Nicholas D. Kristof: Profiting from a childís illiteracy

Published: Monday, Dec. 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Our take: Opinion columnist Nicholas D. Kristof talks about how the United States' poverty programs are backfiring. People are taking their children out of literacy classes in fear they won't qualify for a monthly check for having an intellecutal disability. Young people are not joining the military because it is easier to rely on food stamps.

JACKSON, Ky. — This is what poverty sometimes looks like in America: parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.

Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way — and those checks continue until the child turns 18.

"The kids get taken out of the program because the parents are going to lose the check," said Billie Oaks, who runs a literacy program here in Breathitt County, a poor part of Kentucky. "Itís heartbreaking."

This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that Americaís safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.

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