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By Tanya (a Secular Jurist author; author of Illuminate By Tanya blog; an author of League Of Bloggers blog)

See video here

Here is a short documentary made by a professor at the University of California-Berkley about welfare and poverty. The idea for it came after the professor heard her students discussing welfare and government’s role in society. She was shocked to learn that these college-educated students, some of whom were on welfare themselves, harbored deep-seated, negative stereotypical attitudes and beliefs about welfare recipients. It was then that she realized that today’s young people have inherited the harsh Reagan-era ideology of how society should deal with the poor- mainly that welfare programs, like food stamps (now called SNAP), actually reinforce poverty by creating dependence on government assistance. After all, these programs are supposed to be temporary aid, so why should the poor get to live off them, right? Why can’t they just get up and work, right?

This film quite effectively sets the record straight. Some points the film discusses:

  • Walmart workers make up a gigantic portion of welfare recipients- their low wages alone are not enough to live off of.
  • Wealthier people get subsidies, too, by way of substantial tax breaks. Food stamps aren’t the only subsidies.
  • Poverty doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of modern life- poverty is created and reinforced by laws and economic policies that create economic and social inequality.

I share this with you because in order to solve the problem of poverty, we need to put our heads together and find solutions, as well as discuss some already proposed solutions made by this film, as well as by bloggers, activists, academics, etc. Furthermore, we need to stop accepting the way things are and fight for something new, better, and more fair.

11 thoughts on “The American Welfare Myth: Who Gets It and Why (You’ll Be Surprised)

  1. The myth of meritocracy (people who work the hardest have the most) reinforces negative beliefs about poor people. There is the myth that poor people are lazy. But in reality, people who labour in the hot sun for many hours, and who get very little pay, do work hard.

    There was an article in the London Times last year by which created a satire out of the myths the financial industry sold…and placed them into nursery rhymes. It laid bare the myth that the poor are lazy, and the way this myth was used in government…some little piggies have roast beef, and some little piggies have none, and the (British) Labour government needs to keep those little piggies poor, in order to have voters….the writer then said that the financial industry believed the little piggies with none to be no threat to the staus quo, because they ‘cannot be arsed to get out of bed and go wee, wee, wee, all the way to the voting booth…” It’s hidden behind a pay wall, but it’s one of the best and most straight forward analysis’ I’ve seen.

    Perhaps creating an emotional sense of belonging and community may mean people think their votes matter. That way, there may be a more equal sense of social justice.

    But untangling the myths of poverty and meritocracy will go along way towards creating social justice. Thanks for this, Robert.

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    • You’re welcome, Nicci. Interesting comment. I would add that the myth of meritocracy goes even deeper. Instead of comparing different occupations, let’s compare apples to apples. There aren’t that many occupations in the current global economic system where Jill gets paid more than John for doing the same job in a quantifiably superior manner. The business models of large corporations typically devalue labor and lump workers of the same job classification into predetermined pay grades. In their view, it is cheaper to replace workers than to reward performance as in a true meritocracy. Furthermore, businesses heavily dependent upon highly-skilled workers must share operational authority – a no-no in their preferred top-down managerial hierarchy. In other words, most corporations don’t like sharing power and profits with their employees. Then, there’s the complicating factors of discrimination, cronyism, and other unethical practices in the workplace.

      Demonizing “lazy poor people” is an old ruse which, as we can plainly see, still works.

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      • You said, “In other words, most corporations don’t like sharing power and profits with their employees.” I think that’s a big part of the problem. If places like Walmart shared the profits and power more (especially since low level workers probably work way more hours and under more stressful conditions than the top execs), than there wouldn’t be nearly as much poverty and feelings of powerlessness in low-income communities. The myths about the poor just keep all this going.

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        • That’s ok! I haven’t posted in such a long time that I forgot to add my name. Blogging after not being on WordPress for a while feels really good! It’s so nice to connect with other people who care about important issues and get such nice feedback from them, as well as from you.

          I’ll probably be really busy this weekend, but I’ll try to blog a bit anyway. Lovely talking with you!

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    • You make some amazing points!! I didn’t realize that Britain has a similar problem to the US in terms of the myths about poor people. I also agree that correcting these myths will help to foster more compassion and acceptance of poor/low-income people.

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