America’s problem with welfare

Well, folks, welfare is front and center in our national political discourse once again, and the image of the “welfare queen” is still burned into the collective retinas of a generation. The Trump administration’s latest budget is proof that the idea that welfare recipients are lazy scammers is thriving in conservative politics. They’ve proposed cuts to social programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), housing, etc.

This article and this article, from real RealClear Politics and Breitbart, both expound upon the virtues of slashing assistance programs and forcing able-bodied moochers to get back to work. That’s the rationale behind the administration’s proposals to cut $190 billion from SNAP alone over the next ten years. Mind you, this is the administration that wants to eliminate Meals on Wheels because there’s no financial return on investment.

But does this narrative that conservatives spin really ring true? As always, there are data we can look at.

According the US census for 2012, 21.3% of Americans received some form of government assistance that year. Those under the age of 18 were more likely than anyone to receive means-tested benefits than all other age groups. In an average month, 39.2 percent of children received some kind of benefit. The greedy little bastards.

Furthermore, 12.6 percent of people older 64 years or older received a benefit of some kind. Come on, granny–get a job, you lazy old bat!

Meanwhile, only 33.5% of unemployed people received some kind of benefit. Of people who aren’t considered part of the labor force (like retired folks, folks with disabilities, etc), only 25% received a benefit.

17.6% of part-time workers received benefits, and 6.7% of full time workers did as well. In other words, many of the people who receive assistance are already working. Or they can’t work, because they’re too old, too young, or disabled.

And for a lot of people and families who received a benefit, it really was temporary. Almost 2/3 (62.9%) of people participating in TANF did so for less than 12 months. And food stamps? Again, almost 2/3 (63.4%) of people used the program for less than 3 years. The majority of the people on these programs really do only use them temporarily, to get back on their feet. Most of the people who are “permanently” on welfare are the folks who really should be–the elderly and the disabled.

In fact, a recent study out of UC Berkeley highlights the fact that many people who receive government assistance do work, finding that over half (56%) of combined state and federal public assistance spending goes to working families.

the-high-public-cost-of-low-wages-table1

So what’s really going on here? As the study from Berkeley points out, the real problem with welfare in America isn’t laziness–it’s a lack of high paying jobs. Turns out that people who make a decent living don’t need government assistance, a fact that’s been lost on many big employers who let the taxpayers subsidize the low wages they pay their workers.

The real hourly wage of the median American worker has only increased 5% since 1979. And for the bottom 10% of workers, their real hourly wages have actually fallen 5% in the same time interval. There are entire industries in our economy where the pay is so low, close to half of the people working in them still need public assistance:

the-high-public-cost-of-low-wages-graph1

We spend literally billions of dollars every year on public assistance so that places like Burger King and Walmart don’t have to pay their employees a living wage.

But there is a group in America that receives billions of dollars in welfare every year who absolutely do not need it. Corporate America.

Corporations that turn hundreds of millions of dollars in profit every year receive subsidies to the tune of billions of dollars.

Nike has taken a little over $2 billion in government subsidies. Intel has taken $3.8 billion. Alcoa has taken $5.6 billion. And Boeing is the biggest welfare queen of them all, having taken over $13 billion in government subsidies. You can see the whole list here. The point is, we’ve given away hundreds of billions of dollars to companies turning immense profits. And for what? Apple, which is on the list, has taken almost $500 million in free government money and they have $230 BILLION stashed overseas.

If that doesn’t outrage you, but a single mom trying to feed her kids does, then there really is something profoundly wrong with America.

CorporateWelfare

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2 thoughts on “America’s problem with welfare

  1. Thanks for throwing light on this contentious issue, Ryan. We the 90 Percent are being hoodwinked by the One Percent and their enablers. When we fight among ourselves, they continue to reap all the benefits of our low-pay labor and indebtedness.

  2. I find that this information although true is also missing something much larger. What is often left out is income mobility and the rate, as it fluctuates with the economy, throughout a person’s lifespan. Hourly wage workers at the min wage is around 3 percent. Most are above this level. The age may vary but many of them have kids and about a third work part time. Also, many of them are college students and not in their chosen career path. I think what may be left out is the fact that as people grow up, then increase their income. That is the reason why most middle class and higher income levels are people much older than the rest of us. Not everyone makes it. Some people are stuck in poverty and that is very unfortunate. Also what is unfortunate is the use of this term called wealth. While many at the top earners have that wealth, they also usually have that vested or invested in companies or stock. If it weren’t for either of these, jobs would be lacking as well. Also, much of the top earner statistics come from household data, not individual incomes. Many of these households that may have a lot of this “wealth” come from various backgrounds. Even teachers live in households in the top ten percent. Construction workers. These are people that have spent a long time working and climbing the economic ladder.

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