Glenn Reynolds has a great column up at USA Today. It's about what he calls "the New Class," or the bureaucrats, crony capitalists, and other flunkies who make their living by administering the modern welfare state. Reynolds—you love him as the interweb's Instapundit—notes the main reason we don't give poor people cash to spend as they see fit is that such an arrangement wouldn't benefit well-connected folks.
A lot of programs officially aimed at the poor look suspiciously like subsidies to the New Class, too. Among "means-tested" programs, Food Stamps, now officially called SNAP, cover about 46 million people up to 125% of the poverty line (set at about $16,000 for a single mother and child). Other programs, such as the Earned Income Tax credit, cover people at slightly higher incomes, up to 200% of the poverty line. When federal spending on the dozens of programs are added up and state and local contributions included, the budget for assistance is about $1 trillion.
If we simply handed those people, perhaps 60 million of them, their share of the cash, that would be more than $16,500 each. A single mom and her baby would get over $33,000, twice as much as a poverty wage. A family of four would land more than $66,000, $15,000 more than the average family income.
So where's the money going? To people who aren't poor, such as doctors paid through Medicaid or landlords paid through Section 8. And to tens of thousands of members of the New Class, people like social workers, administrators and lawyers who run more than 120 different means tested federal programs.