I am of a different mind, though, and rather than remain silent, I feel compelled at times to present an opposing view in the (often vain) hope of perhaps swaying an opinion. As these issues often weigh heavily on my mind, I found myself continuing to mull over the comments left on one my earlier blogs where I voiced my criticism of the Tea Party Movement. Within the repartee between this commenter and myself, there seemed to run a consistent underlying premise: that through some malfeasance or failing on their part, certain people in this country are “undeserving”, they have not “earned” the right to enjoy the benefits others are apparently entitled.
This concept that many believe that certain segments of our population are "undeserving", I am beginning to feel, is what is behind this denouncing as "Socialism" any benefit from society that people feel is undeserved or unearned. My conclusions are drawn from my own personal observation and experience over recent years.
For example, a while back I heard an article on National Public Radio about a woman who was recruited to conduct public meetings to discuss health care reform. This presenter thought contacting churches would provide a receptive audience, speaking to congregations about the need to extend health care to those who were under, or not, insured. The salient point here was that this presenter assumed that church and religious organizations would eagerly embrace the concept of providing medical services to those in need. After all, religion supposedly promotes charity, compassion and helping the less-fortunate; she truly believed that their religious spirit would appeal to their hearts and their sense of humanity. WRONG! Instead these supposed Christians were completely affronted by the idea of extending benefits to people who hadn’t earned the privilege – and especially not if such benefits might cause THEIR taxes to increase.
Then yet another piece of the puzzle, drawn from my own personal experience: During the first half of my career I worked in the banking industry. I was brought up in a staunch Republican household, so as banker and businessman, the policies of candidate Ronald Reagan resonated strongly with me and therein went my vote. Yet within a short period following, major changes happened in my life – layoff, divorce, debt and poverty, then remarriage and later a completely new career. I married a woman who had been a single mom on Welfare but who had worked her way out of poverty. My new wife actually worked FOR the state Welfare department at the time we met. Freshly unemployed myself, I recall telling her one day “There’s no way I could EVER do your job”. Well, never say never - my second career found me as a Welfare Caseworker.
Previously as a suit-and-tie Republican banker I recalled having held strong opinions about the “work ethic”, self-sufficiency and personal responsibility. I had a low opinion of the “lesser classes” in our society with whom I had little to no contact with. Now as a caseworker, I was deeply and intimately involved in understanding how the other half of society in this country lives. It was a very harsh lesson in reality. I had to release a lot of myths I had held about this segment of the “undeserving” in this country.
In my recent conversation on my Tea Bag post, the commenter repeatedly asserted that through some act, or lack of action or being responsible, was the alleged reason my relatives did not have adequate medical coverage. The allegation was that these members of my family (which clearly he was projecting on society at large) had made some type of bad decision or poor choices which resulted in the source of their deprivation. Not so; illness, death, disability, layoff and unemployment, events all completely beyond the control of my family (and again, society at large) were the reasons.
These completely naive and ignorant assertions, tabulated along with many similar experiences as a Welfare Worker, and in my understanding about the resistance to any sort of health care reform, solidified a belief which I now strongly hold:
There exists a large proportion of our population who are absolutely terrified that someone is going to get something that they don’t deserve, some benefit that they didn’t earn and to which they should not be entitled.Though I would like to lay this set of beliefs squarely at the feet of Conservatives, I think this is likely pervasive throughout the social and political strata. Somebody is afraid that if someone else gets “more”, then there will be “less” for the them and they are angry as hell about that prospect.
Having lived in both economic extremes, I can sympathize with the mind set that ours is a country of opportunity; that through hard work and diligent effort, one can attain a good life. But people often forget that the “good life” can be transitory; things can change in an instant and with no warning. That troubling lump on your body you wake up to one day could have a very chilling diagnosis or you could be one of the 40,000 people a year who hop in their car and drive away from their house and never come home. No one is immune from random unforeseen events of tragedy, some life choices are made for us with neither our approval nor warning.
When I was a banker in my three piece suit, I thought that people who didn’t have what I had simply needed to just pull themselves up by their own boot straps. But when I later shed the suit for Dockers as a Welfare Caseworker, I learned that some people don’t have boot straps.
I thought I would present a few “fast facts” about the welfare system and welfare clients.
- ~ The original program I worked with was called ADC (Aid to Dependent Children). It is now called TANF (Transitional Assistance to Needy Families). Most welfare recipients are children (the money goes to the parent, of course). Only a very few states provide cash benefit assistance to childless adults. To be eligible to receive benefits, the household must suffer “deprivation”, insufficient income. One cannot cause their own deprivation; for example, one cannot intentionally quit a job to be eligible for welfare.
- ~ Most state welfare programs require participation in job placement or work search activities unless the dependent child is an infant. (Personally I always chuckled at the hypocrisy that society expected middle-class mothers stay home and raise their kids but expected welfare mothers to go to work).
- ~ About 5% of welfare recipients receive benefits for very short periods of time. These clients generally have higher education, work experience or other skills that make them readily employable. Often their deprivation is due to temporary setbacks such as job layoff or divorce. Another 45% of welfare recipients may be employable but need assistance with job skills, education, training, clothing, housing, transportation, child care or other issues which may be barriers to employment. The remaining 50% of welfare recipients have major barriers to employment such as drug and alcohol addiction, physical and/or psychological problems, suffer physical, mental or sexual abuse, may be involved in the criminal justice system or have issues which otherwise make them unlikely to be employable. In most cases several of these issues are factors in the families lives.
- ~ Welfare grant amounts have increased only fractionally in comparison to the rate of increase in the cost of living and inflation to where today the amount of a welfare grant allotment seldom provides sufficient funds to meet any of the most basic needs such as rent, utilities or food; households must also seek housing assistance, Food Stamps and other forms of community assistance to survive.
- ~ Welfare clients receive medial care as a component of their welfare grant eligibility through state administered Medicaid programs.
- ~ Welfare costs represent roughly 1% of the federal budget.