I’m live-blogging our Katrina and Poverty panel from our packed (and I mean it–I see exactly two free chairs!) auditorium. Charles Murray is leading off, and what he’s saying is scary: the underclass is actually bigger than it was, oh, say, back in the Reagan era, when all the elite could talk about was…the underclass.

Says Charles: 22 percent of all black young men aren’t either in school, in the workforce, or even looking for a job (plus 10 percent of all young white men). Then there’s kids born out of wedlock: 70 percent among blacks, 25 percent of whites: so even whites have higher rates of illegitimacy than the rate among blacks that scared Daniel B. Moynihan when he wrote his famous report back in ’68. Drugs of choice: cocaine for blacks, meth for whites.

Why did no one notice until Katrina? Because we (middle-class folks) have just managed to get the underclass out of our sight. We’re prosperous, we don’t experience high crime. 

But, says Charles, our refusal to care about the underclass “fundamentally betrays what America is all about.”

Now, Star Parker, former welfare mom, current welfare-reform maniac. (She was one of the consultants on the big 1996 GOP bill).

“There’s no excuse for poverty,” say Star. It’s individuals who decide to live in housing projects, instead of being self-sufficient. And government can’t cure it: “It’s a moral decision.”

Poverty’s rooted in one thing: collapse of sexual morality. That’s having sex early and outside marriage and then babies outside of marriage. 65 percent of unwed mothers live in poverty (race doesn’t matter) vs. 8 percent of women who wait till they’re marries to have babies.

So–how to break the cycle? The answer: work. And Star’s interviewed women in housing projects all over America. They key is “working harder than the person just above you.” And men–they don’t work because women let them live for free. But working women tend not to tolerate lazy men. So we have to assure that work is available: reduce labor laws, burdensome hand of government. And child care: again, reduce the regulatory burdens so women can care for kids in their homes. And there’s training: NOT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF GOVERNMENT! There are 171 govt. training programs and what they do is basically do what the schools failed to do. So what the government can do is enable decent schools. One proposal: abolish income caps to qualify for school-choice vouchers.

You go, Star!

Lastly, says Star, let’s encourage poor people to invest and save: such as alternatives to Social Security. Social Security reform is key–it’s a regressive tax system on the poor. “To force current workers to subsidize current retirees is not the way to go.”

And charity: local people should get locally organized. It’s the New Orleans govt.’s responsibility to help Katrina victims, not Uncle Sam. He’s not set up to solve the problems of individuals. Let’s change the focus of faith-based initiatives so individuals get the tax breaks, not the big charities.

 Now for John McWhorter: Thinks the whole elite-media spin on Katrina–the “deep, dark secret that we have poverty in America”–is, well, a crock. Plus the “poor, poor, poor black America” whom we, white America have let down. Or the idea that black poverty is due to the disappearance of factory jobs with globalization. The reason: there’s no evidence of any fewer low-level jobs today (mechanics, repairmen, security guards) than there were when those jobs were in factories.

Then, says John, there’s the “tall building argument”: housing projects are too high-rise. But in New Orleans, the projects aren’t too tall. Or what about the chestnut that segregation causes poverty? What about Chinatowns? They used to be crowded ghettoes, too! But much lower crime…something else is clearly the factor.

Where the problem lies: the change in welfare policies during the 1960s. History books don’t talk about it, but it caused a profound change in black culture. In 1966, there were only 2/5 as many poor blacks as now–and that was when the economy was getting better. The Sixties welfare state had devastating effects: neither men nor men had to work–and women could have babies without getting married.

So what we saw on the TV regarding Katrina wasn’t racism but the result of a devasting betrayal of black America.

Now for our last panelist: Nicole Gelinas. Her take: what happens when underclass culture becomes the dominant culture of the city. There was a failure of civic culture. Even President Bush didn’t get it: assumed that what we saw after Katrina was persistent poverty due to endemic racism. She says the problem is a menality that encourages illegitimacy and crime. Half the families in New Orleans have no father living at home. “In one sense New Orleans was a case study in the tend of the family, especially the black family, after the Great Society.”

Before the Great Society, only one in four black children born out of wedlock; now it’s 70 percent. And white rate was negligible, but now it’s what the black rate was back then.

Virtually all studies show that married parents mean greatly lower risk of crime. But in N.O., even the ideal of the two-parent family is nonexistent. It’s not even something people can aspire to. Long before Katrina, New Orleans had the highest murder rate in the country: the equivalent of 6,000 murders a year in New York.

Nicole worked in New Orleans with black moms, and what they wanted most for their kids was for them to get out of New Orleans! That’s one reason for the city’s drastic population decline over the past 15 years.

Two different crime philosophies: In New York, post-Giuliani, the way to lower crime is to get the criminals off the streets. But in N.O., only 16 percent of those accused of crime actually go to jail (in contrast to 60 percent average in cities across America. “In New Orleans, you have a non-functional criminal justice system,” says Nicole.

Other aspects of the culture of crime: most New Orleansians sympathize with criminal defendants, not prosecutors. How Mayor Ray Nagin won re-election: He supported violent criminals’ returning to New Orleans after Katrina!

“The only thing that has recovered in New Orleans is the city’s crime rate!” Nicole announced. And in Houston, one-fourth of the city’s homicides since January were committed by post-Katrina former New Orleans residents.

What an indictment of the city’s culture! And it’s why, says Nicole, middle-class blacks and whites who left after Katrina just don’t want to go back. So the current federal emphasis on rebuilding the city’s physical infrastructure is misplaced. Real rebuilding will occur only with the rebuilding of “a civil infrastructure that works.”

It’s been a pretty dismal assessment by all four panelists. But at least it has shown the silliness of all the classic bromides we’ve been hearing from the elite media and academia since the 1960s: Poverty is due to economic changes, poverty is due to racism. No. Poverty largely stems from a dysfunctional culture of poverty: births out of wedlock, single-parent families, and the lack of fathers in the home to transmit (and enforce values) and regulate the sexual activity of their children.

We’ve been saying this over and over at the IWF. Now you see how it plays into the post-Katrina devastation.