Okay….Republicans swept into Washington in one of the biggest political polarity shifts in history. I worked for Democrats to keep that from happening, but ultimately it came as no surprise. Mistakes were made, Democratic blocks didn’t vote, historically this happens anyway, and an unpopular President was reflected onto his party.
My focus has shifted away from making cases for Democrats and toward how we make all of this work. My concerns, however, have not changed. One of several things that concerned me about Joni Ernst, for example, were her statements about welfare; sentiments that she shares nationally with a majority of Republican lawmakers.
Senator Ersnt campaigned saying: “We have fostered a generation of people that rely on the government to provide absolutely everything for them. It’s going to take a lot of education to get people out of that. It’s going to be very painful and we know that.”
And what evidence supports that statement that drew cheers from every conservative crowd?
There isn’t any. But it is repeated so often that it has become truth to many.
What is used a lot is a statistic that tells us that nearly half of America doesn’t pay taxes (“47%” according to Mitt Romney). The deduction they are making is that this represents the failure of welfare programs, and that if people don’t have to work, they won’t. It has become a cornerstone of modern Republican rhetoric; Republicans who are now in control of Capitol Hill and who will create (or remove) policy.
A more relevant deduction from 47% is the fact that too many people don’t make enough to pay taxes or they are unemployed. What it isn’t is a statistic showing lack of desire to work, or laziness. What it shows is that the balance of opportunity in America is out of whack.
Most working Americans have at some time or another taken some form of welfare, if just a temporary unemployment check, and most Americans who receive welfare will go back into the work force. Welfare (only 2% of the federal budget, excluding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), is not “wasted” tax money, either. Beyond the ethical fact that sustenance is being provided, every dollar goes back into the economy as cash exchanged for products; it is liquidity in the market.
In the micro-view: Among all households receiving food stamps, almost twice as many include at least one working adult as those that don’t. In other words, welfare does not discourage work; it simply supplements a wage that is inadequate to provide the essentials of living.
Furthermore, according to the Food Research and Action Center, only 56% of people eligible for food stamps nationwide actually claim the benefits they are eligible for.
Here’s a macro-view: According to UNICEF, nations with stronger social welfare programs report a smaller percentage of population living in poverty. Denmark, 2.4%; France, 7.5%, Norway, 13.4%; Canada, 14.9%; United Kingdom, 15.4%.
In the United States it is 22%. Social programs keep us relatively low when compared to world standards, but it still translates into more than 1 in 5 Americans living in poverty. In the richest, most powerful nation on earth, how is that possible?
I’ll tell you. It’s possible because 40% of everything is owned by only 1%.
And that is why welfare has existed since the Roman Empire to provide sustenance to those who ultimately provide sustenance to the ruling class. While we prefer to look away from our own socio-political inequities and pretend that there is no “Power Elite” in America, poverty is a bi-product of an economic engine that creates exhaust.
What we cannot ignore is that our “exhaust” is a human life with a family.
Senator Ernst, when you look at real numbers and not rhetoric, we are paying a small price to help those who have fallen through the cracks. And when you oppose living wages, how are you not exacerbating the problem and only increasing the pain that you believe they must endure?
Welfare should fall on our ledger as our privilege to provide, and not as our burden.