Let’s talk food stamps and the people who need them.
I’ve seen a lot of conservatives and so-called libertarians go on and on about the lazy moochers who receive food stamps. They want to eliminate all safety nets in this country because people should be able to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. It always amuses me when I see this nonsense, because I can pretty much guarantee these folks haven’t been in the position where they’d need assistance. Or, if they have, they’re the kind of person who has got zero ability to feel empathy for other people.
The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Usually when I see a libertarian spout about the evils of government assistance I just roll my eyes. I don’t wish them to have to actually be in a position where they’d need the help, but sometimes I wish they’d just know what it’s like. Most people on food stamps, for example, aren’t trying to fleece the government. These people would be working hard to starve if not for this particular safety net. Most of these people are working and working hard but they can’t seem to make enough1. Their cost of living is going up and up, yet their income is stagnate. Or maybe they lost a really good job and have to find a way to feed their kids. Or maybe they’ve become disabled. There are a magnitude of reasons why people are receiving help and they are valid. Most of them are also grateful that they can get this help.
I saw someone today announce on twitter that he just received a notice he has qualified for food stamps. He’s angry about that. He feels he’s failed in life. He feels that his situation is unique, but that most people on food stamps are moochers who happily take without giving back. As a libertarian, he feels that he should be able to get by in life without the helping hand of a government program. He feels that he’s been self-reliant up to this point, but his efforts have failed2. He is someone who decries the government “hand outs” and wishes them to all be eliminated. Yet he did manage to apply for them and he will benefit from them. I’m not sure why he felt the need to announce such a personal failure on a social networking site, but he did. I was aghast that he felt the need to denigrate himself. I was even more aghast that he continued to malign many of the people who are in the exact same situation he is in.
Instead of being angry at either of his employers for not paying him a high enough wage to get by without government assistance, he’s angry at himself for failing. While we deregulate so many sectors of industry– including utility, agriculture and gas/oil companies– we allow folks like this gentleman to have to pay more while earning less. He’s obviously a hard worker. He’s obviously doing everything he can do to provide for himself3. He shouldn’t feel so ashamed.
For the last three years, while the prices of gas and milk have risen steadily and the richest 1% have enjoyed huge tax breaks, the federal minimum wage has remained frozen at $7.25 an hour, which amounts to just $15,080 a year — as long as you get paid for any time you take off. That’s more than $7,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of four. As a result, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has slowly eroded — in just three years, its real value has sunk to $6.77 per hour, a nearly 50-cent drop.
The Bush tax cuts, which are simply the perquisite of the moment for the 1%, allow for the richest to prosper at the expense of middle-class and low-income workers. While CEOs make millions and their corporations make billions as part of a so-called economic recovery, the majority of Americans are struggling to make ends meet. This struggle is exacerbated by the low federal minimum wage. As middle-class jobs are increasingly replaced by low-wage work, however, this is the economic reality for a growing number of Americans.[Source]
There are millions of Americans in the same boat he now finds himself. They do everything they can to avoid the shame of accepting food stamps, but they have to eat. So they swallow their pride and apply. This isn’t the failure of tens of millions of Americans. This is a failure of our system. We molly coddle the big corporations, many of which don’t pay taxes, in hopes that they create jobs– jobs that don’t pay employees enough to even put food on their own tables!
I have no ill will for the man I mention above. I wish he understood that there is a reason it’s called a “safety net”. It’s a program that is necessary right now for so many people who aren’t failing at life. When more than 10% of the population [pdf] requires assistance like this it’s an indictment of the policies allowing this to happen to those people. Less regulation, refusal (or support) to raise the federal minimum wage, disregard for education/training, tax breaks for companies shipping production overseas, increased cost of living [pdf] and numerous other reasons help increase the amount of Americans who are, in his eyes, “failing at life”. This is what happens when we allow greed in the name of “capitalism” and “free markets” control our policy making. People are no longer able to pay their bills and the start to go hungry.
I hear the old arguments about charities taking over the role government plays now and people making do with less to get by. I live in a small town that has a church on almost every corner. I live within walking distance of 9 churches (and I can’t walk far). Only one of those churches has a clothes closet for poor members. Another one has a monthly soup kitchen. In the next town over there is one food pantry that literally sees hundreds of people come through their doors every week. There are no buses here or taxis. There’s one organization that will take disabled people to doctor’s appointments. There are zero free clinics in the entire county– or even clinics that will take patients on a sliding scale. There’s a single homeless shelter that has a 60 day waiting period right now. There’s just not enough charity to go around in my area. My area isn’t alone in this realization.
Too many people listen to the voices on the hate channel or on hate radio. If these people were just better they’d all be fabulously wealthy and not need these “handouts”. Why can’t they just pull themselves up and be productive members of society? Aren’t they all just lazy moochers? No, they’re not. That includes the man who inspired this post. He’s not lazy or a failure. He hears all this shit and listens to this garbage about so many lazy people sucking the system dry, believed it and is not internalizing it. That’s not how a civilized society is supposed to work. The old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind. We are all children in one big village. Why shouldn’t we be able to help our fellow countrymen when they fall on hard times? Why should they feel like they’re less than human because they need that help?
- That’s not to say there aren’t fleecers, because there are. I’ve known people who have quit a job because they no longer qualified for food stamps, but 99% of the people I know on food stamps are working and struggling. And they’re not proud of having to get help. [↩]
- Nevermind that he’s not a hunter going into the woods for his meat, a farmer growing his vegetables or a tailor making his own clothes. [↩]
- I’m not sure if he’s got a family though I imagine he does if he’s forced to, in his view, lower himself to accept government assistance. [↩]