Welfare, Just the Facts, Ma’am

New Orleans     Trump’s aides in trying to explain the president’s feelings about cutting away more of what is left of the safety net including food stamps and housing subsidies as well as his support for work requirements on those programs and Medicaid say that he calls them all “welfare,” a word that he sees as pejorative.  When the poor are nothing more than politics regardless of the policy, it’s worth remembering the true facts found on the ground.

Recently Professor Fred Brooks of the Georgia State University School of Social Work shared with me the results of a multi-city survey of welfare recipients in Georgia done in conjunction with the department of welfare there trying to understand their program’s impact on recipients.  His summary conclusions are valuable to share in these polarized times when facts are constantly in a fight with ideology.

Brooks summarizes four basic conclusions from his team’s survey:

  • They found most families remained poor even with employment. Although 60 percent of TANF leavers were employed in some fashion, average hourly wages were very modest. Of families with the parent employed, 52 percent remained below the federal poverty level.
  • Poverty rates fell dramatically when all forms of income and safety net benefits, such as food stamps and Section 8 housing vouchers, were counted as income. Calculated this way, the percentage of the Georgia sample in poverty fell from 52 percent to 36 percent.
  • It was common in their survey of people who had left welfare to hear stories of “wage theft.”
  • Debt turned out to be a huge issue.Often politicians refuse to think about this, so quoting from Brooks’ conclusion more fully might be helpful as he writes: “The average participant had $18,709 in debts. This exceeded the average yearly employment income, which was $17,814. Of the sample, 51 percent had an average of $23,276 in student loan debt, though only 8 percent obtained college degrees. Among study participants, 38 percent had medical debt averaging $4,179. This finding is not surprising because 29 percent of the adults in the sample had no health insurance.”

Everything in Brooks’ Georgia survey of recipient and those who had left welfare indicated that the safety net was often the thin line of survival for many.

Welfare is no crutch.  It’s a lifeline.

We need to change “welfare as we know it” in President Clinton’s famous line.  We need widespread expansions of the safety net, increases in wages, accessible and affordable childcare, housing, and other programs if we really want families to be self-sufficient.

That’s the facts whether politicians like hearing them or not.

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Where are Seniors in the Fight for Social Security and Pensions?

New Orleans      I’m scratching my head.  Somehow, I’ve noticed something weird around the world, and it’s not adding up, or at least not adding up the way it should.  Maybe you have noticed it as well.  There are a lot of protests here and abroad about cutbacks and threats to pensions and benefit programs, but, surprisingly to me, they are being led and populated mainly by younger people without much participation by actual beneficiaries who are older or claimants.  What’s up with that?

In Nicaragua there have been days of protests led by young people over the government’s proposal to cut social security benefits to pay for rising medical costs.  In this instance social security is meant in the global sense of benefits for the unemployed or unable to work, rather than the United States linguistic politicization that terms any benefits, earned like unemployment or given as welfare complete with all the cultural baggage that carries.

In England university workers struck for weeks over attempts to change the nature of the pension program from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program.  Their strike was powerful, but what they have won so far is a delay for a study committee that many activists worry will not be satisfactory.

Unrest and protests have been rising in France over curtailment not only of hard won workers’ rights but also the Macron government’s actions to dismantle various welfare benefits and entitlements.

Young, largely female teacher strikers in the United States have protested and gone on strike in recent months and among their issues have been protecting deterioration of pensions.

Where are the pensioners?  The seniors?  The recipients?

Some are there for sure, but too many are leaving the fight to their children, literally and metaphorically speaking.  At some level there’s simply an air of defeat, a sort of “I did my best, so good luck to the rest.”  Or worse, an attitude of “I’ve got mine, too bad about you.”

If welfare recipients and seniors are not protesting, isn’t it too much to ask young people to lead the fight?  Honestly, ask yourself, how many young people trying to survive in gig and informal economy jobs, find homes, lovers, and friends, have time – or interest – in what they might need in bad times or twenty, thirty or forty years from now.

Politicians and governments are counting on this indifference from the young and old.  Changes are often red-circles to exempt the old or punish the young in the future while there are not yet fighters even old enough to take the field in their own interest.

Seems like solidarity, good citizenship, and love of our families, friends, co-workers and communities demands those of us who understand the benefits and stand towards the front line, need to also be among the first to put our feet in the streets to stand up for the importance of these benefits to the quality of life, if not survival, for tens of millions.

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