Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Myth of the Welfare Queen

Disclaimer: While I feel like I have a fairly good grasp of this topic, it's not terribly well-researched and the numbers are approximate based on several sources.

A long time ago, in a land called America, there lived a president named Ronald Reagan who reigned supreme. Everyone loved him, and he perpetuated myths of welfare dependency....

Conservatives have this long-standing belief that there are millions upon millions of Americans mooching off public coffers and stealing the money of the hard-earned tax-paying middle class.

Anyways, I think I read about 10% of Americans live below the poverty line ($21,000 abouts), most of them single mothers and children. 4.4 million Americans (approx.) are on "welfare," (that's like 1 in 75?) meaning monetary payments in the form of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). There are limits on how long you can be in the program, and the allowance is a pittance (I read on USA Today that the average allotment is something like $68 a month in Texas). Moreover, there are work requirements and you must be engaged in some kind of work activity if you can't find a job at least 30 hours a week like community service or education. If you have a child under 6, the requirements are less stringent. Now, I've never been on TANF, and I don't know how this is enforced but I know that you would have a caseworker who would make sure you were trying to find employment. Food stamps and Medicaid are more flexible, and you can be on those for longer periods of time. But they both have a work requirement as well, that varies state by state. I know when we were getting food stamps we didn't get any money for Tim because he was a full-time student, and we didn't get any money for me when I stopped working temporarily and was between jobs, even though I had a child under the age of 2. The average allotment for the SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) is $150 a month. We get about that much for our family of four with an income of $2000 a month. It helps, but it's not like we are out buying caviar (yes, we did get more when we were making less money a month, but still it wasn't THAT much).

Anyways, back to the working requirements. Apparently, only 30% of those 4 million Americans receiving TANF are not working, and my guess is most of these are single mothers of very young children. And let me tell you, I don't believe the myth that mothers are having children just to stay on welfare because FREAK, KIDS ARE HARD. If I didn't want them, I certainly would not keep intentionally getting pregnant and birthing them for $100 a month, I can tell you that. I would freaking go work because being a mother of a baby is way harder than most jobs out there, I wager. Also, I found a study somewhere that said the number of children born to poor family was not statistically higher than the number born to non-poor families. A lot of it was skewed with education level, conservative states with less access to birth control, etc.

It comes to this: are poor people just lazy? Or are structural institutions to blame for poverty? I don't think people choose to be in poverty just like I didn't choose to be born to a family with an involved mother and father who made sure I succeeded and helped me out along the way to get me where I am today. That's not to say I didn't work hard either, but in reality, I didn't really. I had wonderful teachers, a free college education courtesy of my brain and my parents and Pell grants, I had every opportunity to succeed. But most people don't. They have absent parents and overcrowded schools and cheap daycares. They are subject to sexual and physical abuse. There is so, so much structural violence in the US that keeps poor people (especially minorities) poor. What we need to do is stop judging and blaming individuals and take a step back and examine our institutions, [mis]perceptions, and how we can fix things.

If you are really concerned about welfare payments, you should be looking at corporations. The US government spends twice as much in corporate welfare payments than individual welfare payments. AND if you're worried about welfare fraud, it's a pittance compared to the money lost due to white-collar crimes and corporate fraud that takes place every year, so you should really be attacking CEOs.

PS: It actually wasn't your conservative heroes who played a part in these stricter work requirements for welfare payments Good old Bill Clinton was actually the president that "reformed" welfare in the past few decades by introducing more stringent TANF to replace the previous AFDC system. It increased work requirements and cut the number of people on the program to half between 1996 until the recession in 2007 (however, some progressives blame Clinton for ending welfare and thus hurting many families since he did not foresee the recession of the past years, and many families that could use TANF funds now do not have access to them). But yeah, if you are into that kind of thing, thank Clinton for it.


  1. I don't for one second think that people choose to be in poverty. But we make it really, really costly for people to move up the income scale: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-_-6Fsycanmw/ULO_5kk3fxI/AAAAAAAAAU4/y1PbUElDS34/s1600/marginal-tax_6.PNG

    Let's just say that if I were in a position where making a few extra dollars in wages would cost me hundreds or thousands in after-tax/transfers income, I know what I would do.

    See also http://johnhcochrane.blogspot.com/2012/11/taxes-and-cliffs.html

  2. All I know, is that we are spending WAY too much. Granted a large portion of that is being wasted on useless bureaucracy and an idle government workforce, don't believe me? Munch on these numbers:
    “According to the Census’s American Community Survey, the number of households with incomes below the poverty line in 2011 was 16,807,795. . . . If you divide total federal and state spending by the number of households with incomes below the poverty line, the average spending per h61,00ousehold in poverty was $61,194 in 2011.”
    “This dollar figure is almost three times the amount the average household on poverty lives on per year. ‘If the spending on these programs were converted into cash, and distributed exclusively to the nation’s households below the poverty line, this cash amount would be over 2.5 times the federal poverty threshold for a family of four, which in 2011 was $22,350. . . .”
    Yes, we could cut every poor family a check for $61,000.00... Every Year! That is a problem.