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The Myth of the Welfare Queen

September 29, 2012

I read a book by this name in college and it was quite eye opening.  It helped me to see welfare in a different light and I think it would do our politicians well to read it.

Having lived in places such as Philadelphia and Lame Deer where it is common for residents to receive some form of public assistance, I am keenly aware of the negative effects of welfare:  it engenders laziness, strips people of their dignity, makes citizens dependent on the government, and the list goes on.  It is certainly not the best means for addressing the problems of poverty facing such communities, with that I agree wholeheartedly.

However, the matter of getting people off welfare is not as cut and dry as people would like to make it seem.  Yes, there are people who abuse it, but there are also many people who legitimately–and desperately–need it.

Consider the single mother of a sweet, beautiful little girl who was once in my 2nd grade class in North Philadelphia.  Destiney, at seven years old, had already been molested by an uncle.  Her mother, Nelly, was beside herself worrying about her daughter’s safety and comfort both at home and at school.  She gave up her job and went on welfare in order to be able to be home with her daughter at all times and to be able to walk her to school in the morning and to pick her up in the afternoon.  Her job hadn’t paid enough for her to afford after-school care so she relied on relatives, which proved devastating.  Her only option was welfare.

The Myth of the Welfare Queen tells similar stories of women stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Many of these women want to work and they feel ashamed to accept public assistance, but the kind of work available to them–flipping burgers at McDonalds, cleaning offices after hours–doesn’t pay enough to cover household expenses plus the cost of daycare for their children, especially those with infants who can’t yet send their kids to school.  It works out to be more economical for them to simply stay at home and take care of their children themselves, which also happens to be the safer option for many parents, especially those with teens who might otherwise be lured into gangs were it not for the ever-present eyes of their mothers.  A mom can’t simultaneously work a night shift and watch out for her son or daughter.  The women in the book are trying to do the right thing for their children but society labels them as lazy.

Our government can’t strip away welfare without first ensuring that one of two things is in place:  better-paying jobs or subsidized daycare.  Before we eliminate too many social supports, we need to first foster healthy local economies and/or provide affordable daycare for working parents. Otherwise the money we might save by reducing social spending will end up going into law enforcement and the prison system because more and more kids will grow up unsupervised in places where they are extremely vulnerable to peers (or family members) who are up to no good.  Whether or not they’re supervised might not even matter because without better job opportunities, many of these kids will continue to be lured into gangs because the profits from dealing drugs are far more appealing than working endless hours at a dead-end job to earn a measly paycheck that doesn’t even cover the bills.

 

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