Myths about Poor People and Welfare Recipients


I think it’s worth clearing up some issues regarding people on welfare. There is so much toxic dialogue surrounding poor people and especially those receiving welfare assistance (and I use welfare generally, there’s an astonishing number of different programs and so forth beyond my analysis here) because, quite frankly, poor people are easy targets. Also, not included in this list is previous myths I’ve addressed about single mothers and black fathers. Let’s get to it:

  • They are human beings. Let’s start there. Most of the stereotypes about poor people (that they’re lazy, drug addicts, don’t want to work, want to stay on welfare, etc.) are based on this depleted view of their humanity. Here’s a shocking insight for you: Most people want the same things, i.e., security for their children (meaning food, housing, safety, an education) and to feel empowered, not helpless.
  • They pay taxes. No matter what, if you live in the United States, in some form or another, you’re paying some sort of tax, whether pre-welfare, during welfare or post-welfare.
  • Like the recent legislation in Kansas, most action directed against poor people on welfare is a boon to the collusion of corporations and government; in that particular case, it’s a boon for the banks racking up fees at the ATM.
  • Payments from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) amounts to $378 a month for a family under the larger banner of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
  • More specifically, for one child it was $327, for two $412, for three $497 and for more than that $594.
  • The average family size receiving those benefits is 2.4, with 1.8 being children.
  • In about 46.3 percent of the cases, the only recipients are children.
  • Of those, 74 percent of recipient children were under 11-years-old.
  • Most TANF adult recipients are women.
  • Most families are only on welfare for short periods of time, most not longer than two years.
  • Most people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work. Whether with children or not, able-bodied people largely work while receiving SNAP and then afterward.

Here are some more courtesy of the Washington Post:

  • Regarding the myth that poor people don’t value education: “Broadly speaking, there simply is no evidence, beyond differences in on-site involvement, that attitudes about the value of education in poor communities differ in any substantial way from those in wealthier communities.”
  • Reinforcing my earlier myth about poor people and laziness: “To the contrary, all indications are that poor people work just as hard as, and perhapsharder than, people from higher socioeconomic brackets (Reamer, Waldron, Hatcher, & Hayes, 2008). In fact, poor working adults work, on average, 2,500 hours per year, the rough equivalent of 1.2 full time jobs (Waldron, Roberts, & Reamer, 2004), often patching together several part-time jobs in order to support their families.”
  • Regarding substance abuse and illicit drug use: “As I mentioned earlier, low-income people in the U.S. are less likely to use or abuse alcohol than their wealthier counterparts.”
  • Regarding poor parents being inattentive parents: “Researchers routinely have found that low-income parents and guardians are extremely attentive to their children’s needs despite the many barriers they must overcome to provide for their families.”

What about fraud regarding food stamps? Must be rampant right? If legislation in cities all over the country is any indication, it must be, right? Well, according to the New York Times:

  • In fact, the black market accounts for just over 1 percent of the total food stamp program, which is far less than fraud in other government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Include erroneous payments to recipients because of errors on the part of the government or outright lying on applications, and the overall loss to the food stamp program is about 4.07 percent, according to the Department of Agriculture.
  • Which amounts to about $3 billion, which seems like a lot, but compared to other government programs, is a drop in the bucket. For instance, Medicare and Medicaid lose over 10 percent to similar abuses. Some of that is recognizing that the general machinations of government operation mean a margin of error.

Here’s the real kicker that nobody talks about:

  • Depending on what number you look at, the federal government roughly dolls out $100 billion a year in corporate welfare, i.e. money subsidizing businesses for a myriad of reasons.
  • Boeing alone receives $13 billion in government handouts.
  • Where I live, Ohio, the state has paid Hollywood — Hollywood! — $44 million since 2010 to lure them to the area. That’s not an uncommon practice throughout the country, 38 other states offer such incentives. The annual cap is $20 million in the state.
  • I didn’t even get into TARP from ’07, which was billions of dollars dolled out to save corporations; in fact, over $700 billion was originally committed. Let’s put that into perspective…
  • Citibank alone received $25 billion, five times the cash transferred to mothers and children receiving public assistance in 2007, according to the New York Times.

Seriously, if you consider yourself a conservative (and let’s be clear, these myths are bipartisan, but you hear it more on the conservative side) or a libertarian or anyone else on the right, the least of your worries should be what poor people are doing. Even the corporate welfare aside, I haven’t even detailed how much goes into defense spending and the waste there. Or other government programs domestically. That should be the focus. Not the activities of the least off among us.


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