Sen. DeMint: Welfare Caused Rise In Unwed Births
Promoting his new book this morning on CNN' Starting Point, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) used the platform to further a destructive myth about poverty, claiming that an "obvious" unintended consequence of welfare programs has been to increase the unwed birthrate.
DEMINT: Well, the unintended consequences of welfare programs are so obvious. When we started welfare the unwed birthrate in America was below 10 percent for blacks and whites. But now it's over 40 percent, 70 percent for blacks. And if you want the indicator for poverty, juvenile delinquency, incarceration, it goes back to unwed births. But we have not helped poverty. We have actually made it worse. I'm not saying don't help the poor, but let's do it in a way that doesn't trap them in generational dependency on government. Let's do it in a way that teaches self-sufficiency, helps people develop the skills, the character, to succeed. But we're obviously not doing that, so just doing more of the same with more money is not helping people, it's hurting people.
DeMint's linkage between out-of-wedlock births and welfare is a classic confusion of correlation with causation. This framing is often pushed by conservatives eager to undermine government's role in aiding vulnerable members of society by demonizing welfare programs.
Although he makes his point calmly, in blaming out-of-wedlock pregnancy on welfare programs Sen. DeMint is essentially making the same point as his colleague Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who recently got rather exercised over the idea that Congress "lure[s] young women into the rut of having children out of wedlock," because they're told "the government will send you a check."
When he suggests that poor people lack means because they don't have "the skills, the character, to succeed," DeMint also comes dangerously close to calling poor people lazy. That's a characterization he's hinted at before, when he intimated in September that "a lot" of unemployed Americans don't want to work because they're getting government benefits.