Geez, Don’t Let a Few Little Facts Get in the Way of Your Perceptions of People on Welfare

Like me, maybe you have a few (ahem) “friends” on Facebook that post things that make you cringe. Lately, a few posts in particular have driven me to write this blog. I was going to try and just provide insights through comments on their posts, or send them a direct message, but figured this medium may do even better.

I start by posting the memes that I have seen more than once in the last month, which tells me that if they are being shared with frequency, these are resounding with some people…

In a nutshell, what’s wrong with these pictures?

  1. Several of the images racialize poverty. Truth is, most recipients are Caucasian.
  2. There is a perception that those that receive welfare have large families and an increasing number of children to maximize benefits. Truth is, most welfare recipients are single persons and very small families (the average is 1.8 children per household in fact for TANF…which coincidentally is almost the same as the national average; the average size is 2.4 when you consider all welfare benefits, which is a massive decline of family size of welfare receiving families since the 1960s).
  3. Somewhere along the way the stigma of being a substance user was attached to be on welfare. Truth is, most people with problematic substance use in our society do not receive welfare. And another inconvenient truth, it costs way, way more to test people on welfare (which is an intrusive violation, but I will park that for now) than it “saves” when users are caught. Oh, and it is private enterprises that profit from the drug testing with your tax dollars (sometimes with direct ties to the elected official that was the crusader to put the drug testing in place). Plus, in locations like Florida do you know what percentage tested positive for drug use? Two percent. That’s a fact.
  4. Welfare receipt is implied to be a lifetime choice. Truth is most recipients (4 out of 5) receive benefits for less than 5 years – and most of those for much less than that. The single largest group that benefits from welfare is children.
  5. Related to point 4, you have probably heard the stories of the families that have been living off welfare for generations, or the woman who has bilked the system for millions using fake identities and fictitious addresses (anyone else remember Ronald Reagan’s Chicago Welfare Queen Stories…and they were just that – stories made up of just fiction loosely associated with some facts not attributed to any one person). Truth is, fraud within the welfare system is lower than corporate fraud. For example, the rate of food stamp fraud is less than 1%. Oh, and as for the generations of welfare receipt, I just love this quote from Adrian Sinfield, Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh in reviewing a recent UK report where there was an attempt to find families where no one in the family had worked for three generations: “People working and living in the area knew all about such people, of course, but not well enough, it turned out, to be able to identify any of them.”
  6. Read across these memes, and it also seems to suggest the “free money” on welfare allow people that don’t work to enjoy a glamorous lifestyle of parties and higher end consumer products. Truth is, while benefit levels vary dramatically by region economic poverty is still a reality for welfare recipients. Let me give you an example from where I live. If you are a single person without dependents and without disability, you get $230 per month in money to meet your basic needs (food, personal products, etc.) and $376 in shelter allowance to rent a place. What would you do with $606 per month in a community where the average market rent for a Bachelor unit is $840 per month or a one-bedroom is $1,040 per month?
  7. Many people make comments that people on welfare should not have a smart phone – or any phone for that matter (yet, having a phone is kind of important, I hope you’d agree, to have contact with potential employers). Or there is a critique of the type of phone…or phone package…or purse that the phone is in…or manicured nails that stroke the phone…or whatever. Truth is, people that experience economic poverty experience no difference in impulse control in consumer spending that anyone else in society – it simply has a bigger impact. But even with that said, you don’t know when they got the phone, as it could have been before they were receiving benefits or even a gift from a relative or a $0 down monthly package where the phone company undertook its own financial risk assessment and still decided the person was a good candidate for its product. And if the reality in your community is similar to the rate of benefits received in my community (read section 6 again) please tell me how someone uses their welfare money to buy that phone?

I’ll leave it at those 7 comments for now because they are most related to the memes. I could go on and on. The false perceptions of welfare, though, only make it harder to convince elected officials to consider increasing rates to meet the costs of today’s community; to truly ensure people have the chance to achieve vitality and security.

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

14 Responses to “Geez, Don’t Let a Few Little Facts Get in the Way of Your Perceptions of People on Welfare”

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  1. Father Bill White says:

    Thank you so much for these observations. The self-righteous right-wing nonsense that gets spouted so often is nothing less than venomous hate.

  2. I can’t tell you how excellent it was to read this. I’m so glad you thought of a way to respond that we can share – I’m going to link this up whenever I come across one of those obnoxious memes! Thank you for using facts and logic, they are a more than adequate counterpoint to emotion and ignorance which run rampant regarding this topic.
    From a gainfully employed former welfare recipient who has spent as much or more time raising other people’s children as my own.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have met several people on welfare personally. Not one of them makes even halfway reasonable decisions about their lives, much less wise decisions. Five of the five people I have met on welfare have high end game systems, stereos, computers, and some of the newest phones available. Oh, and they ALL drink to excess and three of them have other substance abuse problems. While some of these points are correct (I have not, so far met anybody having more kids explicitly for the reason of raising their welfare checks), it is far and away an accurate depiction of those on welfare.

  5. Anonymous says:

    ^^^Oh, and all of them were white, but I think that may have something to do with the fact that I live in one of the whitest communities I personally have ever seen. So as long as we’re not being racist and thinking that a black or hispanic person utilizes funds more wisely than a white person, it doesn’t change my opinion any.

  6. Jason Jackson says:

    Well, none of you have probably ever been on assistance nor really understand how the system is exploited. I have been on assistance, I have served prison time and I have been homeless and I did whatever it took to get by. I have seen plenty of food stamp fraud, go to your local rescue mission, you will find somebody within 10 minutes that will sell you their food stamps for fifty cents on the dollar. I went to college for free after prison, government paid for that too. I am now a 3% member of society (top 3% of income earners in the US) and proud to vote Republican. Most people in this country on welfare, food stamps or other assistance have no desire to get off of it. They feel the government owes them something for them living here. The writer of this article is using facts to tell the story the way he wants to. While there may be more whites on welfare, that would be expected since the US is about 77% white and 13.5% black. So, do blacks make up 13-14% of the welfare rolls….NO, they make up about 38%. If someone wants to dig out of the poorest part of society, it can be done and I am proof. You don’t need a handout for 4 or 5 years, as the authors states is the average. It’s called lending a helping hand…these people want the whole damned arm!

    • Yes, there are people that abuse the system. They tend to hang out together and with those that abuse the other government systems in one way or another (not reporting taxable income, milking the corporate system). Still, they are the small proportion. Having been in prison and on the streets you had opportunity to know the cheats, not the people that use it as intended. I use to be an IRS auditor and became very sour on the number of people cheating the system – until I stepped back and realized that the returns selected were those that were most likely to be abusing the system. Occassionally, I would choose a cleaner return to audit to have my faith in humanity restored – it was; I even gave refunds now and then.

    • Anonymous says:

      so now you want to end the system that paid for your college after your screw up? the college that presumably allowed you to become one of the top 3% income earners? way to kick down the ladder after you’ve climbed it.

      also, if even a small percentage of people on welfare follow your example, then the net benefit of the system more than out weighs the costs in terms of crime reduction and taxes from people once they make enough money to be taxed.

      • Well said, Anon. That’s exactly what I thought when I read that. Why would a person not be grateful for and wish to eliminate a system that allowed them to turn their life around and get a college degree and become a contributing citizen? Jason Jackson, you are contradicting yourself at every turn.

  7. Use your head. I don’t believe you ever been on the system. I WORKED in the system and have met many many people. I have yet to meet the quintessential welfare queen or the lazy bum that does not want a job. Where I live, who the hell would want to be stuck living on $606 a month, be hated by their neighbours and denied work by employers because one cannot afford proper clothing, food or transport to get to and from a job? If there were enough jobs for everybody, we would not be having this discussion,. ‘Nuff said.

  8. Becky Kanis says:

    Well said, Iain. I appreciate the way you come back again and again to….the facts. Bravo!

  9. Michelle Ogburn says:

    Iain, it would be helpful to have some citations for your facts.