- Politics and Social Issues
How Welfare Reform Is Completely Hypocritical
There is an incredible amount of hypocrisy in reforming the welfare system. Welfare reform actually does little to benefit society. When it comes to helping the people on welfare it is even less beneficial. Unfortunately, so many Americans-including liberals-embrace welfare reform. (According to a 2012 Rasmussen Reports poll, 83% of Americans including 46% of Democrats favor a work requirement for receiving benefits. [A work requirement means that they have to find work within a certain time frame, and demonstrate that they are searching for work while receiving benefits.]) The degree to which Congress and many of the states have worked so hard to achieve so little suggests an underlying hatred against the poor. They found a way to dump on the poor disguised as a means of serving a public policy interest: deficit reduction and helping welfare recipients escape dependency.
Welfare reform has been an ongoing political campaign theme and politicians have frequently tried new ways of reforming the system. They know they can obtain votes by giving people the impression that they have stopped vast numbers of lazy individuals from draining Uncle Sam’s treasury dry. These politicians know that most voters are not going to look at the real number of dollars that are being saved by welfare reform,or notice that their taxes have not been reduced after new welfare reform policies have been implemented.
Let’s take a look at the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 in more detail. A core part of this act is cutting school lunch programs as a way to end dependency. The idea is that cutting benefits to children will ensure that they work harder so that they will not become dependent on the system after they grow up. Additionally, cutting off these school lunch programs is a way to make parents go out and work. They would, therefore, end dependency and cut federal government spending.
How exactly is cutting school lunch programs going to make our children grow up to be self-sufficient and successful? Nixon had implemented school lunch programs just before the sentiment for welfare reform took a major swing, saying that students could not learn when they are hungry. Study after study not only backed up Mr. Nixon’s contention, but has also shown that students perform better on IQ tests when they are sufficiently fed.
Doesn't learning and having a high IQ help prevent dependency? For a lot of jobs these days you need at least a college education. Having a high IQ and being able to learn sufficiently might be major factors in getting admitted to a college and then completing your degree. Someone with a low IQ, on the other hand, might have trouble finding basic work. It seems unlikely that losing their school lunch would make someone want to find work so much that it would more than compensate for their lack of education and low IQ.
Cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will deprive children of the only alternative to school lunches. They may no longer receive any nutritious food whatsoever. Congress is doing this all to save a meager $4 billion a year. Forty-seven million Americans, however, are dependent on SNAP.
Parents of these children will also be deprived of all nutritious food. If parents are hungry they may not be able to think straight. That means they may not be able to help their children with their schoolwork or make sound decisions for their children. Then they might take out their anger on their kids too.
The recent movie A Place At The Table pointed out that when families have little money and no assistance they can only turn to junk food, because that is the cheapest food there is. Not only do foods such as candy and potato chips inadequately nourish parents and children, but they contribute to health problems including diabetes and heart disease.
Now the supporters of welfare reform say that they are promoting family values. New Gingrich, after all, always spoke of family values and welfare reform. He would talk about how generous handouts had torn apart the family.
It is, however, pretty hard to see the connection between welfare reform and family values. Parents are forced into working 12 hours a day in minimum wage jobs. If parents are at work all the time it becomes even more difficult to nurture, spend time with their children or help them with their homework. This inability to receive love and care from a child’s parents is not helping the child’s education or instilling confidence in them so that they can obtain a good job after they have reached adulthood.
The logic that these politicians espouse is that cutting someone’s welfare benefits will make other family members care for this person. What happens if there is no one in the family who can support them? Does the cost of supporting indigent family members not exceed the costs of each individual taxpayer in supporting these family members? It could cost an individual thousands of dollars to support just one family member. The costs of the welfare system are actually small. In 1996, only $22 billion was spent on welfare, compared with $243 billion that was spent on defense alone that year. Welfare reform has saved a meager $11 million. When you divide the costs of supporting every individual on welfare by the number of taxpayers each taxpayer’s cost in supporting the entire welfare system becomes tiny. Having to support a bankrupt family, however, could make many individuals bankrupt themselves. Think about how many family feuds could start within a family that once had a strong amiable relationship.
Welfare reformers seem to think that cutting benefits strengthens altruism. The idea that it makes family members care more about one another is the prime example to them. Of course they are not thinking of how conflicts from having to support someone could make family members less concerned about one another in the long term. Alternatively, they may think that neighbors will come together to help other people in the community more. What they are really saying is that someone needs either to be a member of your family or else live in your community for you to care about them. Christians who favor cutting welfare might want to consider Biblical scripture saying that we are “all God’s children” and that we are all, therefore, brother and sister in God’s eyes. Having a welfare system in fact contributes to people caring about individuals outside their family and community.
Now remember that Newt Gingrich had talked about welfare talking apart the family. He was, however, ready to allow his welfare reform proposals to further break up families. When he became House Speaker in 1995, he talked about having orphanages for the children of parents who could not move off welfare. He talked about doing this even though he frequently talked about family values at the same time. Not only would putting children into an orphanage separate children from their parents, the antithesis of family values, but public policy analysts concluded that funding these state run orphanages would actually cost more than maintaining the current welfare system. So Mr. Gingrich was willing to spend more money to break up families.
Politicians, furthermore, have shown extreme reluctance to spend more than the cost of the current welfare system to move people off of welfare while holding their families together. The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 is a prime example. Rather than expanding school lunch programs they cut school lunch programs. Spending more money on education might have helped children on welfare land good jobs as adults. More college grants and loans could break current and future generations from dependency. They have only minimally funded job training programs to help people land minimum-wage jobs. These politicians have, furthermore, done little to fund day care centers for parents to leave their kids when they go to work. So they are clearly not trying to reform welfare out of the interests of its recipients. They simply want to cut spending to these people, even though the costs of welfare are small.
Similarly, such politicians do not want to increase the minimum wage. Right now the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour under federal law. Full-time minimum wage earners make about $15,000 a year. That makes it extremely difficult for a single parent to support even one child. A significant number of people on welfare are people who would only qualify for minimum wage jobs, because many of them have only a high school education. Many people may in fact be on welfare because they cannot find a job that will provide them with sustainable income. They may want to work, but they cannot support themselves or their family on $15,000 a year.
According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, raising the minimum wage to $16.31 per hour would allow these people to work and afford a two-bedroom apartment without any assistance. A lot of people might then voluntarily move from welfare into work. That is just one benefit of raising the minimum wage. The jobs many economists believe increasing the minimum wage would create could allow even more welfare recipients to find work. Rather, the sentiment is to force welfare recipients into minimum wage jobs, while leaving the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour.
Why are so many politicians, including many Democrats, aggressively pushing for measures that are of small benefit but cause significant harm? As I have said before, they can give voters the illusion that they are cutting spending and reducing taxes, even though these same politicians support much more expensive and unnecessary programs. We now have an annual defense budget of approximately $700 billion, for instance, even though we have a bigger military than the rest of the world combined. It is, however, easier to kick around welfare recipients. They may not vote. The ones who do vote may be inclined to vote Democratic. Republicans may, therefore, think that welfare beneficiaries would not vote for them anyway, so they have no votes to lose by gutting such beneficiaries. Democrats, in a similar manner, may think that harming welfare recipients is not going to make them vote Republican. Such Democrats may think that there are only a few people on welfare who might have voted for them but stayed home instead.
Additionally, the calls for welfare reform suggest a hatred in society for people who are not working. Many people are angry that other people do not have to work. They become even angrier when they have to pay money, no matter how small, to these people. Then there are racial overtures to welfare reform. A slightly higher percentage of welfare recipients are black. Many people might believe there are a lot more black welfare recipients than white ones. This hatred can create major calls for actions that have little or no benefit. This intolerance for welfare recipients is similar to the intolerance for gay marriage. Gay marriage would not harm anyone, but masses of people fought feverishly to stop this type of marriage. Politicians know they can receive a lot of votes by tapping into such hatreds.
You can make the argument that big business thought they had something to gain by reforming welfare. The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 provided incentives for businesses to hire people coming off welfare. Not raising the minimum wage may have also related to the influence of big business. These gains to big business of course would not help out society.
Involuntarily pushing people into work and giving businesses incentives to hire these people could even become a detriment to society, or at least certain individuals not on welfare. A business might fire someone and replace them with an individual just off welfare because it is more beneficial to the business to hire this person than keep the old employee. Pushing people into the job search creates more competition for people unemployed who want to work. Welfare reform might sound good because you think it will save tax money. It, however, could cost you your job and then make it impossible for you to find new work. Would you rather pay more in taxes or lose your job?
Then you have to factor in how well people forced into work would perform their jobs. If someone does not do their job properly, coworkers will have to compensate for the slack. Society could also be harmed from defective products, accidents and health violations because of people who do not value their work.
A Place At the Table, directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush (2012; Los Angeles, CA : Participant Media)
Cassata, Donna “APPROPRIATIONS: Clinton Accepts Defense Bill In Bid for Bosnia Funds.” CQ Weekly (December 2, 1995): 3672. . http://www.cqpress.com/.
Cooper, David. “The Case for Raising the Minimum Wage: If we’re going to live in one unified America, we need an economy that works for all Americans,” U.S. News, May 10, 2013, http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/05/10/raising-the-minimum-wage-will-reduce-income-inequality
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed (New York: Holt Paperback, 2008).
Luhby, Tami. “Welfare Spending Cut In Half Since Reform,” CNN, August 9, 2012,
Nathaniel, Jerome. "Food Stamp Cuts 2013 We're Missing The Point About SNAP," Policy Mic, September 23, 2013, http://www.policymic.com/articles/64675/food-stamp-cuts-2013-we-re-missing-the-point-about-snap
"Poll: Most Americans Favor Work for Welfare Recipients," News Max, July 18, 2012, http://www.newsmax.com/US/Welfare-work-rasmussen-poll/2012/07/18/id/445765