Unfortunately, the U.S. and its state governments have institutionalized poverty by institutionalizing help for the poor. What happens is that government, which is by nature a monopoly (thus discouraging private philanthropy), tries to alleviate poverty by handing out money and other benefits to folks who meet certain "criteria" of being poor. The result is that many organize their lives to fit the government criteria and thus prolong their own "poverty," and that of succeeding generations. So today we have more poverty than we did when we began "poverty programs."
A major flaw in government programs is that they rob the poor of responsibility for their state, and thus rob them of opportunity to improve their lot. If I had nothing to do with getting this way, I obviously cannot change the way I am! This is demeaning, not helpful, as is shown by the reaction of fathers when their children are given Christmas presents by well-intentioned neighbors. The fathers disappear!
Enlightened groups are now offering parents opportunity to work in the programs that provide such help, and thus earn a part of that help. This is much like a Bible teaching that farmers were not to reap the corners of their fields, or glean their grapes, thus leaving them for the poor, who could then harvest even though they had no means to plant, cultivate and fertilize. We need very much today to redesign our help for the poor to enable their responsibility and allow them to keep their dignity.
The Bible has an interesting chapter (Proverbs 21) in which it speaks of several sources of poverty, such as laziness, bad companions, irresponsible spending and living immorally, and yet powerfully demands that we help the poor. "He who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, will also cry and not be heard" (Prov. 21:13). The most successful poverty programs have again and again proven to be ones with "teeth in them," teeth that make those getting help responsible to get some training and get a job while limiting the amount of time one can receive benefits.
One of the worst things we do in America is to require families to be broken before we help them provide for their children. Only families where the father of the children is gone can receive government aid. This is exactly backwards; it promotes unmarried and irresponsible fatherhood, thus in the long run abusing mothers and children.
America is a nation of well-intentioned people. We virtually always help those affected by disasters. But good intentions are not enough. We need to deal with the fact that all of us, including the poor, are sinners who need discipline as well as mercy. God forgives sinners, no less the poor ones than the rest of us.
But His forgiveness does not license us to continue in the sinful conduct from which are are saved. If we save someone from drowning and he jumps right back in, something needs to change. We need to design our help for the poor to give them back their dignity and responsibility, and give them hope that they can change. Otherwise we just keep them poor.