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Forcing the Poor to Pee in Cups: The Game of Poor Hating

Updated on September 27, 2015

Americans are conditioned to abhor and bully poor people. My statement might seem hyperbolic, but, hearing the intense vilification of the poor, this statement is unfortunately correct. Writer Chris Harman describes wealthy Americans’ sentiments regarding the poor working class in the mid 19th century, “ The propertied classes believed any attempt to alleviate poverty would undermine the new discipline. If poor people could obtain any sort of income without working, they would become “idle, lazy, fraudulent and worthless . . .and develop a spirit of laziness and insubordination.” When reading this quote, it’s not too difficult to notice the need to control the poor. America, hitherto mostly rural, was transitioning into an industrialized nation, which radically transformed work relations. As Harman writes, workers, for the first time in history, solely depended on their incomes for subsistence. However, employers needed workers to travail long hours away from their homes in the most sordid working conditions, which required discipline. These employers felt that poverty kept the workers dependent on their earnings, but meliorating the workers’ lives would render them less reliant on their wages, possibly becoming even intractable. Employers needed to minimize poverty, so they began blaming the victims, which lasts till this day, as what many people do to welfare recipients.

Over a hundred years later, many Americans still subscribe to this curious paternalism. Researcher Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation posits, “ Giving people something for nothing harms the recipient . . .” Americans have a long history believing poor people are morally defective people, lacking the maturity and sophistication to practice delayed gratification. I also hear the absurd belief that poor people are lavishly living off the dole, purchasing TVs, addictive smartphones, and all the household appliances and gadgets they’ll ever need. The opprobrious calumnies and vitriolic mischaracterizations of the poor are so regnant, I think, and so vehement that I seriously doubt anyone can dare gainsay the existence of widespread “poor bashing”(a pastime even enjoyed by poor people-go figure), but I could be wrong.

Poor hating is reflected in state policies. Several states passed mandatory drug- testing: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah. The belief, predicated on thoughtless stereotyping, is that a significant number of welfare recipients are squandering taxpayers’ money on drugs- the bastards! You see-facts are meaningless, even vexing for some, when the purpose is simply to inconvenience and mortify a marginalized group, people that who don't possess the political support and economic clout required to mount any viable push back. In many studies, the specious belief that welfare recipients are prone to drug use has been soundly disproven. Well, if you're skeptical of these studies, we need to see how many drug abusers these states were able to ferret out from the dark as a result of their draconian drug-testing policies.

In all these states, there hasn’t been any proof that a significant number of welfare recipients are abusing narcotics. Statistically, welfare recipients, contrary to popular belief- tested positive at lower rates than the general population. Mandatory drug testing, if anything, has irony: the sole purpose of the laws is to save taxpayers money. Those who tested positive would be legally denied their benefits and, in some states, be required to undergo drug treatment. These laws were also implemented, I believe, to further erode support from government programs by proving them wasteful; however, humiliating poor people, forcing them to urinate in cups, is, after all, expensive, costing taxpayers, say, a “pretty penny”. Discrimination, as always, comes with a price. The costs of drug testing, considering the paltry number of people caught, are staggering. For example, Missouri spent $336,297 to drug-test the state’s destitute. There were 38,970 recipients tested, and 48 people tested positive. In Arizona, a state known for not being the most hospitable place for brown people, started drug-testing welfare recipients in 2010, testing 142,424 welfare recipients, but only three- yes 3- people tested positive.

Why do so many individuals subscribe to such nonsense even when there is ample evidence to the contrary? Here's why: people are more inclined to give credence to anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence, in a nutshell, is proof formed by one’s personal experiences or by stories from other people. Humans are wired to seek and notice patterns. There are, of course, people suffering from drug addiction in every group; consequently, it’s unsurprising many welfare recipients use drugs. This is a nation with a population over 300 million, and thus neither you nor I know every person in any respective group, and neither you nor I can fairly or accurately categorize a group by using our limited and, I have to say- biased personal experiences. Hence, for this reason, empirical proof is indeed indispensable, for it enables us to escape the confines of our little bubbles, enabling us to perceive our world as it is, an exceedingly nuanced and complicated place.

Furthermore, if supporters of drug-testing welfare recipients are concerned about taxpayers’ money being misused, then, for the sake of impartiality, they should agree requiring all recipients of federal and state dollars to be drug tested. Wouldn’t that be fair? College students receiving federal loans, homeowners receiving FHA loans, business owners receiving federal grants all have to be peeing in a cup in order to qualify for assistance. What? They shouldn’t need to be drug- tested since most of them are working-you say? No, I can make the same argument-perhaps a more interesting and thoughtful one- used to justify drug- testing welfare recipients.

The primary reason for drug testing welfare recipients is to deter the procurement of illicit drugs with tax dollars. If a college student is receiving federal and state loans, and is getting stoned every night, we can reasonably contend that his habit is, on some level, being subsidized by government financial aid, for he can use his own money towards his education instead of “blazing”. Any government aid, small or large-using compulsory drug-testing supporters’ logic, can be use to subsidize drug habits, so wouldn’t testing everyone receiving government aid be logical? Of course, it would.

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    • Earl Warren profile image

      Warren Parker 2 years ago from North Bergen, New Jersey

      Trust me, I see your point, RJ. I focused , as you know, exclusively on drug testing recipients. Yes, welfare and other social programs are theoretically there to help those in need in order for them to get their lives in order. Now, there are many reasons why some people are dependent on welfare. I don't know if shaming people on the dole is needed, for that's kicking people while there down. I think I need to talk more in detail regarding the complicated reasons why people are dependent. However, regarding drug-testing recipients, there's ample proof, some I cited in my post, that welfare recipients aren't prone to drug use, and since there's no proof a problem, then drug testing has, in of itself, no merit. What do you think?

    • RJ Schwartz profile image

      Ralph Schwartz 2 years ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

      You do bring up a myriad of topics, of which many could be engaged by a conscious reader and further elaborated on, creating multiple new threads, however for the sake of time and space, I'll only comment on a portion of those. I do believe in testing, not so much as to determine substance abuse, but to create a sense of shame in the recipients. Also, proof of citizenship, not a Green Card or Guest Worker visa, but actual citizenship. It does sound horrid of me to take such a harsh stand, but allow me a few lines to defend the position.

      Social programs were designed to help American citizens in times of duress and not to be a source of long-term income. In the days before the massive abuse we see now, people didn't have the luxury of using a debit card for food benefits instead using old fashioned paper food stamps. I saw the faces of those people as they shopped late at night and the embarrassment they had in utilizing assistance. That shame drove them to find a way to get off the programs and most did, eventually seeing the short term benefit as a teachable moment that they never forgot. Today, people don't care, so in order to make them care it needs to be either embarrassing or difficult to stay on assistance unless you really need it. The genuine benefactors will just do whatever it takes since that's their only choice.

      No hate, just a vision to motivate.