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.

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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:

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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.

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The work experience conundrum

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This pretty much perfectly encapsulates the job market for a new grad. When I graduated college the first time, it was at the very beginning of the ’08 recession. The market was literally flooded with overqualified applicants, so it didn’t really bother me that I didn’t get much attention from the places at which I applied. Well, I mean, it did bother me, but at least I understood why I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Flash forward to the present. People who regularly follow this blog know that I am again a new grad, this time with a degree in nursing. We’re no longer in a recession; the economy has been experiencing growth for awhile now. And with the projected shortage in nursing that’s coming up coupled with the retirement of the baby boomers, all I’ve ever been told is that nursing will be the most in demand field for next 20 years or so.

Well you could have fooled me.

I’m still plagued by this whole ‘experience’ bullshit. How exactly is a new grad supposed to get work when even the most basic of nursing jobs requires 2-5 years experience? Do these places not realize how ridiculous that is? Sure, there are new grad residency programs in a lot of hospital systems, but you’ll typically get thousands of people competing for literally probably 20 positions total. That’s not exactly an efficient system.

And the stupidest part of this is that places do indeed need nurses like crazy. I can comb indeed.com, Craigslist, or the employment section of any professional nursing organization and there are listings and openings up the wazoo…if you already have 5 years of field experience. Let’s look at an example, shall we? This is a real life job listing for a part-time telephone advice nurse. Now let’s take a look at the qualifications. These are the MINIMUM qualifications:

  • Current, unencumbered Oregon RN license
  • Current unencumbered Washington RN license or must obtain within 6 months of hire
  • Must obtain other required nursing state licensures within 6 months
  • Minimum 3 years acute care nursing experience as an RN

Right off the bat, I need to have a minimum of 3 years acute care experience to work in an outpatient clinic. Part time. Doing nothing but talking to people on the phone. Do you know how much assessment you do over the phone in acute care? A BIG FUCKING ZERO. So why is this a requirement? And I also have to be dual licensed in two states, which is easy, but it isn’t cheap. But that’s not even the best part! Here are the “preferred” qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing
  • Five years nursing experience as an RN
  • Ambulatory Nursing Certification

I do happen to have a Bachelor’s in nursing. But FIVE YEARS experience as an RN. And certification as an ambulatory nurse? That’s a looooot of time and work for a part time telephone advice job. How would I know this? Because I spent a six month practicum at a primary care clinic, probably not at all dissimilar to the one in this job posting, and one of my duties was phone triage. And would you like to know what the job entails?

Reading from a binder.

That’s right. The RN at the end of that telephone isn’t using years and years of vast experience and knowledge to from-the-hip triage the people who call in. They’re reading straight out of a decision tree developed as part of a clinical triage protocol. There are protocols and decision trees for pregnant women, pediatrics, adults, geriatrics–you name it and there’s a clinical triage tree for it. All one has to do is ask the questions and follow the tree and you either a) give the client the home care advice at the bottom of the page, b) schedule an appointment for them with their provider, or c) tell them to go to the ER or an urgent care.

Someone with limited to no medical training could probably do this job. Yet I need to have 3-5 years experience, possess TWO licenses, AND be a certified ambulatory nurse? Give me a fucking break. And this is but one job posting. There are countless others similar to this. And I honestly do not get it. I’m not looking for supervisory or managerial positions. I’m not looking to do something highly specialized, like oncology (it takes literally years to get cleared to work with chemotherapy drugs) or helicopter flight nursing. Just a basic, entry level job. I’m fine starting at the bottom of the ladder. I get that. I’m cool with that. But there literally is no more bottom rung of the ladder.

It’s like someone took all of the rungs off the ladder except for the top one, so no matter how high I jump I’ll never reach it. Why? That’s what’s bugging me most. I went through an entire program specifically designed to make it so that I could provide basic nursing care in any setting. I passed an exam that certifies I would practice safely in any setting, and that I have the clinical judgment and critical thinking necessary to do these jobs. So what gives?

Quite simply, in the 21st century, employers aren’t interested in investing in their employees anymore. That’s the only thing I can think of. Money. When someone leaves a position or retires, companies would rather clone that person than take the time and money to help train a new employee. Rather than take someone who has the foundations to be a good employee, companies just want to skip all of that time and money and find someone who is a carbon copy of the old employee, experience and skills included. Which is a really shitty business model, because it only allows for horizontal hiring. Eventually they’ll have to hire a new grad. But until then, anyone who just graduated can expect the same stonewall over and over again:

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