Poor Support: Poverty in the American Family

David T. Ellwood, Basic Books, 1988.


Charles Murray’s powerful indictment of the social welfare system implicitly emphasizes these contradictions. According to Murray, the very system that was designed to help the poor has created dependent wards by penalizing the virtuous and rewarding the dysfunctional. Much of Murray’s book is a graphical and statistical discussion of what has happened to the poor in general and to the black poor in particular. The intellectual establishment, particularly the liberal intellectual establishment, has been quick to attack Murray’s work, and these attacks have cast considerable doubt on the credibility of his conclusions. But what is often missed in this frenzy is that although Murray is almost certainly wrong in blaming the social welfare system for a large part of the predicament of the poor, he is almost certainly correct in stating that welfare does not reflect or reinforce our most basic values. He is also correct in stating that no amount of tinkering with benefit levels or work rules will change that.

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