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.


The War on the Poor is about Hate Not Economics

New Orleans     Lucky thing I don’t have the big head, or I would think the folks running the editorial pages for the Times were reading my blogs.  How could it be coincidence that today, just as an example, one editorial quotes me almost exactly, and Paul Krugman, the columnist and Nobel Prize winner in economics, also picks up my recent refrain about the “war on the poor?”  The truth is simply that the points that I’m making and that they are making are coincidentally aligned largely because they have quickly become so obvious that they have magically crossed the line into something close to common knowledge and broad consensus.

Krugman of course makes some of my same points, like the fact that expenditures for Medicaid that undergird health coverage for the poor and food stamps that not only fill stomachs assuring better health, but also make people more productive, so that both essentially pay back the expenditures of public funds, but he makes the points with more authority.  Doing so allows Krugman to state flatly what is my mind and most others willing to grapple with these issues that are targeting our people, when he says,

So what’s really behind the war on the poor?  Pretty clearly the pain this war will inflict is a feature, not a bug.  Trump and his friends aren’t punishing the poor reluctantly, out of the belief that they must be cruel to be kind.  They just want to be cruel.

Bam!  Hard to argue with that professor!

Having set the stage by questioning the voodoo economics that seeks to rationalize cuts in food, housing, and health for the poor as founded on sustainability or economics, Krugman twists the knife.  He quotes a report by a Times’ reporter saying “Mr. Trump, aides said, refers to nearly every program that provides benefits to poor people as welfare, a term he regards as derogatory.”  Got it?  This has been a project of the Republicans and the fight for fifty years, and we’ve been unable to counter it, but that’s a topic for another day.

Meanwhile Krugman drops the mic in his final paragraph saying,

Seriously, a lot of people both in this administration and in Congress simply feel no empathy for the poor.  Some of that lack of empathy surely reflects racial animus.  But while the war on the poor will disproportionately hurt minority groups, it will also hurt a lot of low-income whites – in fact, it will surely end up hurting a lot of people who voted for Trump.  Will they notice?

That’s our job.  Making sure they do notice, and then vote like their lives depend on it.


Please enjoy John Prine’s Knockin’ On Your Screen Door.

Thanks to KABF.