How the “Welfare Queen” Myth is Hurting America

An Editorial

Don’t get me wrong, there are people out there who abuse our nation’s welfare system. My family once knew people who pleaded poverty to Uncle Sam yet managed to stay in a five-star hotel in Vegas.

The welfare queen myth, however, is that people like this are the majority of welfare recipients, or that most people on welfare somehow deserve to be poor because they are lazy/druggies/illegal. And because of this myth, influential groups like the Tea Party Movement and libertarians want to take a sledgehammer to the welfare system, and millions of middle-class Americans support them.

In a country where one in four children don’t get enough to eat every day, this is unacceptable. My mother recently took an eye-opening trip to southern California. She saw people living in houses that had wood boards where the windows should be, because the families inside couldn’t afford to replace the glass. She saw families living in the dirtiest, diviest hotel she had ever seen. Or next to the city dump. She went shopping in the local Vons, and had to go through a metal detector on the way in and out. She saw baby formula locked up next to the cigarettes and high-end booze.

That last sight really disturbed her. If someone is that desperately poor that they have to steal baby formula, she reasoned, why don’t you just let the mother have it? Are you really willing to let a baby starve and die for $20? Children don’t ask to be born in poverty.

Sadly, this is far from a southern California thing. In our hometown, there are people living in trailer parks because they can’t afford a house or apartment. And there are also plenty of homeless people who can’t even afford that.

Do all of these people deserve to be poor? Or even most of them? Too often we just say, “Get a job, you bum.” But jobs are really hard to come by right now. Whenever the place I work puts up a “Help Wanted” sign, we are inundated with job applications. And even when we don’t have that sign up, we still get at least two applications a week. This is for a minimum-wage job, mind you, in an area with an extremely high cost of living, where gasoline alone is above $4 a gallon.

We have this thing in our culture where we believe we are the land of opportunity, but for too many people opportunity will never knock, or if he does, people won’t realize it until it is too late. What nobody realizes is that, if anything, our society is actually designed to keep the poor down. You live from paycheck to paycheck, and if you run out of money in your bank account, they charge you massive overdraft fees. One person we know, when in a really bad stretch, pawned some of her jewelry and stuff over and over again, to pay her bills when her paychecks ran out, losing money each time. There are lending places that cater to people who need cash now to pay their bills, and charge exorbitant, loan-shark-level interest rates. And if you decide to just save all your money, be careful about what you purchase, and not take on any debt, you end up with no credit – which is just as bad as having bad credit when your washing machine breaks or you car engine dies.

Today, the best jobs require a college education, and with tuition rising, this only serves to divide the rich and poor even further. Sure, there are grants and scholarships, and plenty of them. But unless you are a star athlete or A+ student, the only thing most people can do is apply and cross their fingers. Because most of those receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants, and only a tiny few will win. I can speak from personal experience on that score.

Yet time and time again, we see people blaming the poor for being poor. One report from Fox News went so far as to claim Americans in poverty aren’t actually poor, by pointing out statistics like most of them have a refrigerator (which comes standard in almost every house and trailer in this country), a microwave (also standard in most places), a television (I know an unemployed guy on welfare who has a TV he got for free from someone who was going to throw it out; said friend has no cable), and a cell phone (yes, but many people today are having to choose between cell phones and landline phones, and will choose cell phones because of their utility).

I know people in places like China, India, and Africa are so impoverished that they would be thrilled to get any of those things. But this isn’t China, India, or Africa. This is the United States of America. Are you saying our poor should be as bad off as people in Third-World countries? If anything, we should be proud our country can provide so much to our worst-off citizens.

I know and understand that the biggest cause of our mounting debt crisis is the entitlements – Social Security, Medicare, and welfare. I recognize that to fix the debt crisis, these entitlements will have to be reformed. But you can’t just take away the only lifeline some families have and let children starve to death. I know Republicans oppose raising taxes on the rich, as President Obama wants to do, to ease the debt crisis and support these key programs. I get that they don’t want to punish the rich and hurt business in a time of recession. That said, Warren Buffet, the third-richest man in the world, wrote an article in favor of raising his own taxes and those of his multi-billionaire peers.

He said, “Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.”

People will read this editorial and call me a socialist. I’ve already discussed why this term is only offensive to Americans, but it seems these days “socialist” is a term of abuse for anyone who dares to actually care about the poor.

If that is your definition, then yes, I am a socialist. And as a devout Christian, I believe God demands we must all be socialists.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

“Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” Matthew 5:42

“It doesn’t seem right to take bread from the children and throw it to the dogs.” Matthew 15:26

There are millions of Americans who need our help. Are we really so callous and selfish that we won’t give to food banks, charities, or the Salvation Army? Are we so judgmental that we won’t stop and give some spare change to the homeless guy playing music on the street? Are we so proud that we won’t support our local homeless shelters?

It isn’t like we have to get rid of the welfare system entirely because a few people abuse it. Perhaps we could require welfare recipients to pass a drug test, so we know they won’t blow food stamps on drugs. And maybe we could put some sort of renewable time limit on it, like three and a half years – long enough to find a job or get some sort of vocational training at a community college.

The point is that we shouldn’t punish the nation’s poor for being poor. We should use the great resources available to us and give them a hand up. It is our duty as Americans and as fellow human beings.