Thursday, September 11, 2008

Welfare Heiresses

One further thought from reading Jason DeParle's American Dream.

Welfare policy makers, and the vast majority of American taxpayers, look on welfare as charity to women who are temporarily unable to support themselves. DeParle's account makes clear, though, that the women receiving welfare did not think they were getting charity. They thought of themselves as survivors and workers, even if most of the problems they survived were of their own making and the work they did was very intermittent and unreported. They viewed welfare as a pot of money that they could use now. They didn't think about whether they were entitled to it, or had done anything to deserve, or whether, if they didn't really need it, it should better go to someone else or back to the taxpayers.

The attitude of the welfare recipients DeParle studied, in other words, was like the attitude of heiresses toward their trust funds. The money was just there; they didn't think about why. So they spent it.

5 comments:

nick.carraway said...

On an anecdotal basis, my girlfriend is a case worker with the Warren County (OH) Metropolitan Housing Authority. She runs a program that sets up an escrow account to match any income produced by those in the program. Those in the program are required to follow guidelines (make social/economic progress) in order to be entitled to that account. From what I can recall, the success rate in her program is less than 10%, and we're talking tends of thousands of dollars that are available to these participants. The common complaint is that they had to work too hard to catch that carrot at the end of the stick where the carrot is a down payment on a house, reliable transportation, etc.

On the flip side, I work at a parochial high school in an affluent district. The sense of entitlement (I deserve an A, or at least a passing grade) is pervasive; especially to the ones who haven't worked for it.

Tell all of those researchers (Thayer, etc.) to find that disappearing working class along with the protestant work ethic please.

Mike Mather said...

Let's not only talk about the folks who receive welfare who you don't know (but have read about). Let's talk also about the ones you do know. Name them. You have an awful lot there in Kentucky. Have you talked with them -- rural and urban? My sense is from reading history that every generation feels like the current one has lost a sense of the good old fashioned work ethic. I recall reading W.E.B. Dubois who argued about how slothful and lousy the generation coming up behind him was -- the generation of our grandparents and great grandparents. The one many revere as the greatest generation. Last Sunday the preacher, Rachel, at our church spoke on the biblical text about working on the log in your own eye before picking at the speck in someone else's. It's a tough lesson for me, too.

Gruntled said...

I do believe in generations, but I believe in classes more. I think in every generation there are people with a strong work ethic, and those without. The latter are likely to be poor. If they start out rich, but with a sense that they are entitled to success without work, they are likely to become downwardly mobile.

Mike Mather said...

That's an interesting perspective. I wonder what an academic might say to the idea that those held in slavery didn't work very hard. Seemed like there were an awful lot of hard working poor people (gosh, I could be wrong though). But I suppose one could argue that this was only true during that time period. Perhaps there was a historical anomaly during that period and ever since then the only truly successful (not poor) people are those who work hard. I've got to say that's some pretty interesting analysis. How many poor people do you actually know (by name)?

Mike Mather said...

All this pasting about welfare and nothing about the welfare being handed out to the financial industry very soon? I guess those folks are getting too much money to take a shot at. That's the problem with folks on welfare. They just don't get enough money from the government.