As black conservatives dedicated to rebuilding our neighborhoods and our country, we have come together to call on our government not to do more, but less. While we do not believe the government is an enemy of the citizenry, we know it is not our friend. We do not claim to have some grand new solutions to this nation's problems, but after thirty years of failed social experiments, we know the federal government does not either.
In our endeavors to make this a better country, we have discovered our limits. These limits have been imposed on us by an overreaching government that has refused to recognize that it also has limits. What many of us have echoed in our homes and communities we are now ready to tell the nation: Washington D.C. is not the answer to our problems, it is one of the problems. But we are not taking the path of some of our conservative predecessors by pretending the government does not exist. We will not avoid it any longer.
In the past few years, we have taken measures to help the community service organizations that have strived to offer alternative solutions to government programs. To make these alternatives a reality, black conservatives have been developing ways to restore to Americans the freedom they need to solve their problems. Through political think tanks, political action committees, magazines, and newsletters, we have tried to convince Washington to give the private sector a chance, because that is the best way black Americans will have a chance to prosper spiritually and monetarily. In Black America 1996: A Time For Renewal, we offer example after example of different organizations and coalitions that are trying to make a difference without relying on government.
If people and communities are going to start solving their own problems, then government needs to:
These high taxation rates have not only emptied the pockets of many families, but also driven unwilling parents out of the home. A 1988 USA Today poll found that 73% of two-income families would prefer to have one of the parents stay home if they could afford it, despite the fact that over 60% of married mothers with children under six years of age work outside the home.
In 1948, the per-child federal tax credit accounted for 42% of an average family's income. Today, it is worth only 12%. We believe a $500 per-child tax credit is a good first start to providing tax relief, especially to the 4.7 million working families at the lowest income levels that will no longer be required to pay taxes. A reduction in tax rates on personal income should follow. A reevaluation of the estate tax is a must. It is not fair that families who work hard and save money should lose a substantial amount of it when a member of the family dies.
Another consequence of the high taxation rate is the reduction of funds available for charities. Many charities would be able to perform the services government provides less expensively and more efficiently -- if they did not have to compete with the government for resources.
For economically-depressed areas, there should be no capital gains tax rate. Income tax deductions should be available to those willing to invest in businesses located in economically-depressed areas. We also encourage targeted tax credits for the construction, renovation, and expansion of businesses. Aspiring entrepreneurs should be encouraged by government in their pursuit of the American Dream, not punished by taxation.
According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll, 57% of welfare recipients believe the welfare system does more harm than good. These opinions are supported by the facts. Since the institution of the "Great Society" programs almost three decades ago, nearly $5.4 trillion has been spent on welfare. Federal, state, and local governments are now spending $350 billion a year on 89 different welfare programs -- 20% more than the U.S. spends on national defense. If all of those dollars were simply given to the nearly 40 million people living under the poverty line, each poor person would receive $8,939. Yet, not surprisingly, only 35 cents out of every federal welfare dollar is paid in cash directly to the needy. In comparison, of every dollar spent by the Salvation Army, 89 cents goes to charitable services.
Private charities provided over $176 billion for health, education and welfare in 1991. But money is not all that was provided. The equivalent of nine million full-time employees volunteered for social services. If government's role in public service work were to be drastically reduced, these charities could use the resources formerly absorbed by the federal government to help the poor more effectively and efficiently.
Welfare programs that remain -- and we agree that some government programs are needed -- they should whenever possible operate at the state level. A Gallup poll found that 74% of the public believes states are more likely to administer social programs more effectively than the federal government. Requiring welfare recipients to work, placing limits on the length of times someone can be on welfare, and discouraging unwed parenthood by persons on welfare should be part of any package to reform welfare. Also, all government, social services and tax code disincentives for people receiving government aid to marry or work should be eliminated.
The minimum wage and Davis-Bacon Act are especially costly to African-Americans. A 10-cent increase in the minimum wage has historically resulted in a loss of 30,000 to 50,000 full-time jobs. Black teenagers have suffered severe consequences since the institution of the minimum wage. Forty years ago, during Jim Crow, unemployment for white and black teens was virtually identical. Now, the unemployment rate for blacks in some areas is 67%, dwarfing that of whites.
The Davis-Bacon Act has priced many lower-skilled black construction workers out of jobs since Congress has mandated that inflated wages must be paid to workers on any federal government construction project involving more than $2,000 in funds. A law passed in 1931 to keep black workers from competing with whites for construction jobs, the Davis-Bacon Act is a relic of a racist past that we should be eradicating, not embracing.
An elimination of the minimum wage and Davis-Bacon Act would not only benefit black Americans looking for jobs, but potential black employers who can't bear the current regulatory costs of starting a new business. Incentives by the federal government to local and state governments to eliminate restrictive licensing laws, paperwork costs, rent control, and other regulatory burdens would be a welcome change from Washington D.C.'s previous encouragement of such burdens.
All public housing should be privatized. One of the beneficial effects would be lower rent since an increase in the available housing in the private sector would increase competition. Additional government involvement in building houses should only be in assisting organizations like Habitat for Humanity with purchasing land and materials. Families who are too poor to pay rent should receive vouchers to live in neighborhoods of their choice, without government forcing landlords to accommodate them any more than other tenants.
The problem isn't a lack of spending on education by taxpayers. The average public school per pupil expenditure in 1993-94 was $5,734, surpassing Japan, Germany, Britain, and France. We spend more on education as a percentage of total public spending than every other nation except for Finland and Switzerland. While the federal government only provided about 7% of elementary and secondary school funding, states relied on federal support for about 41% of the staff for their state educational agencies.
In comparison to private schools, the public schools prove to be a complete failure. The student-teacher ratio for public schools is 18:1 compared to 15:1 for private schools. The average salary for public school teachers is $31,296 compared to $19,783 for teachers at private schools. The average private school tuition is less than half what the public spends on each student in public school. Public school teachers apparently agree with our assessment: according to a study, public school teachers in urban districts are more likely to send their children to private schools than are other Americans. Overwhelmingly, the general public and parents believe private schools have higher academic standards, better work habits, a safer environment, more discipline of students, and promote more honesty and responsibility than public schools do.
Since the public schools are not doing the job, methods of improvement and alternatives should be considered. Vouchers that would allow students to attend any public or private school their parents choose should be provided. This will give parents the opportunity to pick the best school available for their children while introducing competition into the public education market. Meanwhile, to increase flexibility and decrease overhead and waste, the federal role in education should be scaled back and left to the states. One solution to low test scores we uniformly oppose is to lower the standards school children have to meet to pass. Programs like Outcome Based Education may do a good job at making children feel good about themselves, but they don't deliver a solid education. Introducing technologies such as computers into schools, when done properly, has been successful in some places.
Understandably, black Americans who have suffered the brunt of these high crime rates are calling for tougher punishment. According to a poll sponsored by the Family Research Council, eight in 10 black Americans favor requiring convicted criminals to work while serving their sentences. The survey also found that three out of four black Americans favor requiring convicted criminals to pay their victims and their victims' families financial compensation. More than three of every four blacks oppose drug legalization, and 85% favor drug testing to insure that a criminal is drug-free prior to release. A USA Today/CNN Gallup Poll found that 53% of black Americans strongly favor toughening parole possibilities for violent criminals. In high-crime areas, the same poll found that 54% of black Americans favored police authorities holding suspects without the option for bail.
Nearly 130 years ago, the former slave Frederick Douglass advocated what black conservatives are advocating in this report. When asked what society is to do with black Americans, he responded: "...If the Negro cannot stand on his own, let him fall... All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs. Let him alone." But as I have pointed out here, black Americans have not been left alone by the federal government. We have not been given the chance to stand on our own legs. And that is why Black America 1996: A Time for Renewal is necessary: To show that there are already plenty of Americans succeeding in life ready to help others succeed whenever government decides to stop failing us.
Chairman, Project 21 Advisory Committee
(For a copy of Project 21's 27-page Black America 1996: A Time for Renewal, send $7 to Project 21, c/o The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E. Washington, D.C. 20002, 202/543-4110 Fax 202/543-5975, E-Mail [email protected]. Checks, money orders, Visa or Mastercard are accepted.)
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