Why Americans Hate Those On Welfare
As a social worker from a rural area I have heard nearly every argument both for and against the welfare system. I have been witness to both the countless scores of people who rely on the system and the rare few who (try to) manipulate the system. The truth of the matter is that welfare is necessary if we want children, elderly, and disabled to eat. It is necessary if we want those who hit hard times and face job loss to remain housed. It is necessary if we want our impoverished neighbor’s heat to remain on in the winter. It is also one of the most rigorously tested government programs for fraud making it extremely difficult to cheat the system, let alone for a lifetime.
Normally I am somewhere in the middle on social and political issues. I would argue that I am on the issue of welfare as well, though I know many will not see it that way. However, there is what appears to be an alarming mentality that has grown unchecked in the United States of America. It is the belief that those in poverty are there by choice and purposefully leaching off of hard working American taxpaying citizens. This idea has grown so common that there are actual laws in place to prevent feeding the homeless in public (though it was later lifted), ban the poor from using their money to watch movies or visit public pools, and mandated random drug testing for food and cash recipients.
More than any other demographic, the poor are charged with proving their worthiness in order to receive government assistance dollars. In other words, they need to appear to be worthy of food, shelter, heat, and medical care. Yet, no one has to prove their government subsidized student loan is being used for a “proper” education. Why haven’t restrictions been placed on these student loans requiring the students to prove that they are getting a worthwhile degree (how dare they major in philosophy!), that they aren’t squandering the loan money on an extravagant housing or too fancy a school?
Why tax payer’s hard earned money is not being “wasted” on welfare
The fact of the matter is that many people receive government assistance, but it is not as overt as straight up welfare assistance, so we presume that we survive without it. If someone has ever purchased a home using a government subsidized loan such as those provided by MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority) then they have received government assistance. Farmers receive countless subsidizes and are estimated to have about $4.9 billion in direct cash payments annually. Now, I have no issue with farmers receiving subsidies from the government, but I don’t see anyone up in arms to make sure that they aren’t growing any illegal foliage such as marijuana. Farmers, contrary to those on welfare, are viewed as the hardworking backbone of America. Understandably this is because farmer’s work and welfare recipients don’t…or do they?
A study found that 56% of welfare recipients were from working households from 2009 - 2011. That means that more than half of welfare recipients are working. Those who aren’t working largely are made up of the elderly and disabled. Even if it wasn’t, isn’t the point of welfare to help those who have fallen on hard times? More than half of welfare recipients are off welfare in less than 2 years, and 19% is off welfare in 7 months or less.
Furthermore, all of your hard earned tax dollars do NOT in fact go to welfare. Granted, bureaucrats make it difficult to calculate just what goes where, but My Esoteric estimates that approximately $0.06 on every tax dollar goes to welfare. Of those six pennies, it is estimated that two-fifths of that actually goes to those who are not of working age. That means that only 3.5 cents of your tax dollar are going to welfare for those within a working age. Consider that the next time you hear (or use) the argument that your “hard earned tax dollars are being wasted on those too lazy to help themselves”.
Share your opinion
Should welfare recipients be mandated to random drug testing?
The Hard to Break Cycle of Poverty
Clearly, the idea of “Welfare Queens” is off. If these welfare recipients are working, then why can’t they afford to pay their own bills? The problem is that the work available to many families is either part time or minimum wage (or both). There is no city in America where basic rent is affordable on a minimum wage salary. The counter argument is that minimum wage was never intended to live off of. However, regardless of what its original intent or purpose was, it is clear that these are some of the only jobs available to many Americans. Take Wal-mart for instance, as one of the leading employers in the United States. In Michigan they are only required to pay $8.15 an hour to a new employee and raises are far and few between. Yet, according to the article cited above a family needs to make $15.16 an hour to afford a 2 bedroom rental. That’s nearly twice as much!
Low wages and minimum government assistance does nothing to solve the issue of poverty. Poverty has become systematic in our society which leads to generational cycles of poverty. As much as we Americans want to believe in the self-made-man, the truth is that it is not as simple as that. No longer can a person walk out into the street without anything to their name and rise to the top with nothing but hard work. There are exceptions of course, such as Rockefeller and Edison, but exceptions are not a norm by which we should measure all people.
Someone born into poverty does not have the opportunity to live in an affluent neighborhood. Rather, they may be worried about crime rates on the way to an underfunded and understaffed school. They are at higher risk to try drugs and engage in unsafe sex, have higher rates of teenage pregnancy, and higher rates of dropping out from High School. Being a single mother or having no diploma or GED causes them to be less employable; therefore they can only find minimum wage work. As I’ve already mentioned, minimum wage is not a livable wage and so they must therefore rely upon the SNAP food program, TANF cash assistance, and subsidized housing. As you can see, simply being born into the wrong economic class can quickly snowball into a near unavoidable poverty stricken future.
So why persecute of the poor?
So, why does the increased war against the poor and stricter guidelines on benefits not help? If you refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs you can see that before one can achieve actualization they must first have their basic needs of food, shelter, and safety met. Removing assistance, or adding more barriers, only serves to throw those in poverty into an even more tumultuous situation. If these needs need to be met in order to move up the hierarchy then why are we fighting so hard against these benefits being distributed to the needy?
To start with, people LOVE to feel included. We want to be a part of something, even if that something isn’t very nice, such as bullying the poor. We want to feel important and worthwhile. The poor give us two ways to fulfill these psychological needs. To start with, it is easy to look down on someone who has nothing and gain a (false) sense of superiority. In order to get the happy endorphins released from comparing ourselves to others we need to look at those with less, not more. Those who are in a better situation than ourselves are likely to make us feel bad about ourselves, or at the least, jealous of those who have more.
Secondly, we are very susceptible to group think, or rather “Us vs Them” thinking. In this type of thinking we divide ourselves, sometimes by arbitrary lines such as with skin color. We enhance the image of the group we belong to in order to boost our own self esteem and discriminate against the opposite group. Have you ever noticed that if someone supports a sports team they say “We won” and “They lost” therefore including themselves in the positive and distancing themselves from the negative.
The same thing happens when it comes to poverty. No one likes paying taxes; after all, it would be great if a third of your check were still there on payday. However, we also like certain services that paying taxes provide such as police to keep us safe, hospitals to keep us healthy, and schools to educate our children. I’ve already mentioned that people tend to wrongly assume they don’t benefit from programs as much as welfare recipients, though home owner tax exemptions, subsidized student loans, and farm subsidies benefit most people. The difference isn’t just subtle versus overt assistance, but the fact that we can distance ourselves from welfare recipients. “They” are rotten and lazy people who cheat the system and steal our tax money. “We” are hard working citizens who deserve nice things.
This stigma against the poor is so strong that nine times out of ten, when I am talking with a client who receives assistance they feel compelled to let me know that they “aren’t like the rest of those people on welfare”. They aren’t lazy like the rest, they aren’t cheating the system like the rest, and they aren’t worthless like the rest.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Wealth Gap (HBO)
Not Looking “Poor Enough”
This leads me to my last point (until my next hub of course). We as a nation have an image in our heads of what poverty is supposed to look like. Poverty is supposed to be dirt floors, empty cupboards, old stained and torn clothing, and absolutely zero luxuries. Poverty is not supposed to be fun, and if you have fun while being poor than you’re a “Welfare Queen”.
While it’s true that this is what poverty looked like during the great depression, we need to remember that times are different now. Technology, availability of different resources, and the like have changed what it means to be impoverished.
Many people in poverty have family members who aren’t poor but cannot afford to take care of them full time. However, they can gift them with things such as a new iphone at Christmas or perhaps an x-box for their grandchild. They also may have bought these items before hard times hit and they have since lost their return in value. What costs them $400 a year ago may only bring them back $100 now, and a cheaper phone may not work as well anyway. A gifted gaming system may be the only nice thing that child owns. Having nice electronics doesn’t necessarily mean the parent is squandering their small TANF check on electronics.
The nice Tommy Hilfiger shirt may have come from a thrift store. The painted nails could have been done themselves with a dollar store nail polish. Their makeup could have been a gift or all e.l.f. brand products (for men, that is a very cheap makeup brand) collected over months. Taking pride in their appearance is not a punishable offense. Looking nice does not mean they are not struggling. Rather than scorn their nice things you should applaud their resourcefulness.
Another hot topic issue is those with SNAP benefits buying themselves luxury meals of steak and sushi on the tax payers dime…I mean 3.5 cents. Let’s start with the fact that you have probably not seen someone abuse their food card. If they are buying what looks like junk food such as soda or candy consider that it may be their ONE luxury for that entire month. The SNAP benefits already exclude certain items such as alcohol and cigarettes and frankly they are probably not spending their meager $147 a month on $14/lb steak and lobster.
If they appear to be doing so consider that they cannot afford to eat out every weekend, so they may compensate by trying to stretch the budget in order to make one or two luxury foods fit into their budget. Even if they’re buying all junky food, remember that healthy food costs more than ready to eat foods. They also might have a child who they can’t stand saying “no” to one more time and so they give in and buy the sweets because they feel like bad parents for being unable to provide all of the other things their classmates get. They may not have the time to prepare three meals from scratch each day between working two minimum wage jobs and parenting.
Cheating the system or a gift from Grandma?
I’m not arguing that the welfare system is perfect or that it is 100% free of fraud (though the fraud rate is extremely low). Rather, I am speaking out against the stigmatization that we have placed upon the lowliest of our economic ranks. Being poor is a tragedy and not a crime. We need to treat our fellow human beings with compassion and not disdain. Welfare recipients are not lazy drug abusing cheats. They are people, much like you and I, who are struggling to meet their basic needs and who are continually being reminded that they are worth less than those not on welfare.
Truthfully, it has been show again and again that desperation does not create motivation. Rather, desperation breeds lower health, higher stress, higher crime rates, lower education, and can lead to onset learned helplessness. This learned helplessness is the detached attitude that is typically confused for apathetic entitlement. It is not necessarily that they don’t desire to better themselves, but rather that they no longer believe themselves as capable of becoming better.
When we remove aid or create virtual barriers to accessing them all we are doing is giving them more reasons to give up, not more reasons to keep trying. Society is only as good as our weakest members. We cannot wait for others to create these changes; rather we need to exemplify the changes we would like to see in our communities.