Government should further assist welfare recipients
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 22:09
After nearly five decades, the war on poverty is nearing an end, sadly, with poverty about to claim victory. By the end of 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the poverty rate will reach its highest level since 1965, before Lyndon B. Johnson implemented his Great Society programs. According to census data released in December 2011, 48 percent of Americans are now either poor or low-income—with each family of four in this category living on less than $45,000 a year. And among developed countries, our 23 percent child poverty rate is second only to Romania, a totalitarian dictatorship up until 1989.
At a time when poverty has reached such a high level, it’s concerning that representatives of both parties have only offered conventional wisdom and rhetoric discouraging welfare dependency, rather than calling for a bold government response, as President Johnson did in 1964, to “free” 46 million Americans “from the prison of poverty.”
Speaking to campaign donors in a recently leaked video, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney rather callously remarked about people receiving government assistance, “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility. ” Similarly, President Barack Obama has tried to appeal to independent voters in a campaign advertisement promoting welfare’s work requirements and attacking the Massachusetts program, started by Romney, which provides welfare recipients with access to cars.
The bipartisan assumption that social support must be conditional and limited, not a guaranteed right, is a threat to our freedom. Though often overlooked, fears of hunger and homelessness have real power over us, primarily as incentive to work. If you can’t depend on the government’s support to meet these needs and maintain an acceptable standard of living, you must instead depend more heavily on a private employer, putting you in a poor position to ask for better pay or benefits.
But so far this election year, the moral discussion of welfare has been left mostly to Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, whose views are even less forgiving. Ryan has proposed deep cuts to social welfare programs, claiming that welfare “dishonors the dignity of the human person.” He believes his budget plan will restore this dignity by creating a more individualistic “opportunity society;” a faster-growing economy unburdened by the welfare state.
To get a sense of how Ryan’s more “dignified” society would work, just look at Europe, where similar policies have been implemented in response to the sovereign debt crisis. According to the Greek Ministry of Health, the suicide rate in Greece has doubled since the crisis began, accompanied by a series of very public protest-suicides in Greece.
In one notable case, Dimitris Christoulas, a retired pharmacist who had lost most of his pension, shot himself outside the Greek parliament building, claiming in a final note, “I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance.”
To some conservatives, such unfortunate cases are the necessary price of a free society. However, it’s also important to recognize that while a free- market economy is based on letting consumer preferences dictate outcomes, people’s desires often conflict with social needs. Supply and demand can set prices, but they can’t accurately determine the true value of people’s efforts, nor can they reflect the innate value of each human being. Given this, is it really humane to let market forces judge someone’s worthiness of essential resources and basic comforts?
Mitt Romney seems to think so. In the leaked video addressing his donors, Romney expressed outrage at people who “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing … And [that] the government should give it to them,” even if they aren’t trying sufficiently, in his view, to provide for themselves.
But if everyone is not entitled to these basic rights, can we really consider ourselves a civilized people?
The general consensus preferring “workfare” over welfare—supported by 83 percent of the American public—implies that if someone is going through a personal rough patch and doesn’t want to work, that person in fact doesn’t deserve these basics.
Meanwhile, Obama, the so-called progressive choice, has failed to voice a strong alternative to the anti-welfare conservative viewpoint, or to make a positive case for the virtues of the welfare state.
If Obama is reelected, he insists that he is “eager” to pursue a deficit compromise with Republicans “based on the principles of [his] bipartisan debt commission,” which has recommended large cuts to social programs.
It’s more urgent now than ever to make it clear to our leaders that all human beings deserve life and dignity, and that to sacrifice these for economic growth would be cruel and unworthy of a modern democratic society.