Jordyn, Masen, Bricen, Cooper, Skylar, and Parker. We were blessed to keep her loving heart going as it passed along through our mothers’ lessons and her smile couldn’t have been wider when we were around. I think we helped rejuvenate her and keep her younger. She said that one of her greatest blessings in life were her grandchildren. I felt her love every time I was around her, and I’m sure each of you did too, know how much you were all loved.
She also loved her extended family and friends. We had a beautiful celebration of her at Tiffany’s house the Sunday before she passed last Wednesday. She couldn’t walk or say much, but she wanted to go outside to visit with everyone, have Hannah play her a son, visit with her sister Jackie, and hear the stories and laughter of others as they visited her. This is the epitome of what she loved: laughter and a good time.
Momma had many great friends and loves. Many of you have great memories of her. Keep those memories with you. Though taken too soon, she lived a blessed 64 years in her earthly body, but her spiritual body recently grew wings and flew away to the light of life with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. No more suffering. No more stress. No more pain. She now walks those streets of gold in Heaven. May we all follow her lead here on earth with such a devout faith and Jesus in our hearts so we can see her again in her new body full of life. Although she faced battles, she persevered through her faith and left the world a better place.
Family, friends, and acquaintances, the world lost a beautiful woman, but instead of burying ourselves in sorrow, let’s celebrate her life, her joy, and her beauty. As has been said, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. The beauty that encompassed momma was far-reaching and multi-faceted. Words signifying her beauty provided by her family and friends that best represent this karaoke princess include:
God-loving, dear friend, wonderful woman, funny, one of a kind, beautiful laugh, caring, kind, mother-to-many, and no doubt many more that each of you could identify.
She loved her family. Her mom was her best friend. Her dad was her hero. Her sisters weren’t always close until later in life as they had 5 years difference between each of them, which she was the youngest and she liked to bring that up, but they were best friends later in life. Unfortunately, her middle sister, Becky, passed away tomorrow six years ago from ALS, but her oldest sister Jackie McLendon lives in Cedar Park, and sends her best today as her health isn’t doing well. She was here at the celebration of mom’s life two Sundays ago before mom passed away, so she was able to say goodbye.
During the last year or so, she went downhill quickly from what was originally fatty liver disease but matured into end-stage liver disease, without us knowing until only a few weeks ago. She overcame those challenges, but it wasn’t easy. There were falls, but she was blessed to not get severely hurt. There was memory loss, but fortunately we were able to help her along the way. There was less of the karaoke princess that we knew, but she had the drive to keep going. However, the fatty liver disease that she had been diagnosed with in 2017 after her double-bypass surgery continued to get worse without much medication for it as it hid underneath the other issues she faced, including IBS and anxiety.
Her tough life growing up, smoking cigarettes since she 16, being overweight for most of her life, drinking too much at times, living with severe depression and anxiety, and a host of other things made her health condition complicated in her later years. Then she started losing weight over the last couple of years but also becoming weaker which is when the falls and other issues started. And then late last year she had ascites in her abdomen that had to be drained a couple of times. She had a fall when she was visiting my family in Round Rock for Christmas that sent her to the emergency room for 8 staples in her head. That hit her and me very hard, but she kept going. Then she fell again at Tiffany’s house.
That was when things really started going downhill faster. She spent two weeks in a hospital where they found that she had end-stage liver disease, which was a shock to the family. And then they said that she had at most one year to live. We started looking into a liver transplant. She then was transferred to a rehabilitation center to try to gain strength. After her three weeks there, she returned to Tiffany’s house. Five weeks had passed, and mom was weaker than ever, which she couldn’t get out of the bed on her own. During this time, Tiffany, Jordyn, and Margarita, her attendant over the last few years, were true blessings to get mom out of bed and care for her every need. It was soon thereafter when the doctor said that mom wasn’t eligible for a liver transplant, so the end was close. But then after a couple of more weeks, we got hospice involved and they soon said that she had at most two weeks to live. That’s when we decided to have the celebration for her at the house two Sundays ago. And it was only about a week after then that they told us she had at most two weeks before she would die.
But before she died there was something missing. Tiffany and Margarita said that mom kept asking about our family’s newest addition, my baby Parker. They hadn’t met yet. Apparently, this was bothering mom even as she wasn’t there in many ways, her mind was set that she wanted to meet the newborn. On the Tuesday before the Wednesday when she passed, Tiffany asked me if I intended to bring Parker to visit. I wasn’t sure given that she is a newborn who was battling reflux so that was likely to be a tough drive. However, Emily and I knew that this would be important to mom and us, so we decided to do it. I should also note that on Tuesday there was a strange light on the baby monitor moving back and forth with the swing, almost like mom’s spirit was already with Parker.
So, we decided to head to Houston from Round Rock on Wednesday morning. We made one stop for about an hour because Parker couldn’t keep from crying from the reflux while drinking the bottle. We finally were able to get her to drink the bottle and get to sleep. She slept the rest of the way. We arrived at Tiffany’s house to visit mom at 1 pm. Before we pulled up, mom was crying in bed and visiting with Tiffany, Jordyn, and Margarita. By the time they left her bedside, and we went inside with Parker, mom had passed away. It had to be no more than 5 minutes. I truly believe that her spirit knew that we were there together with the family and that it was time to go to be with the Lord. Or rather, that’s when the Lord decided to take her. And no one was there with her when she took her last breath because even though her earthly body isn’t here anymore, her spirit is always with us, and she is singing and dancing in Heaven!
Although we will miss her tremendously and are sad to lose her, this was a beautiful day as her spirit met her latest grandkid on the day she turned three weeks old and mom died with minutes of when Parker was born at 1 pm. This was also two weeks after the day that dad, her long-time love, died eleven years prior. We know that mom is singing hallelujah in Heaven with family members who left too soon in her perfect body without suffering or anxiety.
Thank you for everything, momma. I know you were faced with many challenges throughout your life, but you continued to overcome them by taking each opportunity along the way. It wasn’t always easy and I know your kids made it tough sometimes, too, but your laughter, smile, encouragement, love, and care for others were always on display. Your grandkids loved you so much and you loved them, there’s nothing like that bond. The love for your kids is what you said you wanted to be known for, and it’s so true! No matter the deep hurt that I feel from the loss of this beautiful woman, I know we are blessed to have known such a Godly woman and have all learned lessons from her along the way. Let’s celebrate her life as she is not suffering anymore and is dancing and singing in Heaven. Let’s remember how funny she was and never forget that delicious food and beautiful smile.
She was a beautiful woman that we should celebrate. She will continue to be with us, here in our hearts. She will be looking down from above continuing to help us steer our path like the lighthouse she has always been. For those saved, we will see her again one day on those streets of gold. Let us honor her by being more faithful, by being followers of Christ, and by loving each other more. By doing these things and passing along her memories and life lessons, momma will live on here on earth as she spreads her wings and flies in Heaven. We love you, momma. I would not be the man I am today without you. Melody Lane was a wonderful granny, mother, daughter, sister, wife, and friend. The many facets of her beauty will live on and in some ways; she will always be our family's heart. I’d like to close with a poem that was recently shared with me:
“A limb has fallen from the family tree.
I keep hearing a voice that says, “Grieve not for me”
Remember the best times, the laughter, the song.
The good life I lived while I was strong.
Continue my heritage, I’m counting on you.
Keep smiling and surely the sun will shine through.
My mind is at ease, my soul is at rest.
Remembering all, how I truly was blessed.
Continue traditions, no matter how small.
Go on with your life, don’t worry about falls.
I miss you all dearly, so keep up your chin.
Until the day comes we’re together again.”
I can’t wait to see you again in Heaven, momma. Thank you for everything. Love you!
Poverty is often misunderstood because most people do not know who qualifies as poor, how much governmental assistance is available to the poor, or what allows people to escape poverty. Understanding this is crucial to provide more opportunities for work-capable people to attain self-sufficiency with a flourishing civil society as a first resort and effective government programs as a last.
• Poverty has long been a public policy concern with roughly $25 trillion (adjusted for inflation) spent on it by governments in the U.S. just since the 1960s’ Great Society in an attempt to help people move out of poverty
• But this sort of primary financial assistance by governments has not substantially mitigated poverty and too often made it worse through dependency on government programs.
• Instead, there should be a more holistic approach to effectively mitigate poverty through work, community, and opportunity to provide people with long-term self-sufficiency.
• Texas and the U.S. can do this with a flourishing civil society and a robust economy as a first resort and effective government programs as a last resort instead of spending more on the current flawed approach.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.