“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” - Verbal Kint
“One of the NEXT greatest tricks the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that Welfare Queens DID.” - Me
Living where I live, I’ve seen her. I’ve stood in line at the grocery store behind a large black woman who’s piling corn chips and Fanta and a 20-pack of hog jowls on the check-out counter. Several children orbit around her, dressed in hand-me-down clothes, but looking relatively healthly, maybe even a little plump. She proceeds to pay with a food stamp card, gruffly yelling at the kids to behave, and maybe being just a little rude to the girl who’s checking her out. As I check out behind her, she leaves, hobbling across the parking lot with the children trailing behind her like baby ducks, and as I follow her out of the store, she gets into a big boat of a car, driven by an ill-tempered-looking older teen who obviously elected to stay in the car as she took the younger ones shopping.
I’ve seen her. And I’ve heard Ronald Reagan describe in a 1976 campaign speech a version of her that we’re all disgusted by: “She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve 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. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”
The thing is, to see the woman I saw and assume that she’s the living embodiment of the Welfare Queen that Reagan described is a convenient supposition that is inherently racist, and based totally on a false premise. Welfare Queens like the one Reagan described DID exist, but they were few and far between - one in a million. And fraudulent as their welfare claims were, their impact on the economic well being of the United States was still minimal.
In recent years, Welfare Queens have become nonexistent, mostly due to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. The PRWORA has limited the time someone can stay on government assistance, AND provided for the elimination of loopholes that could be exploited, as well as fraud that could be perpetrated.
Still, some people see a woman like the one I described, and they get an automatic sense of revulsion and indignation. Their tax dollars go to keeping that woman afloat, and she’s buying corn chips and Fanta?
Well I’m here to say, “Get over it.”
When presented with the notion of taking care of our poor and underprivileged in the United States, a lot of bleeding heart liberals will try to appeal to your heart strings or your sense of moral justice. They’ll say “We have to take care of our poor because it’s the right thing to do.” Well, I think morality in the United States has become so circumstantial and arbitrary that posing that particular argument, though noble, is increasingly useless.
Instead, let me appeal to your bottom line. Let me tell you in terms that even Adam Smith would approve of, WHY we need to take care of our poor in the United States. Even if some people abuse the system. Even if some people make choices with their pittance of a government handout that you don’t approve of.
First: how much does it cost YOU as a taxpayer to take care of the poor? Well, according to the Congressional Budget Office and White House reports, approximately 1.664% of your tax liability goes to welfare programs, food stamps, and government subsidized housing. That means a family that makes $50,000 annually will pay approximately $63 a year into the “welfare” system. By extension, and playing fast and loose with tax brackets and increased tax liability, a family that makes $100,000 will pay about $125 into the system, and a family making $250,000 will pay somewhere around $250-$300 annually.
That isn’t much, especially compared to how much of your tax liability goes to Social Security, Medicare, and the national defense.
“But why should I pay ANYTHING to help these people!? Why can’t they help themselves?” some might ask.
The short answer is: because it would cost more to NOT help them.
It may surprise you, but Section Eight housing does not provide poor people with palatial estates, and food stamps don’t buy daily stacks of pancakes and three-course steak dinners. The choices poor people make with the trickle of money the government gives them (Fanta and Fritos, or getting new rims instead of visiting the dentist) may be deplorable to you - and they are to me, too. But believe me when I say that your life and livelihood at $50,000 a year are WAY better than the relative squalor most welfare recipients in America live in. And their hold on their lowly lifestyles is tenuous. You cut them loose, and terrible things will happen to them. Terrible things which will cost YOU money.
Pretty much four things happen to people who find themselves without a means to provide food and shelter for themselves and their family. Let’s look at each one in turn, shall we?
1. They become indigent. That is, without a home. Homelessness in America is a real problem, with real economic implications. Here’s some cost statistics for you: To incarcerate a person for vagrancy costs approximately $54 a day. The average cost per hospital visit for an indigent person (and indigent people are exponentially more likely to require hospitalization than the average person) is $2414. The annual cost of ONE BED in a homeless shelter funded by HUD’s Emergency Shelter Grants program costs $8607 more than the annual average cost to house the same person in Section Eight housing. Now, ask yourself: these people are indigent; they don’t HAVE any money to pay for these things. So who’s going to pay for them?
2. They turn to crime. Studies have proven again and again that there is a direct correlation between poverty and crime. And when there’s increased crime in an area, either the government has to spend more money to increase police and crime intervention, or the place becomes unlivable, an untenable sinkhole in the American landscape which contributes NOTHING to the country’s GDP, and which depresses local markets and real estate values. Add to that the exhorbitant cost of incarcerating someone - sometimes up to $20,000 a year - and you understand the economic impact of criminal activity. Also, consider the personal cost of being the victim of a crime. Insurance may cover it, but your premium’s sure to go up. And there are some losses insurance simply can’t cover.
3. They die. Now, if you’re as cold-hearted as some people I’ve encountered, you may think this is the most desirable outcome - after all, if these people die, they’re no longer dependent on the welfare system and we don’t have to pay for them anymore. Well, all moral repercussions aside, you’re wrong. To make sure a dead body is disposed of properly, most likely by incineration if no one claims it, costs a BARE MINIMUM of $500-700 dollars. Even now, there are hundreds of morgues and disposal sites across the country that have a backlog of unclaimed bodies which need either to be incinerated or buried in a “pauper’s grave.” It costs money to make sure they’re not improperly disposed of - and improper disposal leads to disease and unsanitary conditions. There are 4,300,000 people on welfare in the US (and 10 TIMES that many on food stamps). If a quarter of them died as a result of having their government subsidies cut off, we’d have a $5 million dollar dead body crisis on our hands within a couple of years.
4. They get off their “lazy asses” and try to enter the workforce. Well first of all, more of these people ARE working than you think: slightly over half of welfare recipients who have no barriers to work - no mental or physical disability, etc. - DO work. Recent statistics have proven that there is no city in the United States where a person working a minimum wage job can afford a typical apartment at the current market rate. So people who earn minimum wage have to either pile their family into a space that doesn’t fit them, work MORE than one job, or subsidize their income with food stamps and/or welfare.
There’s some debate as to what would happen to the labor market should a sudden influx of former welfare recipients occur, but most everyone agrees that one of two things will happen in the short term: 1) Because a lot of welfare recipients have less skills and education than non-welfare recipients, they’ll languish in unemployment. Even if you have a work force who wants to work, who NEEDS to work, there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around. Or… 2) Because these people are willing to work for less pay, they’ll supplant other workers who currently hold jobs with low skill requirements. In that case, the people who WERE working will languish in unemployment, because again - there just aren’t enough jobs to go around. And since those people probably paid into the system while they WERE working, they’ll expect to get unemployment benefits.
As a side note before I conclude, I’d like to point out that I haven’t even mentioned the children of welfare recipients. As deplorable as you may think the “welfare lifestyle” is, there are children involved - and in the first three scenarios I described above, there’s a distinct possibility that the children will suffer fates similar to their parents and guardians. And even if you don’t care a lick about what happens to these kids, innocent to most of the misdeeds you ascribe to their caretakers, there’s still the price tag THEY carry - which you’ll have to pay one way or another.
And there you go. If you make $50,000 a year, you pay only $63 annually to support welfare in the United States. But think about what that $63 gets you: less death, less homelessness, less crime, less unemployment.
So, when you see that woman and her kids, and you see her buying Fanta and Fritos, just sigh to yourself and remember that you’ve probably made a bad choice or two in your life as well. But remember that because you pay that measly $63 a year, that woman and her kids aren’t dead, or homeless, or breaking into your house, or competing with you for your job - all of which would cost you more, much more, than what you currently pay.