Most Americans that have lived a middle-class life have no idea how people living in poverty negotiate their lives. There is a tendency to think of “the poor” in the abstract – groups of unwashed masses who live in inner cities or trailer parks. If we think of poor people as people at all, we think in terms of “slackers,” “losers,” “drop-outs” – people who don’t want to work.
These are the kind of people who, if they work at all, try to make it earning wages at jobs that most people worked as teenagers – retail sales clerks, working the counter at McDonald’s. These are not the kind of jobs that serious people take; people with plans who aim to go to college and move up in the world.
What you think about poor people and whether or not you believe we should help them probably boils down to your take on a single question: why don’t poor people (a.k.a people on benefits, collecting “welfare” and food stamps) work?
Your beliefs in regards to this are in no small way influenced by your social ecology (family, friends, and neighborhoods where you grew up) and your personal experiences. These traditional sources of knowledge are handed down as “common wisdom.” The kinds of things that your friends and family say about poor people are likely to have a greater influence over you than knowledge based on research and data.
What you think about “the poors” is probably also shaped by your political ideology. Whereas people who identify as liberal will often attribute poverty to social factors, like discrimination, those who identify with conservativism will often point to the choices (bad ones) that people make. Furthermore, they will argue that whereas unemployment among middle-class families fluctuates with the job market, poverty is shaped and fueled cultural forces – the “culture of poverty” that breeds bad behavior. The feeling here is that the poor could work if they wanted, but a culture of sloth combined with the social safety net coddles them and acts as a disincentive to work. A key data point they cite to support this belief is derived from the Census. Every year, the Census Bureau asks unemployed Americans why they’re not working. And traditionally, it is a small percentage of poor adults who say it’s because they can’t find employment.
Census figures, however, can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Taking the Census figures at face value, we should bear in mind a few lessons are in order. First, we need to think of poverty and unemployment as a function of history and social context. The recession changed poverty to some extent. More of the non-working poor now claim they cannot find a job than at any point in the past two decades. Given that there are three unemployed Americans for every job opening, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Second, the poor who choose not to work aren’t necessarily doing so out of laziness, but because they have other obligations: they’re trying to take care of relatives, they’re ill, or they’re attempting to make their way through school.
There are also big difference with regard to gender. Women are more likely than men to cite family reasons for not working; men are more likely to cite their inability to find a job (Weissman).
Setting aside those people who don’t work for a moment, now let’s take a look at the people who are working. Most of the poor who can work are working. The problem is they’re not making enough money to support themselves and their families. Fifty-seven percent of the families below the poverty line in the U.S. are working families, working at jobs that just don’t pay enough. They’re not teenagers and they’re not lazy; they do back-breaking and often thankless work ( after all, if every McDonald’s employee is a high school student, how can I buy a Big Mac at noon on a school day?)
Who are these people and what kind of work do they do? They are childcare workers, home healthcare workers, janitors, house cleaners, lawn-service workers, bus drivers, hospital aides, waitresses, nursing home employees, security guards, cafeteria workers and cashiers — and they’re the people who keep the rest of society humming along for everybody else.
For more than 30 years, politicians in the United States have worked to systematically undermine the poorest Americans with tax cuts for the wealthy and uncontrolled military spending. To do this, they pushed a narrative that the economy was being hurt by welfare slackers, unrestrained criminality, pregnant teens, affirmative action recipients, and illegal alien criminals. In our recent history, attacks on President Barak Obama fit seamlessly into these developments to the extent there is an appeal to the politics of fear and suspicion of “enemy others” that are “not like us.” Consequently, any attempts to fix social problems like poverty through responsible governance have been largely overthrown, both by politicians who employ cynical politics and by voters whose emotions have been captured by the process.
Columbia University sociologist Herb Gans argued in his 1995 book “The War Against the Poor” that the label “underclass,” a term that might be applied to a variety of people—working poor, welfare recipients, teenage mothers, drug addicts, and the homeless, reduced these groups into to a single condemned “untouchable” class. As a result, they became feared and despised by the rest of society.
This label, nonetheless, proved to be powerful and long-lasting; what is more, it transformed the individual’s experience of being in poverty into a spoiled identity marked by personal failing. On the policy front, any and all social welfare policies, especially those popularly referred to as “food stamps,” were stigmatized and rendered highly controversial in the United States.
The entrenchment of these negative stereotypes has helped political contrarians among others to call into question FDR’s legacy “Great Society” programs along with other civil rights era policies formulated during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Efforts among the political pundit class to criticize “welfare entitlements” have in recent years been vitriolic and relentless. Adding fuel to this fire is the echo chamber of social media, which circulates images that are similarly negative. Not to be overlooked, digital images serve as an additional powerful source of information that works to accelerate and disseminate resentment.
Reagan’s Welfare Queen
There is, however, no more significant figure than Ronald Reagan, who in the late 1970’s, during a period of significant economic adjustment, restructuring, and de-industrialization, managed to divert people’s attention away from larger macro-economic issues by exploiting white working class fears about the expansion of social welfare benefits.
The “Welfare Queen” of Reagan’s speeches was intended to provoke resentment and serve as an affront to the political philosophy of personal responsibility and rugged individualism espoused by working people, who were at that time experiencing considerable economic pain as a direct result of his administration’s economic policies. Relying on what social psychologists refer to as “narrative scripts,” Reagan’s 1976 campaign trail stump speech included the story of a woman from Chicago’s South Side arrested for welfare fraud. According to Reagan, “She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.” The story line proved to be extraordinarily effective for its ability to tap into entrenched race, class, and gender stereotypes dating back to the American Civil War about African American women (uncontrolled sexual appetites) and African-American work ethic (laziness).
Three falsehoods emerge from the “Welfare Queen” narrative: 1) most people living in poverty are women; 2) most people on public assistance are urban; 3) most people on public assistance are black. These narratives prevail today in spite of the fact that research and data tell a different story.
Who Is on Welfare?
The largest group of people who are presently living in poverty are white children followed by the elderly. And while black women represent more than one-third of the total number of women on welfare, data shows they account for only ten percent of the total number of welfare recipients.
In similar fashion, the urban vs. rural dichotomy is also not sustained. Rural people receive benefits in far greater numbers than urban people. And here again, most rural people receiving public assistance are white. These social dynamics are visually rendered in both the map and table below. The map below shows the geographic distribution of food stamp recipients in the United States (dark shaded states have more people collecting benefits), whereas the table illustrates the racial identification of food stamp (SNAP) recipients.
Let’s use an intersectional analysis to look at how race, social class, region, and education work together and tell us something about who is on welfare.
Black is Shorthand for Poor
What does poverty look like in America? Judging by how it’s portrayed in the media, it looks black.
That’s the conclusion of a new study by Bas W. van Doorn, a professor of political science at the College of Wooster, in Ohio, which examined 474 stories about poverty published in Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report between 1992 and 2010. In the images that ran alongside those stories in print, black people were overrepresented, appearing in a little more than half of the images, even though they made up only a quarter of people below the poverty line during that time span. Hispanic people, who account for 23 percent of America’s poor, were significantly under-represented in the images, appearing in 13.7 percent of them (Pinsker).
According to the USDA in their report for fiscal year 2013, 40% of aid recipients are white and 26% are black. While the food stamp program has one of the lowest rates of abuse than any other welfare program, many people find it easy to buy into the misconception that it’s the “lazy blacks” who account for the fraud woes of government assistance. Here again, the data above refute these narratives and common stereotypes.
How many people – be honest – are surprised to learn that the biggest recipients of federal poverty-reduction programs are working-class white people? This is a widely documented fact, even if it is not commonly understood. The question is – why is it not understood? What gets in the way of understanding this simple fact? Unfortunately, the answer is stereotypes and prejudices, which many people inherent when they buy into traditional sources of what they believe to be “common knowledge.” That this occurs testifies to the power of traditional narratives to help us fill in the gaps where our actual knowledge may be lacking. Consequently, even though blacks and Hispanics have substantially higher rates of poverty (and as a proportion of their respective social groups), whites receive the most benefits and populate the welfare rolls in higher numbers.
Unfortunately, the answer is stereotypes and prejudices, which many people inherent when they buy into traditional sources of what they believe to be “common knowledge.” That this occurs testifies to the power of traditional narratives to help us fill in the gaps where our actual knowledge may be lacking. Consequently, even though blacks and Hispanics have substantially higher rates of poverty (as a proportion of their respective social groups), whites receive the most benefits and populate the welfare rolls in higher numbers.
Consequently, even though blacks and Hispanics have substantially higher rates of poverty (and as a proportion of their social groups), whites receive the most benefits and populate the welfare rolls in higher numbers (see a new study published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).
One of the significant study findings in this case was that the numbers do not simply reflect the fact that there are more white people in the country; they demonstrate that the percentage of poor whites lifted out of poverty by government safety-net programs is substantially higher compared to others – 44 percent, compared to 35 percent of otherwise poor minorities ( CBPP study).
According to Isaac Shapiro, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (one of the report’s authors):
“There is a perception out there that the safety net is only for minorities. While it’s very important to minorities because they have higher poverty rates and face barriers that lead to lower earnings, it’s also quite important to whites, particularly the white working class.”
Research on Stereotypes of Poverty and Welfare
Researchers like Princeton Political Scientist Martin Gilens have documented how negative media portrayals of African Americans contribute to the perception that there are more blacks than whites who live in poverty and “take” benefits. A Feb 2015 incident in Brushton New York illustrates, however, that contrary to these stereotypes, the opposite case is often the reality. Police officers in Brushton arrested 30 people in connection with fraud. They were arrested for using their food stamp cards in a manner that was against the law. All were white.
Racial stereotypes not only harm the people they are intended to malign, such views also contribute to the under-estimating of the actual number of poor whites who live under these circumstances. Once entrenched, these narrative scripts can be particularly difficult to dislodge due to a phenomenon called “confirmation bias”(or confirmatory bias)–people incorporate the script into their belief systems and interpret all new information in such a way that merely confirms their pre-conceived beliefs. As a phenomenon, confirmation bias is demonstrated when decision makers actively seek out and assign greater emphasis to information/evidence that supports their beliefs, while they at the same time ignore evidence that contradicts or undermines those beliefs.
To prove the pernicious effect of Reagan’s stereotypical “Welfare Queen,” Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted an experiment. Gilliam constructed a series of television news stories about the impact of welfare reform that featured a woman named Rhonda Germaine.
In his report, Gilliam had this to say:
“One of the more controversial issues on the American domestic agenda is social welfare policy. The near unanimity surrounding the “Great Society” programs and policies of the mid-to-late 1960’s has given way to discord and dissonance. Conservative thinkers and politicians first launched attacks on the “welfare state” in the aftermath of the civil rights disturbances of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. While Barry Goldwater, George Wallace and Richard Nixon charted the course, Ronald Reagan encapsulated the white majority’s growing unease with the perceived expansion of the social welfare apparatus. In particular, Reagan was able to forge a successful top-down coalition between big business and disaffected white working-class voters. The intellectual core of the movement was a well-funded punditry class that offered a theoretical vision for the “New Right.”
While this perspective touched on the cornerstones of American political philosophy individualism and egalitarianism it also carried with it a heavy undercurrent of gender and racial politics. In the midst of this evolving political landscape on which new debates about welfare ensued, the news media played and continues to play a critical role in the public’s understanding of what “welfare” ought to be.
Utilizing a novel experimental design, I wanted to examine the impact of media portrayals of the “welfare queen” (Reagan’s iconic representation of the African-American welfare experience) on white people’s attitudes about welfare policy, race and gender. My assumption going into this study was that the notion of the welfare queen had taken on the status of common knowledge, or what is known as a “narrative script.”
The welfare queen script has two key components welfare recipients are disproportionately women, and women on welfare are disproportionately African-American.
What I discovered is that among white subjects, exposure to these script elements reduced support for various welfare programs, increased stereotyping of African-Americans, and heightened support for maintaining traditional gender roles. And these findings have implications both for the practice of journalism and the development of constructive relations across the lines of race and gender.”
Study participants, who differed on the basis of race and gender, were randomly assigned to one of four groups. Each group watched one of four different news stories. The first group watched the news story with Rhonda cast as a white woman. The second group saw a story that depicted Rhonda as an African-American woman. The third group watched the story without seeing a visual representation of Rhonda. The last group, a control group, did not watch any TV stories about welfare. At the end of the videotape, study participants were given a lengthy questionnaire that probed their political and social views.
1) The welfare queen script assumed the status of common knowledge. When white subjects were asked to recall what they had seen in the newscasts, nearly 80 percent of them accurately recalled the race of the African-American Rhonda; less than 50 percent recalled seeing the white Rhonda.
2) Subjects who recorded the most “liberal” views about gender roles turned out to express the most hostility to blacks after they were exposed to white Rhonda. In other words, gender-liberal white participants who were shown the image of the African American woman were more more likely to respond that they opposed welfare spending; they attributed “individuals” as the main cause of social problems and endorsed negative characterizations of African-Americans. This tendency was most pronounced among women respondents.
Social Welfare and Social Media
So now that we’ve looked at some research and data, take a look at the following video and see if you can pick up on the cultural stereotypes and narrative scripts that distinguish this v-logger’s thinking:
The next two images might be familiar to you, if only because they tend to occupy a constant presence on Facebook and other social media. The implication is (if you are “in” on the joke) is that poor people are living the high life and taking advantage of the system, while us poor dupes are working hard and paying for their easily acquired life style.
This logic is obviously reflected in the next two images: people who are not working/collecting benefits should not have smart phones. Yet this is odd thinking when we consider how helpful having a smart phone might be for someone waiting for an employer to call them for a job that would potentially get them OFF welfare. Likewise, the thought never seems to occur to people that welfare might have previously been employed; that prior to their job loss, they might have had sufficient resources that enabled them to own things like smart phones, cars, and nice clothing.
1) if you lose a job and apply for public assistance, you should sell any and all electronics and luxury goods you were fortunate enough to have possessed prior to your job loss
2) don’t dress/present yourself too well in public, since this demonstrates you don’t really need financial assistance
3) don’t dress to poorly, because this testifies to your general unworthiness and constitutes more proof that you shouldn’t be receiving welfare benefits
In other words, in order to be seen as a “good” poor person, you must divest yourself of all personal possessions (even if you acquired them when times were good), take care to look properly disheveled, but not too much. For it is only by walking this line that you can escape public judgment and ridicule.
Online shaming, however, easily gives way to real-life shaming. Many low-wage people and families often get dirty looks from their fellow shoppers for using food stamps in the checkout line (something that a lot of working people use when they are employed and just using the small supplement to help make ends meet) (Weerse).
iPhone Shaming is a Thing Now
Utah State Representative, Jason Chaffetz, recently told a CNN television reporter that Americans might have to decide between owning a smartphone and having health insurance. In other words, Americans are going to have to cut back on modern “luxuries” like a phone if they want to be able to afford health insurance. According to Chaffetz: “And so maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest that in their own healthcare.”
While Chaffetz was justifiably made fun of for his comparison (many people pointed out that a year’s worth of health care would roughly equal 23 iPhone 7 Pluses in price), he was articulating a commonly held belief – that poverty in the United States is the result of laziness, immorality, and irresponsibility. Here again, we see evidence of the traditional logic that if only people made better choices — if they worked harder, stayed in school, got married, didn’t have children they couldn’t afford, spent what money they had more wisely and saved more — then they wouldn’t be poor.
Chaffetz’s analogy isn’t too far off the mark from another analogy featured in a Fox News story, where anchor Stuart Varney talked about how “lucky” poor people are to have things like refrigerators.
This deeply entrenched belief that people wouldn’t be poor if only they would try harder and make better decisions not only characterizes the narrative that shapes public thinking and beliefs about poor people, we can see it influences the thinking of policy makers, who more than others should be yielding to research, data, and expert opinion if they are truly of a mindset that they want to solve problems.
This flawed thinking was, unfortunately, embedded deep within the logic of Bill Clinton’s 1996 signature welfare restructuring law – the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). It is the same logic that drives efforts to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, to drug-test people collecting SNAP benefits or unemployment insurance, and to prevent aid recipients from buying steak and lobster.
Theses images are not trivial. Because of their ubiquity and appeal to humor they serve as powerful framing mechanisms for non-critical ways of thinking about who is poor and deserving of help – the worthy poor – as opposed to people deemed not “poor enough” and thus not deserving of help. Although the images are not explicitly racialized (one might argue, however, that both the man and woman appear to be white), research like that conducted by Gilens and Gilliam demonstrates that any expressed agreement or support for sentiments like this are more reflective of “beliefs” that draw from gender/race/class stereotypes, and not understanding based on data derived from empirical research. The images don’t “inform,” but rather provoke and perpetuate resentment of disadvantaged groups.
Consequently, no matter what they do (or not do), no matter what they wear or eat, poor people in the United States are at the end of the day often treated like criminals. Why? Because if they themselves are to blame and not the system of capitalism that has a major impact on the structure of rewards and benefits in society, then no one has to change system. The system is working. It’s individual people who are to blame.
The Politics of Visibility
Working class people – people who are comparatively more successful than poor people and located slightly above them on the social class ladder – don’t get any of the government largesse that corporate shareholders get at places like Google and Boeing, or that wealthy people get. Their social status/social location makes it difficult for them to “see” and come into awareness of how wealthy people benefit enormously from capital gains, government subsidies, and arcane accounting maneuvers like carried interest on tax deductions. Consequently, because they can’t actually see these things (and aren’t typically motivated to look), they look for the things they CAN SEE – a poor person who is using an EBT card; a poor person getting free medication thanks to Medicaid and Obamacare. They see people getting FREE stuff when they are barely scraping by.
Put another way, the wealth and income benefits that the richest members of society have access to are largely INVISIBLE to most people. People getting government assistance, however, are highly VISIBLE and are thus much easier to judge. This is why they become a target for social wrath.
Jesuit Values and Social Justice
The values of St. Ignatius constitute a core part of the ethics and social identity at many Catholic universities in the United States (like Loyola). In keeping with these core values, social justice issues, which include issues of diversity and social inclusion, all comprise the moral stance of the university.singled out for focus and emphasis. Looking at the complex issues of race, gender, and social class – what sociologists refer to as an “intersectional” theoretical framework – are thus important. Course materials and lectures have demonstrated forthright engagement with these issues. My teaching practice, in this regard, aims to help students become attuned to the different ways social inequality and power shapes their understanding of their social world. As a social scientist, I primarily use data as a means by which to rigorously examine assumptions and representations of social identities and social facts. Throughout the
Looking at the complex issues of race, gender, and social class – what sociologists refer to as an “intersectional” theoretical framework – are thus important. Course materials and lectures have demonstrated forthright engagement with these issues. My teaching practice, in this regard, aims to help students become attuned to the different ways social inequality and power shapes their understanding of their social world. As a social scientist, I primarily use data as a means by which to rigorously examine assumptions and representations of social identities and social facts. Throughout the
My teaching practice, in this regard, aims to help students become attuned to the different ways social inequality and power shapes their understanding of their social world. As a social scientist, I emphasize the use of social statistics – data – as a means by which to rigorously examine assumptions and representations of social identities and social facts. Throughout the course, I have encouraged you to begin with self-identification (your subjective personal experience) as you develop your “sociological imagination.” The goal here is to probe deeper in an effort to learn about the social problems that constitute the fabric of our racially, ethnically, politically diverse, and increasingly divided society.
Information about Gilliam’s “Welfare Queen” experiment can be found in an article published by the author in Harvard University’s Nieman Report, which can be accessed here.
Read more about the Brushton New York arrests here.
The Washington Post article with data published by the CBPP study can be accessed here.
Article by Stephen Pimpare, “Laziness Isn’t Why Poor People Are Poor.” Pimpare is the author of “A People’s History of Poverty in America” and the forthcoming “Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens: Down and Out on the Silver Screen.” He teaches American politics and public policy at the University of New Hampshire.
Working-class whites, many of whom were drawn to Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, may find they will be particularly hard hit by the policies of the Trump administration and congressional Republicans (Shapiro). This includes the push to dismantle Obama’s health-care reform law (the Affordable Care Act) and changing the way food stamps and other programs for the poor are administered. The safety net, according to Shapiro, appears to be most at risk in states with a large share of working-class whites, including states like Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio that flipped votes to Trump in 2016.
“A missing element of the political conversation has been the degree to which government programs are important to the working class in general, and the white working class in particular,” Shapiro said. “Many of these programs could be the subject of dramatic cuts over the next year. Rather than helping the working class address their basic needs and escape from poverty, the potential political agenda is going to push precisely in the opposite direction.”
Overcoming Denial and Cognitive Dissonance
Many of you may be coming by a lot of this information for the first time. It is likely you have numerous years under your belt, where you believed things the data here clearly dispute. Given this, it is possible you may not be ready to give up those beliefs. In the scheme of things, you might weigh your personal opinions against the data and simply dismiss the data. If you do this, just know there are some very deep and powerful psychological reasons operating that may be preventing you from doing so. In this instance, the defense mechanism of “denial” is operating in conjunction with “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance, according to psychologists, is the resulting mental state of stress/discomfort that occurs when someone simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. Here, the pre-existing beliefs, ideas, and values become contradicted by the new information; to resolve the mental stress, the individual simply dismisses/denies the new information.
According to Stephen Pimpare, denial serves a few functions.
“First, it’s founded on the assumption that the United States is a land of opportunity, where upward mobility is readily available and hard work gets you ahead. We’ve recently taken to calling it grit. While grit may have ushered you up the socioeconomic ladder in the late 19th century, it’s no longer up to the task today. Rates of intergenerational income mobility are, in fact, higher in France, Spain, Germany, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and other countries in the world than they are here in the United States. And that mobility is in further decline here, an indicator of the falling fortunes not just of poor and low-income Americans, but of middle-class ones, too (Pimpare). To accept this as reality is to confront the unpleasant fact that myths of American exceptionalism are just that — myths — and many of us would fare better economically (and live longer, healthier lives, too) had we been born elsewhere. That cognitive dissonance is too much for too many of us, so we believe instead that people can overcome any obstacle if they would simply work hard enough (Pimpare).
Third — and conveniently, perhaps, for people like Chaffetz or House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) — this stubborn insistence that people could have more money or more health care if only they wanted them more absolves the government of having to intervene and use its power on their behalf. In this way of thinking, reducing access to subsidized health insurance isn’t cruel; it’s responsible, a form of tough love in which people are forced to make good choices instead of bad ones. This is both patronizing and, of course, a gross misreading of the actual outcome of laws like these” (Pimpare).
To conclude, Pimpare offers the following:
“There’s one final problem with these kinds of arguments, and that is the implication that we should be worried by the possibility of poor people buying the occasional steak, lottery ticket or, yes, even an iPhone. Set aside the fact that a better cut of meat may be more nutritious than a meal Chaffetz would approve of, or the fact that a smartphone may be your only access to email, job notices, benefit applications, school work and so on. Why do we begrudge people struggling to get by the occasional indulgence? Why do we so little value pleasure and joy? Why do we insist that if you are poor, you should also be miserable? Why do we require penitence?
Just because what Chaffetz is saying isn’t novel doesn’t mean it isn’t uninformed and dangerous. Chaffetz, Ryan and their compatriots offer us tough love without the love, made possible through their willful ignorance of (or utter disregard for) what life is actually like for so many Americans who do their very best against great odds and still, nonetheless, have little to show for it. Sometimes not even an iPhone.”
At the end of the day, there are a lot of different ways we might tackle poverty. The problem is, we can’t make any progress until the vast majority of people in society are willing to take a hard look at their thinking on the matter; they must be willing to give up many of the assumptions they have about who is poor and what kinds of choices they are making/not making. In short, they have to set aside these beliefs and prejudices that are not informed by data and research and begin to try to envision what the world feels like for families living in poverty every day.
How might your own thinking about social welfare benefits and poverty be shaped by traditional narratives and social media imagery? Do you think these sources of information exert a powerful influence in our society and impact our collective understanding of “who is poor” in the United States?
Were you surprised to learn that statistics document there are more white people that receive food stamps and other social welfare benefits than African Americans?
Do you trust poor people who ask you for money?
Do you think a smart phone is a luxury item or a necessity? Do you think it is conceivable that a poor person might own a smart phone because they cannot afford a computer & internet service?
Do poor people have to live completely destitute for you to have sympathy for their plights?
Why do you think it is that programs that benefit poor people (Food stamps/SNAP benefits) are referred to as “welfare,” but other programs that are similarly classified as public assistance are not thought of as “welfare.” This includes benefits like the home mortgage interest deduction, unemployment compensation, and the GI Bill. And what about other benefits that tax dollars pay for like capital gains tax write-offs and incentives and subsidies paid to corporations? Which of these categories of benefits do you imagine costs tax payers the most? Benefits for poor people or benefits paid to wealthy people? As for the latter, are these benefits not also a form of “welfare?”
Consider the following: Is it okay if a small number of “undeserving” folks cash in on, for example, a free lunch program, as long as not one child goes out to recess hungry? Or, do you not concern yourself with how many children lose access to food, as long as you can guarantee that not one single “undeserving” child gets a free meal? What is most important to you?
Why do you think people get upset about poor people receiving aid and benefits that are far less costly in terms of total dollars than, let’s say, other government programs, i.e. military spending, agriculture subsidies, and tax incentives for people and/or corporations? (see the list below)