If, as Valerie Jarrett says, the government is supposed to lift people out of poverty, what’s the best way to do that? Hint: Not with handouts. Since the War on Poverty began in 1964, welfare spending has skyrocketed, but the official poverty rate has barely changed.

As I am oh-so-fond of repeating, research demonstrates a predictive relationship between earned success and happiness. Government handouts, by their very nature, can’t deliver the outcome of earned success — but, as it turns out, private charities that seek to teach self-reliance can. What’s more: They do.

Today on The Foundry, my good friend Todd Thurman spotlights the four charities that have achieved finalist status for the WORLD magazine Hope Award for Effective Compassion. Each organization — each from a different region of the country — offers job training and work opportunities to help low-income people escape poverty and achieve lasting self-reliance:

  • Challenge House in Hopkinsville, Ky., connects members of the low-income community with local businesses through its Jobs for Life program.
  • Bowery Mission Women’s Center in New York City offers a career counseling and job placement program for women in need.
  • Victory Trade School in Springfield, Mo., certifies previously unemployed men in seven areas of food production and restaurant management in just one year, equipping them for careers in the culinary arts.
  • Hope Now for Youth in Fresno, Calif., provides life skills classes and one-on-one mentoring for young men previously caught up in gangs and street violence.

The programs have seen results. Hope Now, for example, has placed 1,700 at-risk young men into first-time jobs. Victory Trade School has an 89.5 percent graduation rate and a 100 percent job placement rate. In five years, 60 women have graduated from Bowery. Folks who find a job through Challenge House’s Jobs for Life are likely to stay in them — because they receive follow-up phone calls from the ministry. The numbers might be small, but the solutions are real and lasting. With government programs, the numbers are large, but the results are often tenuous.
As Thurman explains, the government would do well to learn from the examples of private charities and at the very least not stand in the way of the worthy work they do:

WORLD Magazine’s contest provides a glimpse into the world of faith-based organizations that are successfully assisting the poor and providing an effective alternative to the welfare state. The success and effectiveness of local organizations like these should be recognized and their position in civil society protected.

Private, faith-based institutions play a profound role in alleviating poverty by addressing the relational and social breakdown—like abuse, broken families, and addiction—that so often leads to material need. By understanding the root causes of poverty and accurately assessing the actual living conditions of the poor, policymakers can begin to implement effective antipoverty policy.

Likewise, policymakers must be careful to defend the conscience rights of these groups to believe and act according to their deeply held beliefs—the same beliefs that spur them to take care of the poor in the first place—and not curb their ability to serve with unfair hiring regulations or perverse interpretations of non-discrimination laws.

The answer to poverty — or any social problem — is not to do more of what doesn’t work. It’s to do more of what does.