by dean spade
One of the most powerful tools of the recent war on the poor and the dismantling of poverty alleviation programs like Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Medicaid, and Medicare has been the demonization of poor people. Media sources and welfare reform backers have relied on portraits of public benefit recipients as lazy, irresponsible people who refuse to work and would rather “live off the state.” Especially powerful has been the image of “welfare queens,” women who purportedly get rich off welfare by reproducing rampantly in order to receive more and more benefits. The welfare queen mythology involves a notion that people get trapped in a welfare cycle, breeding generation after generation of welfare recipients who “leech” off the state.
The Twentieth Century Fund has compiled statistics about welfare to debunk the lies about welfare recipients that excuse the travesties of welfare reform. I’ve picked some of the facts I think are really useful for activists, but you should look at them all. I recommend using these facts to create your own sticker campaign, graffiti, e-mails, poster/wheatpaste campaign, to educate your friends and family and classmates and whoever.
Who receives federal welfare benefits?
* The 1992 welfare caseload consisted of 9.2 million children and 4.4 million adults (most of them mothers). About half the children in welfare families are under 6; one-quarter under 3.
* There is no federal welfare program to provide income to able-bodied adults without children.
Does welfare make people have huge families to get more benefits? No.
* In 72.7% of families on AFDC, there are 2 or fewer children. The average AFDC family size has decreased from 4.0 to 2.9 persons since 1969.
Are welfare families “loading up” on benefits? No.
* The maximum food stamp benefit, received by only 23% of all recipients, amounts to about \$1.06 per meal per person. The maximum food stamp allotment for a family of three (the average size AFDC family) is $295/month.
(special note to non-welfare recipients: did you know that you can’t use food stamps to buy toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, tampons, or anything else that isn’t food that is vitally necessary? see the “Food Only” article for more on that.)
Does welfare cause dependency in the next generation? No.
* While women whose mothers never received welfare are statistically less likely to apply for welfare as adults than women whose mothers did, statistical research has not established that welfare causes dependency in the next generation. Researcher Peter Gottschalk and his colleagues have noted: “Because families receiving welfare are poor - indeed, poverty is a condition of welfare receipt - we would expect children from welfare families to have higher rates of poverty and welfare use as adults than children from nonpoor, nonwelfare families. Intergenerational correlation, therefore, does not necessarily indicate a causal relationship. . . .For example, if both mother and daughter grow up in neighborhoods with poor-quality school, both will be more likely to have lower earnings and, hence, a greater need for income assistance. . . . Changing the quality of the school her daughter attends. . . .will raise her income and, in turn, lower the probability that she receives public assistance.” (I would add that taking away her meager welfare income and health benefits will probably not bode well for her children’s education, health, employment future or general well-being.)
How much does the government spend on welfare?
* In 1993, AFDC cost the nation as a whole \$22.3 billion. Spending on AFDC consumed about 0.35% (that’s less than half a percent) of the gross domestic product. From 1970 to 1993, administrative costs for AFDC remained about the same: $3 billion (adjusted for inflation).
Are welfare recipients “addicted” to welfare? No. Does welfare create a dependency on a welfare “way of life” that people get stuck in? No.
* The data show a very dynamic welfare population, with many different people entering and leaving.
* 50% of recipients exit AFDC in the first year of welfare.
* 75% of recipients exit AFDC in the first two years of welfare.
* 30% of welfare recipients leave welfare permanently in less than two years.
How much cash do welfare recipients receive?
* Since 1970, states have allowed inflation to erode 45% of the value of welfare payments. In addition, many states have cut benefits: In 1970, the average monthly welfare check per family was \$676 (in 1993 dollars). In 1993, the average monthly welfare check per family was $373. Most AFDC households purchase shelter, clothing, transportation, personal hygiene, household needs, school supplies, and medical expenses not covered by medicaid/medicare out of an annual benefit income that averages $8000 for a family of 3 when AFDC and foodstamps are combined. (Living like “queens”?)
I hope these facts make you outraged at the portrayals of poverty and poor people that have come to dominate since the Regan era. While the government spends next to nothing alleviating poverty, educating poor people, and providing vital medical assistance, and works hard to cut these programs, more and more money goes into prisons, big business, and militarization. Get smart on poverty politics, share your knowledge with your friends, and create new radical responses to the war on the poor.
dean spade fights evil government bureaucracies in new york city.
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