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Punching Paper Walls

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Is it unfair to suggest, as we did in WORLD’s Nov. 19 cover story, that 46 million people on food stamps is too many? That the prospect of half of America's children living off food stamps is unappealing? After all, unemployment remains high and the politically well-connected get government grants and loans, so why shouldn't the poor grab what they can get?

More examples of governmental favoritism have come to light since WORLD’s latest critique of corporate welfare (WORLD, Oct. 22). For example, a half-billion taxpayer dollars are going to Tesla Motors, which includes among its funders three big donors to President Barack Obama—Steve Westly, Elon Musk, and Nick Pritzker. The Occupy Wall Street folks are right to be upset about such deals, and here's a humble suggestion to them: Move your demonstration to Lafayette Park, across from the White House.

They should also picket a rhyming couple, Al Gore and John Doerr, who are partners in a venture capital firm that backs Fisker Automotive. Doerr is a California billionaire who hosted President Barack Obama at a February dinner, and Fisker left even liberal ABC News fuming: "With the approval of the Obama administration, an electric car company that received a $529 million federal government loan guarantee is assembling its first line of cars in Finland, saying it could not find a facility in the United States capable of doing the work."

Hmm—with U.S. taxpayer dollars used to create jobs in Finland (building a luxury electric sports car that will sell for $80,000) why shouldn't a person with below-average income give in to the Obama administration's attempt to get more and more people onto welfare? The answer is simple but may not be satisfactory: Two wrongs don't make a right.

Is emphasizing work unfair in a year featuring 9 percent unemployment? Folks can't get jobs in today's economy, can they? Counselors at The WorkFaith Connection, an impressive Christian charity in Houston, say, yes, they can. The key concept: People are leaving work or getting fired every day and have to be replaced, so "If you want to work, you're going to get a job." The key evidence: Men and women who are statistically the least likely to get jobs—60 percent of WorkFaith clients are felons—are getting and keeping them.

One room at WorkFaith on North Post Oak Road has photos of the more than 1,100 men and women who have graduated from job readiness workshops over the past four years. Point to a photo and President Sandy Schultz can say, most of the time, where the graduates are working. The key element, she says, is attitude: "They shift from an attitude of entitlement—'What can you do for me?'—to one of gratitude: 'What can I do for you?'"

The felons are grateful to have a second chance, because statistically they are the least likely to be hired. One man came to WorkFaith and said, "I've got seven felonies, so no one will hire me." He's now a foreman at a roofing company. That's not an isolated example. WorkFaith has found that 78 percent of graduates get a job and 53 percent continue in that job for at least a year.

If felons can do it, anyone can. What I saw at WorkFaith—we'll have a full article about it next year—reminds me of what a formerly left-wing counselor at an anti-addiction program told me 15 years ago: He had believed that the poor are trapped behind brick walls, but after seven years he had learned that the walls are paper and they can punch right through. So what if a person has messed up? In the movie Black Hawk Down a sergeant tries to turn down an assignment by saying he's been shot. His colonel replies, "Everybody's shot. Get in and drive."

Yes, some are physically or mentally unable to punch, or drive. Others need temporary, emergency help—but 46 million Americans, and more each year? The problem with that enormity is not primarily the cost in dollars but in lives. It's wrong to tell millions of poor people that their situation is hopeless and that they should settle into a life of dependency. They and all of us are created in God's image and capable of doing great things. 

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