Saturday, April 21, 2012

Help! Lazy Moochers are Stealing Your Tax Dollars!

So the other day Representative Paul Ryan proclaimed the following:
"But we don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives."
This is a common misconception about welfare: that most of the people on it are just lazy moochers who are kicking back and living in luxury off of your tax dollars. This has been pushed for decades, ever since Ronald Reagan coined the term "welfare queen" in 1976. It's remained in use ever since, even now. And people like Paul Ryan are trying to make it seem as if welfare recipients are largely able-bodied people who have become dependent on the government doles.  Welfare reform, which is what he refers to his plan as, has always had broad appeal to the general populace, especially since the 1996 reform seemed to work so well. The reform's successes, however, may have been distorted at the time, as the economy was in a boom, so fewer people needed welfare. Recent evidence has suggested that welfare reform hasn't been working when people need it most--during a recession. But this isn't about welfare reform, this is about welfare recipients. So who are these "complacent" members of society who are kicking back in our social safety hammock?

Well, Harold Pollack does a much better job explaining it than I ever could, so here's what he had to say about it:
"Like their counterparts who scrub floors, change diapers, or operate cash registers at McDonald’s, these are the lucky duckies whose kids rely upon Medicaid or CHIP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other elements of our safety-net. Below them on the economic ladder are low-income single moms trying to raise their kids on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), traditional cash welfare. Many of these women can’t find a job in the midst of an economic crisis. Still others are quite poor, yet for one reason or another are ineligible for TANF aid. 
Few people are resting on “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” Welfare rolls are at record lows. In some states, maximum TANF cash benefit for a family of three are below $200.
I live and work in the Chicago southland, near hundreds of thousands of poor people who would be deeply hurt by policies Congressman Ryan espouses. Some are jobless. Others work hard every day in crummy jobs. Others are students in elementary school."
And in case that didn't make it abundantly clear that the clear majority of the people on various forms of welfare are not, in fact kicking back and livin' lazy and large, here's a chart showing who is on welfare in America:

So no, most of these people are not, in fact abusing the system. Is there some fraud or abuse of our social safety net? I'm sure there is. Do I think it should be fixed? Definitely, and the Affordable Care Act actually has some provisions in it to do just that for Medicare and Medicaid. However, people like Paul Ryan are attempting to make it seem as if our social safety net is somehow a repository for our society's laziest and most unproductive. As you've seen here, this is hardly true. 

Most of the people on welfare programs aren't "lucky duckies," they aren't lazy--they're old. They're mentally or physically disabled. They're poor children. They're people who work in very low-paying jobs--jobs that don't earn them enough to cover their living expenses. And cutting these meager benefits that they often desperately need to get by isn't the way to get them to "make the most of their lives." They deserve better than to be lectured about how they're somehow complacent because they accept help when they need it most. We're better than that as a country.