New York City will end a privately funded program that paid low-income parents for such things as school attendance, trips to the dentist and working full-time. Effects were “modest,” a study found. The Family Rewards program was misconceived, writes City Journal’s Heather Mac Donald in Bribery Strikes Out.
It imitated a Mexican program to help desperately poor campesinos. “Facing grinding economic pressures, parents pull their children out of school to help with the harvest; mothers don’t take their children to the doctor because they can’t wrest time away from work in the fields or at home.” But poverty is different in the U.S.
The main drivers of poverty in America are family breakdown (in 2004, single-parent households nationally were six times as likely to be poor as married families) and nonwork (only 5 percent of all families with one full-time worker were poor in New York City from 2005 to 2007, compared with 47 percent of families with no workers).
“Very few inner-city students cut classes or drop out of school to help their parents work,” Mac Donald writes.
Family Rewards infantilized low-income parents and students.
Taking advantage of taxpayer-subsidized Medicaid services, such as free medical checkups, brings a $200 annual windfall; simply maintaining free Medicaid insurance earns the recipient $20 a month. Working full-time earns an additional $150 a month beyond the existing salary.
“The United States still ranks as the world’s primary land of opportunity,” Mac Donald writes. Self-discipline and effort pay off. But it’s hard to get self-discipline by paying people to do what they should be doing anyhow.