Welfare: Stop Beating Up On The Recipients

by John Weckerle

It was with a certain degree of disappointment when, during a recent visit to Facebook, I saw that a friend had “liked” the photo above. Created by conservative blogger Bill Whittle, it was found in a repost from “Cold Dead Hands” on the Facebook page of John Jacobs, which appears to be dedicated to alt-right reposts. It is unusual for your editor to comment directly on such things, but this one was egregious enough that it begged for a response:

It’s disappointing to see a friend like a thing like this. It’s essentially inflammatory, lacking in any real factual basis, and has very little relevance with respect to what welfare really is and how it works. Painting people who are out of work as grifters, as this does, is entirely inappropriate and inexcusable. Welfare and other public assistance programs have helped a lot of people get back on their feet. There are cheats in any system, but stereotyping welfare recipients in this way is shameful and fundamentally false. People who post or “like” this sort of thing should perhaps consider how fortunate they are to make their way without welfare – and hope they don’t someday join the ranks they so enthusiastically criticize.

A couple of friends concurred, and then another user (Kathy Arnold, whose account also seems repost-heavy)  weighed in:

HELLO JOHN…..only 5-10%of people getting government assistance are disabled or abandoned children and veterans..the other 90-95%are able bodied………drug users, frauds, or just plain lazy,,i worked with HRS. DSS. DHS…FROM 1977,,,UNTIL I RETIRED IN 2014…I KNOW,,,,

An inquiry as to the source of this particular statistic rather predictably went unanswered, and so we decided to help Ms. Arnold out and do some looking around to see if we could either confirm the statistic and the characterization of welfare recipients, which we didn’t expect, or perhaps find some information to the contrary, which is what we expected.

We reviewed information from the following sources:

The references varied somewhat based on what specific programs they examined and the time frames in which the studies (or studies referenced in the article) were conducted.

The Berkely report examines participation and costs associated with major public assistance programs, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF, which many people typically refer to as “welfare”), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as the food stamp program).  It discusses wage stagnation, noting that wages for the bottom 10 percent of the wage distribution were only 5% higher than they were in 1979, and that from 2003 from 2013 “Inflation-adjusted wage growth was either flat or negative for the entire bottom 70 percent of the wage distribution.”  The report goes on to note that 73 percent of the enrollees in major public support programs are members of working families.  Consider this table from the Berkeley report:


Total Program Enrollment

Enrollment from Working Families Working Families’ Share of Enrollment
Medicaid/CHIP (individuals) 56,300,000 34,100,000 61%
TANF (individuals) 7,300,000 2,300,000 32%
EITC (families) 28,000,000 20,600,000 74%
SNAP (families) 29,000,000 10,300,000 36%

The report concludes: “When jobs don’t pay enough, workers turn to public assistance in order to meet their basic needs. These programs provide vital support to millions of working families whose employers pay less than a liveable wage…. Overall, higher wages and employer-provided health care would lower both state and federal public assistance costs, and allow all levels of government to better target how their tax dollars are used.”

The Census Bureau report, analyzing date from 2009 to 2012, provides a wealth of information, Worthy of note is that 21.3 percent of the population participated in at least one assistance program in 2012, up from 18.6 percent in 2009, with Medicaid and SNAP being the apparent major factors considered in the study.  Participation by people below the poverty rate was substantially higher than those above, and people below the poverty rate also tended to remain on assistance longer.  A higher rate of participation is seen for people under 18 years of age than for other groups. Single-parent households participated more than households with married couples, and household with a single, female householder participated at a much higher rate than others. Participation was estimated at 37.3 percent, 21.6 percent, and 9.6 percent for people who did not graduate high school, graduated high school, and had one or more years of college, respectively. Program participation was highest for the unemployed and those not in the labor force, but substantial numbers of full-time and part-time workers also participated.

We could go through this one article or report at a time, but we’ll summarize some of the other information we found.  Among the various articles and reports we found a great many other interesting trends.  Several sources indicated that perhaps 23,000 active military personnel receive SNAP benefits; that about 7 percent of veterans used food stamps in 2012; that about 23 percent of of households with at least one working adult received some form of assistance; and that about “60 percent of food stamp recipients who were of working age and weren’t disabled were employed while receiving benefits” (Politifact article).

In short, we found nothing that supports Ms. Arnold’s statistic or her assessment of the welfare-receiving population.  In fact, we find quite the contrary.  Low wages and income/wealth inequality represent a substantial contributor to participation in public assistance programs, and age and education also appear to play a substantial role.

We’ll close this article by reiterating our earlier point – it is shameful and dishonest to portray “welfare” recipients – many of whom are working but not making enough, and many of whom may not be able to work for a variety of reasons, as wealth-stealing parasites.  Public assistance provided to many of these people is for all intents and purposes going into the pockets of those who are not paying the legitimate cost of doing business in terms of wages and benefits – essentially socializing their costs while privatizing their profits. Perhaps we should focus on that problem rather than maligning those who are affected by it.






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