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Commentary: We Can't Keep Spending Money On People Who Make Bad Choices

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Joined by advocates for an ever-expanding welfare state, Judith Sandalow recently lamented the federal government shutdown's impact on the flow of federal dollars to a multitude of nonprofit anti-poverty programs here in the District.

But considering that the nation's current poverty rate of 15 percent is the same as it was in 1966 when Great Society welfare spending was exploding, all taxpayers might fairly ask if the several trillion dollars we've spent since have been wisely spent.

In any case, with or without more political showdowns and shutdowns, I expect tighter federal budgets to continue favoring the elderly over the poor, so those whose lives revolve around anti-poverty programs must learn to make better life-choices if they're to survive and thrive.

As economist David Malpass recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal, the federal government spent $3.6 trillion last fiscal year. Eighty percent of that spending, or roughly $250 billion per month, was for the major entitlements Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Without substantive entitlement reform, that figure will only increase as 75 million baby boomers grow older.

Meanwhile, Malpass adds, we've already piled up $17 trillion in debt and are on the hook for another $60 trillion in unfunded spending promises over coming decades. Even with historically low interest rates at the moment, we spent nearly $250 billion this year on interest payments alone, while borrowing yet another $1.1 trillion. And all of this ballooning debt will invariably be heaped on to our children, grandchildren and unborn great grandchildren in the form of crushing taxes that will rob them of the educational and economic opportunities many WAMU listeners were fortunate enough to enjoy.

So if we don't initiate significant reductions in government spending very soon, it won't matter whether poor children get the kind of  good start in life that Ms. Sandalow and all the rest of us would like them to get — because there won't be any opportunities waiting for them as young adults. Just look at the catastrophically high unemployment rates for those under 25 in Greece, Portugal and Spain if you want to glimpse the United States possible high-debt, low-growth future.

Fiscal conservatives are not heartless. We care very much about future generations. And we're happy to work with anti-poverty activists to meet the needs of children. But the activists must meet us halfway and begin speaking unvarnished truths about good choices and bad choices.

When low-skill, unwed individuals — men and women — refuse to postpone parenthood until they achieve necessary education and family and financial stability, they irresponsibly impose those choices on both taxpayers and their innocent children. The government can't raise our children. And the politically incorrect reality is that no amount of government spending can end or even significantly reduce childhood poverty as long as millions of Americans insist on having children they can't afford to raise.

Darren McKinney is a D.C. resident.

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