I've been lurking for a while, meaning to post a response, or at least a meaningful comment, so here I am.
I'm a solid Liberal when it comes to social and most economic issues, but I have a couple of caveats when it comes to the topics discussed here: I was raised in a U.S. Air Force family, and I'm currently an elementary school teacher in a very poor community with a diverse ethnic background.
As far as military bases being a microcosm of a nation in general--yes and no. Those in the military are members of the general population before they join, and raised in various communities, ethnic, economic, and otherwise. However, I have seen a general change in the military population over time, just like the change in the general population. When I was a child, doors were left unlocked on base, neighbors disciplined and watched over each others' children, and there was a much greater acceptance of other ethnic and mult-iethnic members of the community. We had racists, sure--but so many of my friends in school had mothers who were from other nations, that to act racist in school was to ostracize yourself from pretty much everyone else.
10% of the military on the base were officers, the balance being enlisted. That meant 90% of the children on base received free or reduced lunches, because enlisted pay for an average enlisted airman was at or below the poverty level. All military, with families or not, had access to free housing. Virtually everyone was employed. Motivation among parents was high. Back to school night was standing room only in the classrooms. Corporal punishment was still an option at school, if parents signed a form and sent it back to school...needless to say, the exceptions were rare. Curfews were in force for children and adults. Yards were expected to be kept up, and the best-kept yards were awarded yard-of-the-month, including a sign posted on it. Virtually all children were expected to excel in school, regardless of ethnic, cultural, or economic background. Social norms were strictly enforced by the community--the social norms of the military, not the cultures one originally came from.
I also benefited from parents who were raised in Southern California in mixed-ethnicity communities. My father and mother are white/Native American, but grew up in communities that were balanced or majority Hispanic. While my father was stationed in Vietnam, my mother and I lived with her parents in a community that was 85% Hispanic. I was the only white kid in my class while I was there, and got a small taste of what being an ethnic minority is like.
My father retired within the same month I graduated from high school, and my younger brother graduated from junior high. I started going to college while he went to high school for the first time in a civilian school. The differences were stark and shocking. Kids divided along ethnic lines at the school, there were fights primarily over racial tensions, and poverty was endemic. My brothers dealt with culture shock, basically. I'd lived in civilian communities when younger, but they had spent their entire lives sheltered, as it were, in military culture.
Fast-forward to today. I'm 45 and have been teaching for over 12 years at the same elementary school. The last base my family lived at is, incidentally, only about ten miles away from the small town I live in. Our ethnic makeup here is roughly 1/3 black, 1/3 Hispanic, 1/3 white, and around 10% Filipino, Chinese, and Thai. 90% of the children at my school receive free or reduced-price lunches. I'm lucky if 1/3 of my student's parents show up for parent-teacher conferences or back-to-school night--just one parent. The great majority of my students live in a single-parent home. Some are raised by grandparents, uncles/aunts, older siblings, or are homeless. Around 20% of them have one (or both) parents in prison. About 20% also have a family member in a gang.
The similarities and differences between the military communities I grew up in and the one I live in now can be seen in the above paragraphs, but some of the details are startling. I've had parents tell me they didn't want their children to grow up smarter than them; I've had parents tell me their children were stupid. I've had parents insist their children couldn't behave because they had ADHD. I've had parents insist it was my job to teach their children morals, not theirs. I've had most of these comments from native parents--mostly black and white. The particular culture of Hispanic and Asian families, regardless of the nation their culture originated from, tends to value education...most immigrant families do, regardless of nation of origin. What is surprising, however, is the blatant attitude of entitlement I get from both black and white families of poverty. Not all, mind you, but a very high percentage. With what I know from first-hand knowledge of the reservation system in the United States, it brings me to the conclusion that any kind of welfare system, while well-meaning, tends to become broken, and the way we go about such matters in the U.S. desperately needs fixing...but it is not the primary problem.
How does all this relate to the thread topic?
In this community of deep poverty, multi-ethnicity, and confused and bankrupt culture, there is virtually no racism. Poverty ties the majority of the citizens together in a kind of desperate brotherhood. A sense of victimhood, of someone else being to blame for their misfortunes, runs deep. A sense of helplessness runs right next to it--the attitude that their situation cannot be helped; a kind of self-defeating fatalism that only makes their conditions worse. I have children of all ethnic varieties that have told me that they expect to go to prison when they grow up, just like so many of their family members. There is virtually no motivation to improve one's self.
My point is that, aside from racism--which does exist in our nation still--inequalities in this nation are primarily a problem of culture, not poverty. Or the culture of poverty. There are generations of families, regardless of ethnicity, that have lived on welfare and have no motivation to better themselves. They have a deep sense of desperation--the kind that drives individuals to crime. They lack an appreciation for what an education can do for your life, for a variety of factors, but including the fact that many of the schools they attended or attend are unable to effectively educate, because of other factors, such as disciplinary problems, emotional disturbances, and basics like lack of sleep or hunger. I have students whose only meals are the breakfast and lunch they receive at school. Three and four day weekends are times of deprivation for them, not extended fun times.
With all of this, do you really think, that many of these poor parents and their children will be using that $30,000 wisely? I have had children every year whose parents are poor, own multiple video game systems, and yet the children are dressed in filthy, worn-out clothes, have rotten teeth, and go hungry often. The lack of common-sense and basic living skills are stunning. Another factor that often goes along with these families is the bunker mentality--everyone else is out to get them. Too many times I have had conferences with parents over a child's bullying, only to have them blame the other children, the teachers and administration, the other parents--everyone but their children. To blame their children would, by extension, mean blaming themselves as parents--and there are a huge number of parents here that have extremely low self-esteem, to the point where they can't or won't make critical self-judgements necessary to make self-improvements--the kind that would help them out of the situations they are in economically and personally.
I'm usually a big-picture guy. But my career puts me in the trenches where I see the little details that make large, sweeping generalizations null and void. Stereotypes don't work in my field. Neither do generalizations of how society would be improved or harmed by a sweeping increase in income. It will take much more than money to help large swaths of the poor in the United States. It will take, in my opinion, a concerted effort by all economic and social levels within the nation to improve more than the economic well-being, but the cultural well-being of our country. The problem is, our nation is, at its core, a multi-cultural society, in which people do not easily, readily, or understandably accept new cultural values. A monolithic culture, like Japan, has a better chance at making sweeping national changes. The U.S., by its very nature, stymies efforts to make a rising tide that lifts all boats. Our cultural complexity is at once one of our greatest strengths and most glaring weaknesses.