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Who's on Welfare?

Updated on June 3, 2012

The Real Faces of Welfare

Meet Sandra*, she’s exhausted chasing after four kids every day but still she has agreed to meet with me. I want to know what it’s really like to be a full time student, mother of four, and welfare recipient. Sandra never imagined she’d end up like this, not eight years ago while living a comfortable middle-class life with her husband and high-school sweetheart. But when Sandra discovered her only love was cheating on her, she couldn’t stay by his side; she had to leave.

It took more than emotional strength to summon this departure. Sandra has succumbed to years of poverty as she struggles to pay sky-high rent, care for kids, and get through school. Still, her face is fresh and she always wears a smile, even while detailing me the horrors of a program instituted to help. The government’s goal is unarguably to have the least amount of people on state welfare, in order to help achieve this, the government has implemented evasive processes to deter applicants. For women applicants the concern is they have a man in the house, to check for men- and anything else- random searches are conducted. These “night-raids,” as described by Sandra, include a group of men marching through her home, opening all of her drawers and flipping through her most personal items. All the while her and the children stand back watching as their tiny apartment loses all sense of privacy.

This loss of privacy doesn’t even earn Sandra enough money to survive on. When real living expenses are calculated, welfare doesn’t come close to covering it. Not that Sandra wants to complain, it’s great the government is giving anyone anything, but she feels it would be better suited if the government gave a larger amount of money each month for a shorter amount of time, thus allowing one the chance to get ahead instead of always remaining behind, only to fall flat on the floor once welfare is cut off.

Sandra is not alone in her struggles, ¾ of all single parents are in poverty.

14% of our Federal budget went to social welfare programs in 2011, a sure sign that too many people are without job availability. Although there is a small percentage of people who chose not to work and enjoy a welfare lifestyle, the majority do not feel favorably about being on welfare. They would do anything to have a job, to stand on their own two feet, to not be trapped in a system of constant control. Paying with food stamps is overwhelmingly admitted as embarrassing and comments are commonly uttered about food selections.

What the Shame of Welfare Earns

The nicer the area you live in, the nicer your welfare office will be. Location regardless, the lines are long and the seats are few. The room is packed tight with kids crying from their strollers, the adults yawn into their hands, their eyes blurred with worry. Entire days are spent waiting, often only ending in a missed signature or forgotten piece of paperwork causing the same process to be duplicated the following day. If able to jump through the paperwork hoops and pass the rigorous inspections one can expect approximately $762 in cash aid, $400 from food stamps, and $50 for transportation. Realistically, in most parts of the US, this is not enough money to live on. Keep in mind these numbers are averaged off of a random sample of San Diego welfare recipients, where living expenses are quite high. Also, if one receives any sort of child support it is now redirected to the State who takes the majority of this money as “repayment” for welfare. Welfare requires beneficiaries to work; often causing them to spend their entire checks on travel and babysitting just to go to the dead-end job welfare insists they maintain. Better suited to their future and our society would be requiring educational programs or speciataly schools so that a good paying job will be within reach once welfare is cut off.

Reality vs. Media Buzz

Hardly ever does the media shine light on the real faces of welfare. Instead we see the random cases of outright financial abuse such as “Octomom” or the latest lottery winner still collecting her food stamps while paying two mortgages. These images are not the norm and only put distance between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s,’ hosting the perfect environment for blame and hostility. We truly believe that those who work hard make it and those who don’t deserve their ill fate. While in some cases this is surely true, there is an entire sect of society that is not given the same opportunities, are set back by so many adversities they can’t find their footing. Due to the negative light we view poverty in, and the fact our policy makers are rich and often biased towards the poor, it’s natural that the welfare system is not a caring sort of place; it’s biased in thinking welfare recipients are faulty or ‘less-than’ in some way. The repercussions of this are devastating for individuals forever caught in the web of poverty. Of course for those who unexpectedly end up on the system but have human capital, welfare can be a tool to success. Take Sandra for example, although it’s been a tight crunch her previously obtained capital and family resources have given her the ability to utilize welfare, get through school, and now, about to graduate, she has a great job lined up. As a soon-to-be tax-paying citizen, Sandra can now gladly pay her dues as a productive economic player.

Sandra uncovered through her own research that college was an acceptable activity, in place of work. When she presented this to her caseworker she was told this route was not something they promoted- to save money- but since she had brought it up they would allow her to do so. Without having the resources to find this knowledge Sandra wouldn’t be heading in such a positive direction. Instead she’d be scuffling to figure out how to make it on minimum wage once welfare cut off. It’s adamant that we promote education; even if it costs our system more in the short it will save us buckets of cash in the future.

*Names have been changed


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    • Romanian profile image

      Nicu 3 years ago from Oradea, Romania

      Some people deserve the welfare, and some don't.

    • J Elaine profile image

      J Elaine 5 years ago from Northern Minnesota

      Interesting hub. It reaffirms my pet peeve about where all the social services money goes. It goes to the public employees and their unions and very little goes to the actual recipients who need it. I also agree with American Romance that this story is by far the exception rather than the rule.

      I myself was raised in poverty and got married and had kids very young. I went to college paid for by pell and state grants, went to work and vastly improved my family's lifestyle. However, while I used my government assistance the way it was intended, I observed many others who abused it. They're called professional students.

      People need to remember that the government doesn't do anything well. The less they rely on it the better off they will be.

    • Becky Bruce profile image

      Becky Bruce 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Claire, I'm glad I wrote this hub, you can completely relate with women situated like Sandra. It's so true, poor people are continually discredited, mistrusted, and blamed for their own plight while for the most part it's the system, uncontrollable factors and/or ones life chances that parachute them into poverty. If we continue to discriminate against these oppressed groups we won't be able to address the real issues and solve these pressing social problems. No one wants to be poor, take a look at our popular media and you can see this!

    • Becky Bruce profile image

      Becky Bruce 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Although our view points are 100% opposite, I do actually understand where you are coming from. It's scary to think you work so hard and others, who you think do not, get a portion of it. I'm sure you'd rather save your money for your kids (if you have any) or buy yourself a new car! But in order for capitalism to operate, poverty and unemployment is a must, making it a guaranteed cost in your taxes. I too agree it's unfair but who to blame? The people on welfare? Who are struggling in ways most middle class can't relate to, working back-breaking jobs that only pay for the bus fair and child care.

      Sure it'd be nice if they could have had an education, had parents with money and the resources to raise them right but many don't. And right now there are simply far too few jobs to support all needy families. Maybe you don't know what's like to have the rug ripped out under your feet but millions of Americans, especially in an economic downturn as we are in now, do; as they well know, you can never plan for everything.

      You are quick to deny 'night raids,' do you have back up for this? I'm just curious because I have done a lot of research on the system (my own qualitative ethnography plus much scholarly reading) and night raids are a very real thing experienced by many. Of course if one does not wish to let these inspectors in they can say no but with this lack of compliance comes a loss of their welfare check.

      The welfare system is dependent on the reproduction of poverty, as long as we continue to allow so many families to reside in poverty with the worst schools and least resources, poverty will continue and so will your donations to welfare. The struggle to get out of poverty is extremely hard, undermined by the few success stories we hear and assume occur often. Instead of hating on the poor we must figure out ways to eliminate poverty, although welfare is necessary to keep many other social problems at bay, it is not the only solution. By blaming and demonizing the poor we fall short of being able to do this and therefore the poverty rates will continue to soar, as will the money needed to support them.

    • American Romance profile image

      American Romance 5 years ago from America

      Becky, 67 million on welfare and you tell me they don't want to be there? I do not believe a SMALL minority are abusing the system, I believe it to be the MAJORITY! I have witnessed so many many times folks paying with food stamps while their husbands stand behind them and then step up and pay for his beer and cigs with cash! I always think if you got money for that then you don't need mine for groceries! I see them get into nice cars etc! Do not be fooled by what you hear or some liberal study group talking about poverty! I realize a very few truly need it! Another thing! Politicians especially Democrats have NEVER tried to get people off of welfare! They need them and coddle them for votes! One last thing! No government has EVER walked through someones home at night going through their drawers without a search warrant! CNN would be at her home in the morning! Obama would say we must change laws to make it easier for folks to get on welfare! blah blah blah!...........Now to the real issue! Why in the hell did this women have 4 kids before getting an education and skills in case her husband was killed in a car wreck or left her at some point! American people today do not plan! They do not think!..............and now I am left to have my hard earned money stolen by government because they deam her needy!

    • clairemy profile image

      Claire 5 years ago

      Well Becky, you have highlighted what is a terrible problem not only in America but I can assure you also in the UK. Having been a single mum and forced into the poverty trap at one point it really is not easy to get out and poor people are often viewed as "nothing" even when it is not their own fault.Welfare can be a good starting point to get back on your feet providing you can get through all the form filling and bureaucracy