The unrelenting attack on welfare programs and on welfare recipients continue. Persons on welfare are portrayed as slackers, as persons who are dependent, who refuse to take charge of their lives and to make something of themselves.
Many observers suggest that this continuing denigration of a significant number of Americans is connected to the fact that persons of color are disproportionately represented among welfare recipients.
Here are some facts:
A significant percentage of welfare recipients are children. Since 2004/2005, children, not adults, have made up the majority of welfare cases in California. Some observers claim that two thirds of welfare recipients are children.
Besides children, the elderly consume a significant percentage of annual welfare spending. According to some accounts, 53 percent of the benefit dollars spent on entitlement programs spend go to assist the elderly — not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work.
Other welfare recipients that do not fit the negative stereotypes are single mothers. Women who are divorced from a violent husband, or a husband who meets his midlife crisis by marrying a much younger woman, often find themselves unable to get a job that will support them. While they go back to school, the government will support them for a few years so that they can prepare themselves to work and to take care of themselves.
The 'working poor' make up a fourth important category of welfare recipients. One in four jobs in the United States today does not pay enough to lift families out of poverty. The problem is not that people do not work. The problem is that they don't get paid enough to live without some government assistance. According to the most recent data available from the Census Bureau, 104 million people – a third of the population – have incomes below $38,000 for a family of three.
More people can only find part-time jobs. That does not provide enough to live on. Besides part-time jobs do n ot provide health insurance. Part-timers need government help to pay their medical bills.
The fact that so many jobs will not pay enough for a family of three to live on, has the side effect that a certain number of welfare recipients work but their work is not reported to the government so that they can continue to receive some assistance to supplement their meager earnings. That tends to inflate the number of people who are supposedly "welfare dependent."
According to government figures, the number of people who could possibly be "welfare dependent" – dependent on government handouts for many years – is somewhere between 10 and 20% of all welfare recipients. There is absolutely no truth in the scare stories of half the American population being unwilling to take charge of their lives, sitting at home, waiting for their monthly government check.
Obviously these figures do not add up. A central difficulty in this highly politicized debate is that facts are hard to come by. But even if the numbers I have cited are all exaggerated, it remains incontestable that the stereotype of the welfare recipient-as-slacker is just that--a stereotype that bears little resemblance to reality.
Moreover, it is extremely important to understand whom social welfare benefits. Since a significant portion of welfare payments go to supplement the inadequate income of working people, welfare for the poor is, of course, at the same time welfare for the rich, for employers. Consider this example: Walmart is well-known to pay extremely low wages. In some stores the human relations people will tell all new hires how to get on food stamps and other kinds of government assistance. Walmart is quite openly admits that wages are too low to live on. It can charge low prices to its customers because it underpays its employees. It can get away with that because the government helps out. In the end the low prices in the Walmart store are made possible by the social welfare system. The US government welfare system subsidizes Walmart's profits and the savings realized by its customers.
Walmart and many other employers are "welfare dependent." When politicians try to scare up distrust and animosity against welfare recipients they should mention Walmart and its customers among them.
We hear a good deal about American employers whose companies are "lean and mean" and we are invited to admire their can-do spirit, the private initiative that makes companies that had been suffering profitable again. But what makes companies "lean" are the low wages paid to employees – and not those in the front office either. Companies can do that because the government will make up some of the difference between a living wage and what actual American companies pay to their fellow citizens.
What allows companies to be "lean and mean," is the government's social welfare system. American employers are chief among the welfare dependents.
Thank you Uncle Sam.