Welfare Kings

The other day, I had my ducts in my house cleaned. TMI, you may think, but that’s not a euphemism. This guy, let’s call him Joe, showed up around noon to suck out the crap that has been lingering inside our vents, the small intestine of our home.

Joe wore a shirt that once probably fit him great but now flirts with a tantalizing reveal of the bottom of his somehow perfectly circular belly. Joe has lived in Omaha his whole life, yet has a Brooklyn accent. I’d call it malarky, but if Ryan Gosling was born in America’s hat and ditched his Canadian “eh” for this, I suppose any accent is fair game.

Joe’s a union man. Has been for 30 years. In a country that has no problem taking weekends off but forgets who got us that schedule (cough, unions, cough), I figured this made Joe a political ally. I mean, the Democrats are the only ones even half-heartedly giving CPR to the unions while the Tea Party and others try to press a pillow over the unions’ face, saying “shhhh, shhhh…no one can hear you.”

Joe saw a Spider-man comic that hangs on my wall that happens to feature President Obama on the cover. Joe scoffed a bit.

“That s’posed to be Obama?”

I indicated that it was, resisting the urge to point out that it says so on the cover with words.

“You vote for him?”

Now…it takes a lot of cajones to stand in a guy’s office, see something on the wall, and chide him for it. Joe has all the cajones.

“Bet you regret it.”

Say it ain’t so, Joe!

“I’ll tell you what I hate.”

Joe, I don’t know how our relationship has progressed from “stranger sucking built-up lint from my air vents” to “political confidant,” but I have a feeling like I couldn’t stop what’s about to come out of your mouth without a lot of duct tape or a ball gag.

“Them welfare folks.”

Joe is blue collar. He proudly told me where he lives and how much he paid for his house (45K “back in the day”). One of the many rights that unions fought for was protection in case they lost their jobs. And yet, here’s Joe, telling me:

“They gotta take drug tests is what I say. And they gotta actually try to get a job.”

I did what I could friends. I told him how his perceptions of the impoverished are wrong, how they have the same (if not lower) drug use rate as the general public, how most of the people in the welfare system are children, how they are only briefly using “welfare.” Joe didn’t care. Joe believed what had been repeated to him over and over again on talk radio, on Fox News, by friends and family members sharing anecdotal evidence of “welfare queens” that are exceptions to the rule (if they even exist at all).

That’s when it hit me.

It’s so much easier to be mad. Compassion takes a different kind of energy, an active decision to be empathetic for someone else’s well being. Anger? Shit, that’s so easily done. The narrative is so readily adopted when it’s “See that guy over there? He ain’t working as hard as you and they’re just GIVING him money.” Our sense of fairness kicks in, we don’t take time to assess the situation, and we politically Hulk out. “DAMN YOU, FREELOADERS!”

I’ve made the compassionate argument for social programs my whole life. I’ve argued the “right” and “wrong” aspect of caring for those in need. It almost never works. So, let’s try something else.

Let’s get pissed off together, shall we?

You are getting screwed over by freeloaders…just not the ones you think


Let’s start with some important numbers. They are crucial to understanding how mad we are and who we’re mad at!

Amount of money spent in Nebraska on personal welfare – $1.7 billion
Amount of money spent in Nebraska on corporate welfare – $1.4 billion

Remember, we’ve got our angry hats on. So let’s go with a completely unreasonable number of welfare recipients we think abuse the system. Let’s assume that 62%, that’s almost 2 out of 3, abuse the system and buy iPads with our tax money while makin’ babies and usin’ drugs!! That means 1.05 BILLION dollars are just thrown away! OUTRAGEOUS!!!

Besides, that corporate welfare number…well that’s not even really corporate welfare. That’s INVESTMENT money. See, we give that in tax credits and other investment means so that those companies will turn around and make more jobs with them! JOBS THAT THOSE WELFARE MOOCHERS WON’T EVEN APPLY FOR!

So, just how many jobs did our $1.4 billion get us?! 4,400

Wait…what now?

That’s…that’s like $300,000 for each new job… That seems kinda like a lot…

Still! They are JOBS! We can SEE something for our tax money! It’s not like when we just give money to poor people and they snort it up, right? Without our money, without these TAX INCENTIVES, we wouldn’t have these 4,400 jobs!

Except…we would… A government study found that 3 out of every 4 of those jobs would have been created anyway.

Hold on a tick. So, what these numbers are telling me is that we wasted 3/4ths of that $1.4 billion! We just gave that money away for stuff we’d have gotten anyway! So, if I do the math on this…carry the one…divide by…HOLY SHIT THAT’S $1.05 billion! We KNOW we wasted that much. The government review (and remember the state government is disproportionately conservative, so no “liberal bias” at work) determined conclusively that we just threw away $1.05 billion. Which is the same number we “wasted” on personal welfare…IF WE ASSUME THAT 62% OF WELFARE RECIPIENTS IN OUR STATE ARE EVIL MOOCHERS ABUSING THE SYSTEM.

I’ve been snarky, so let me make double, triple, extra sure this point is driven home:

1.) We know for sure we wasted $1.05 billion giving money to companies who did not use it for its intended purpose.
2.) Even if HALF of all individuals on welfare were the vile stereotypes they’re made out to be, we still would have spent far less on them than on corporate welfare.

So where’s the anger? We’d rather be mad at a single mother trying to feed her kids than a CEO who uses a tax break in our state to pocket another million in bonus money.

Joe, my man, I’ll tell you what I hate…

The truth about Welfare recipients

So now that we’re mad at the other guys for a change, can I tell you some stuff about why you shouldn’t be mad at the people in our state who are struggling?

1.) They’re not on drugs – They are no more likely than your office mate to abuse any type of illegal substance.

2.) It’s not a way of life – More than a third (34.2%) are only on welfare for a matter of months.

3.) They’re mostly kids, disabled, or elderly – 76% of homes that use foodstamps have one or more of these individuals, and those homes account for 83% of the spending.

4.) They don’t waste the money – They spend 77% of their money on food, housing, and transportation, as compared with the 66% people who aren’t on government assistance spend on those same things.

5.) They don’t have more babies for more money – The average size of a welfare family? 3.7 individuals. The average size of a family not on welfare? 3.7 individuals.

And it’s that last part I want to drive home here. Those families are just like our families. They are not proud to be on welfare. They are struggling and need help. They do not flaunt our tax money; they use it. Which is more than can be said for the companies in this state who wasted $1.05 billion of our money.

So, Joe, let me say this: If I’m being fair to you, I think you have misguided anger. You feel like you are being taken advantage of. And you are. Just not by who you think. Maybe instead of telling me “they” should have to get drug tested before they get welfare, we should worry about making sure “those corporations” on welfare have to prove they spent our money on jobs in order to get it. If that’s a fight you want to start, I got your back, Joe.


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