People in poverty not aided by the system

Human generosity should not be a burden, neither should it be an obligation; it should be a given.

It’s sometimes assumed that anyone retaining social assistance is a “welfare queen” as they say: a person who is lazy and irresponsible and simply wants to abuse the system to get free money, do drugs and not work and might be responsible for our economic problems.

However, what anti-TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) lobbyists might not often mention is that federal assistance benefits are quite small. According to the Mississippi human services website, for instance, the maximum monthly cash benefit for a family of three is roughly $170, which is less than what some teenagers make at a fast food job in two weeks. Not to mention single recipients can only use government assistance for 24 months before they’re required to be employed. Does that sound like the lifestyle of someone who has gotten rich cheating the system?

Anti-welfare advocates may also fail to mention that drug testing for welfare recipients is not a new concept. In 2009, according to information gathered at the news site, Salon.com, Arizona was among the first states to adopt a program that drug-tested recipients of welfare whom officials had “reasonable cause” to believe they may be guilty. This bill profiled under the assumption that the less fortunate are going to do drugs simply because they don’t have much money, as if the rich are somehow above drug use, or that doing drugs is okay if you just don’t use government money. Not to mention the bill also violated the fourth amendment, which mandates that citizens have the inalienable right to privacy from government intrusion. This measure was implemented to save money for the state in a way that people wouldn’t object to. Three years and 87,000 screenings later, only one person had failed the drug test. Even if we include the benefits cut from 1,633 people who failed to return the pre-test survey, the amount of money saved was 0.1 percent.

I find it ironic that people using government assistance are blamed for economic problems when there are so many bigger economic problems plaguing us. A lot of those problems have to do with people getting free money when they definitely don’t need it. According to huffpost.com, the top ten U.S. tax deductions, credits and exclusions will keep $12 trillion out of federal government coffers and into the hands of the top 1 percent of earners over the next decade. That’s a lot of food stamps.

Most users of government assistance have jobs. The reason that employed people use assistance is that the wages many Americans are paid are simply too low. Many Americans are paid at or less than the minimum wage, which often falls below the poverty line.

The minimum wage was created so that employees couldn’t be exploited by employers; however, in the last few decades, the minimum wage has fallen behind inflation. In 1950, the minimum was only 75 cents an hour, but the average price of gas was 27 cents or 22 minutes of work. A movie was 48 cents or 38 minutes. Rent, on average, was $42 a month. You could cover your apartment and fill your gas tank in a little over a week and a half of work.

Nowadays, roughly an hour pays for a grilled stuffed burrito combo at Taco Bell. The counter argument is that raising employee wages causes job loss to cover costs, but if people knew how much money goes to the CEOs of these companies, they might find themselves physically ill. The fact is that minimum wage jobs are quickly becoming the only option of employment for Americans of all age groups.

One of the reasons minimum wage jobs are becoming the jobs of the future is because higher education simply isn’t what it used to be or is increasingly inaccessible.

Colleges are simply more expensive than they used to be. The cost of tuition has risen with economic recession and state colleges are being pressured to accept wealthy out of state students. Scholarships are definitely helping this, but for every Jay Gatsby or Jamal Wallace, there are countless students for whom things just didn’t work out that way.

According to the Denver Post, millions of college graduates are now working jobs that don’t require higher education or even a high school diploma. Some college graduates can’t find work at all.

I’m not saying that America should be a socialist utopia wherein we all make the same amount of money, but I believe we shouldn’t blame our problems on a group of people who are not only not causing them, but have enough problems on their own.