How We Talk about the Poor

The way the poor are talked about in this country is absolutely reprehensible. And the fact that this goes on in a country in which a vast majority of the population follows the teachings of a man who spent his time absolutely blasting the rich while hanging out with the poor and the dregs of society is beyond baffling.

My husband and I are graduate students. We are raising two children on our combined graduate student stipends. We don’t pay federal income tax, but we do pay sales tax and state and local taxes. Our children are on state medicaid for their health care. Mitt Romney thinks we’re moochers. Not only do we not pay federal income tax, we also take government money from a state program – medicaid. Paul Ryan wants to cut the state medicaid program my children are on. And here’s where this starts to get personal.

Adding our children to our student health insurance plans would cost us an extra $8000 a year, not counting deductibles or copays, and that would be on top of the astronomical amount it costs to send each of them to daycare (seriously, look up daycare prices sometime!). Did I mention that we are living on graduate school stipends? What boggles my mind is that Mitt Romney, who earns millions of dollars a year, thinks that families like mine are some sort of freeloading leeches.

Fortunately, we’re lucky. My husband and I are able to subsidize our graduate student stipends with blogging and tutoring, and we don’t have student loan debt from our undergraduate degrees because we both had scholarships. More than that, we know that this is temporary. In a few years we will finish our degree programs and move on to get “real” jobs. Good jobs, hopefully. Others don’t have this luxury.

We recently discovered that we can afford a Y membership. We’ve been going there to exercise and take the kids swimming, and we’re going to sign Sally up for either ballet or gymnastics or maybe soccer. I mentioned to Sean the other day that I felt guilty being able to afford these extravagances while taking medicaid. He pointed out that that’s part of why medicaid exists – so that families like ours, families raising children on limited incomes, can manage to afford little niceties like Y memberships, or karate or baseball for their kids. He’s right.

But you remember how I mentioned that we are lucky? Lots of other families, especially single parent families or families out of work, have much, much less than we do. I can’t even imagine being a single mother working at Walmart and trying to make ends meet with no out in sight. Or an out of work former factory employer unable to make mortgage payments and facing eviction. Or an inner city pregnant teenager forced to drop out of high school. My husband and I were both raised in upper middle class homes. We may have comparatively low incomes now as graduate students raising kids, but we will never experience true deprivation.

But somehow the national rhetoric about the poor centers on the idea that they are lazy, moochers, people who just need to work harder. Welfare queens. Addicted to food stamps. Freeloaders. Somehow there’s this idea that, because of government programs, the poor have too much money (ironic coming from billionaires like Mitt Romney). There’s this absolutely demonetization and vilification where there should be compassion and a desire to help.

And then there’s this idea that having a safety net is a bad thing. Quite literally, some in this country believe that giving aid to the poor actually hurts them, and that removing this aid, eliminating things like welfare and food stamps and unemployment insurance, would actually help them. (Not surprisingly, the “some in this country” who think this are generally the ones with plenty of money.) And again, most of the people who believe these things also claim to follow Jesus, a man who, according to their own holy book, urged the rich to sell all of their possessions and give them to the poor, with no caveat that doing so might make the poor inclined to be lazy.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a much more moral and loving person today as an atheist than I ever was as an evangelical. I used to be one of those in favor of cutting programs for the poor for fear that such programs simply served to make the poor “lazy.” But I grew up, and unlike many others, I realized that this world is far more complex and far less simple than the beliefs I held could account for. I came to understand things like privilege and to see the way some groups and classes are marginalized in our society. I began to see the structural systems that keep people in poverty and to realize that solving poverty by removing aid to the poor is like trying to fix a headache by depriving the sufferer of advil or curing cancer by depriving the patient of chemo.

Today, as a Humanist, I believe in working to improve the lives of every person on this planet, and in working to protect this planet and improve conditions for the other creatures we share it with as well. As a Humanist, I can unleash my optimism and close the door on my former pessimism. As a Humanist, I can see that those I had before demonized and othered are people too. As a Humanist, I can open my arms and widen the circle.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Louise Broadbent

    Excellent post! Great point made well.

    • Ben

      I completely understand this article and my heart goes out to everyone in this situation, which according to Romney is 47% of Americans, which is a lot of us. I managed to get out of school without a lot of debt and my parents were able to help my wife and I out with a down payment on our first house. We are not rich, but like the author, will probably never know true depravity. We also do a fair amount of work with the poor, through shelters and non-profits. And while a lot of these programs help a lot of people, I have also encountered quite a few people who really do take advantage of the system. A man who works 5 months out of the year and then takes unemployment the rest, he claims to have been doing this for 6 years. Mothers on food stamps, who also go to every available church pantry, sometimes being caught and denied food because they have already been to 5 pantries, while their husbands at home make twice above the poverty level. While the social safety net is incredibly important and I fully support it there are people who take advantage of it.

      I think I’m writing this because I feel this article makes Romney out to be an evil, rich, selfish politician who cares for no one but himself. Let him read this story and I feel confident in saying that he would be glad the social safety net exists for these situations… Generalizations were made about the conservative end of the political spectrum with little fairness given towards what I feel are the majority of opinions shared by conservatives. I could be way off too.

      I feel like this is an unfair discussion made in defense of social welfare, making the opponents out to be heartless, selfish individuals.

      I wholeheartedly believe in social welfare, medical coverage, and financial assistance for those in need. But I also believe there is room for improvement in the existing programs and I feel like the republican party isn’t as extreme as the left makes them out to be, or at least I hope they’re not as extreme as this article makes them out to be.

      • KS

        I was going to leave a very snarky response, but I’ll try to be better behaved than that…

        “I wholeheartedly believe in social welfare, medical coverage, and financial assistance for those in need.” That is great, and I’m glad you do! Unfortunately, the Republican party doesn’t. I’m guessing there are many self-identified republicans who, like you, believe in the good old “grand old party”, but it is an illusion. It actually IS as extreme as the left makes them out to be, or probably more so. You can research this yourself if you look into the offical GOP position on various issues or just listen to what Romney and other Republicans say. But just to provide some basis for what I am saying, this graphic ( shows how republican representatives have become ever more extreme in the last few decades (the whole blog article is at

      • Carol

        I am way past giving conservatives the benefit of the doubt. These are people who applaud Glen Beck’s blackboard, applaud an empty cair at the RNC. They’re idiots. Who does that.

        They hiss at gay soldiers. They demean women. They elect anti science and global warming deniers as their leaders. George Zimmerman is a hero and has probably launched his political career by killing a minor. Look at the tea party candidate caught playing hanky lanky with a patient and taking her to get an abortion no less. Not one peep from the party that is oh so moral.

        They shut down acorn based on a phony video, but when there’s actual evidence of voter fraud, as in this company that was gathering fake registrations for the GOP, they have nothing to say.

        This is a party where believing unprovable conspiracy theories is respected but couldn’t care less about actual corruption, a party with no morals, filled with selfish, greedy hypocrites who would be more than happy if slavery came back. Romney is the personification of his party. If this what you’ve decided to associate with, well that’s your problem.

      • Aurora

        I have also encountered quite a few people who really do take advantage of the system. A man who works 5 months out of the year and then takes unemployment the rest, he claims to have been doing this for 6 years.

        Without further detail, I see no reason whatsoever to think he’s “taking advantage of the system.” My grandfather works 6-7 months of the year and is on unemployment for the rest. You know why? Because he works at a golf course, in the north, which is closed all winter since it’s kinda hard to golf in the snow. My boyfriend’s mother works 9 months of the year and is on unemployment for the rest, because she is a teacher. The cleaning staff at the college I went to were given the option to go on unemployment each December, because they didn’t need the whole staff that month, since there isn’t much for them to do. There IS such a thing as a seasonal job. People all over the country work at golf courses, amusement parks, schools, ice cream stands, beaches, and plenty of other places I can’t think of off the top of my head, places that are only open part of the year or only need a few employees during certain parts. What do you want these people to do? Take a different, temporary job during every off season so they’re never unemployed? Good luck with that. “Yeah, I’d like for you to hire me, but just you know, I’ll be leaving in April when my other job is available again. Maybe I could come back next October?”

  • Maleekwa

    Very well said Libby, thank you.

  • SophieUK

    This is something I really don’t understand about America as a whole – how can somewhere so Christian be so unchristian?!

    One thing I have realised is that many of those that think this way have a very different definition of the word “poor” than those who do not. I read a discussion online where some republican supporters were debating a survey about the poorest x percent of the population who were receiving benefits, and one person argued that these people could not be called poor because most had fridges and televisions. How do you persuade these people that this is not enough reason to abandon those living in poverty? Any ideas anyone?

    • Jayn

      “these people could not be called poor because most had fridges and televisions”

      Nevermind that a lot of ‘frivolities’ make getting out of poverty easier. A fridge gives you a place to store food, and smartphones–a popular target–give not only a phone line but internet access. Just because something isn’t a necessity in the strictest sense doesn’t mean that it’s something one can afford to get rid of for a few bucks. Imagine living in a rural area without a car, for example.

      • Niemand

        Imagine living in a rural area without a car, for example.

        Been there, done that. It’s awful.

      • smrnda

        I knew someone who lived in a rural area without a car. She was put on split shifts, worked 12 hours a day walked to work in fear of being raped, and ate only 4 meals a week. She dropped weight to less than 100 pounds and quit menstruating. This is the Republican dream, which is why in my heart I have nothing but hatred for people who think that we should ‘leave the market be.’

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        How is a refrigerator NOT a necessity in a society in which most people live far from sources of fresh food and, frequently, even far from grocery stores that carry it? It’s certainly a necessity if you have any intention of taking “personal responsibility” to eat healthfully, which conservatives claim to be a big fan of. Some people seem to think that if it’s something that a family in a rural area of a developing country can do without, it must not be a necessity. They completely ignore the fact that different societies have different “necessities.”

      • kyril

        There’s also…well, there are a couple of other facts that should be considered:
        (1) It’s damn near impossible to find a living space in this country that isn’t equipped with a refrigerator already, and that’s doubly true if you’re poor. Just try to find an apartment without a refrigerator.
        (2) Even if you grant that it’s possible to live without one by e.g. buying small amounts of fresh food every day, it winds up being more expensive over the long term. This is actually one of the many ways in which being poor can be expensive.
        (3) Even if you pretend that it were physically possible to save money in some way by going without a refrigerator, the amount of money saved would be trivial. Even if you pretend that you could save the entire cost of the refrigerator and its electric bill, you’re still talking about less than $100/year over the lifetime of the appliance if you bought it new at retail. That’s not going to free any poor person of their dependence on a government program.

        That same argument applies equally well to most of the luxuries and so-called luxuries that conservatives like to complain about poor Americans having. The truth is that these items – TVs, video game consoles, microwaves, cellphones, etc. (notice how it’s mostly electronics?) are (a) very cheap in comparison to food/housing prices, (b) generally cheaper than not having them, and (c) hard to avoid having in this country even if you don’t actually buy them (they get gifted, bartered, left behind in moves, left on curbsides, etc. with astounding frequency because they’re so cheap and there are more of them than there are of us).

        Fact: you can’t eat an X-Box.

      • Aurora

        This in general is one of my pet peeves, and I have special disdain for the “poor people shouldn’t have cell phones” argument. Yes, a cell phone can be kind of expensive, and if it puts you in a position where you struggle to afford food, then maybe it’s not worth the trade off. HOWEVER, what these people fail to consider is, for one, many people need a cell phone for work. Two, a cell phone isn’t just a luxury, it’s a safety net. My grandpa insisted on getting cell phones for himself and my grandma back in 2001 or so, before most people had them (at least where we lived), because she’s diabetic and he wanted her to be able to call for help if something happened while she was driving. The thought of her being stranded on the side of the road, blood sugar plummeting, was terrifying to him. I also know people who buy their kids cheap TracFones because they walk to school by themselves, or to after-school activities. I know if I had kids, I would want that.

        I know we went most of history without them, and we don’t NEED to have them, but they just give so much peace of mind that I would never fault someone for prioritizing cell phones for their family even if it means cutting some corners (again, so long as you can still afford the absolute necessities–there are people who have no food but somehow have iPhones, which is preposterous).

        I also really hate the idea that poor people shouldn’t be allowed to have TVs, computers, video games, etc. First of all, these things aren’t HUGELY expensive when you really think about it. They’re things that can be enjoyed by the whole family, for years. If you spend $700 on a TV and, say, $8 a month on Netflix, that’s $800 in a year and then $100 the next year, for as much entertainment as you want, for as many people as you want. And a computer? That’s practically a necessity, especially if you don’t live within walking distance of a library. Kids have to type up papers for schools. It’s not a matter of wanting to; most teachers won’t even accept non-typed papers. Plus the amount of outside-of-school learning that the internet can provide is, in my opinion, worth every cent. Education is the most important thing for getting out of poverty, so any so-called luxury that promotes learning should be encouraged.

        What gets me most about those arguments, though–about TV, computer, going to movies, etc.–is that they imply that poor people should not be allowed to have fun. Don’t go out to eat, don’t watch TV, don’t go to a movie–no, not even once in awhile, not even once a year, not EVER, because you’re poor and you should be miserable.

        I even, honest to goodness, read a discussion on Amazon (why do they have random discussion topics?) about a church Christmas program where they gave gifts to underprivileged kids. They had a Christmas tree with handmade ornaments, and each had a gift a kid had asked for written on it. The person who started the discussion was complaining that one kid had had the audacity to ask for an XBox game, and wasn’t it ridiculous how these kids have no gratitude that people are doing a favor for them, they should be happy getting a sweater or a pair of socks. On Christmas! They actually said that poor kids had no right to ask for anything more than a sweater for Christmas.

        People suck.

    • Stony

      Americans are weaned on the Horatio Alger story. “Rags to riches” is considered to be the American birthright — hard work and perseverance in the face of multiple failures is the #1 narrative. Failure to pull oneself out of one’s situation, to better oneself, for each generation to “do better” than the last, is viewed as anathema, shameful, and just downright ignored. It’s happened many times over our history, but the most recent turn was during the Reagan era, when “the poor” were viewed as somehow unAmerican. When folks point out that many of those that pulled themselves up did so with government aid, they are pooh-poohed. When folks point out that statistically The Secret is bullshit and that there is only one Oprah, they are branded as cynics. When folks point out that the divide between the haves and have-nots is itself shameful, they are told that they are demonizing the rich. Thus we are a nation of consumers and climbers. It makes for a helluva workforce, baby, because my kids are going to have a 3-D Super XBox GreenMachine for Christmas, by god. Your kids? Screw you, welfare queen.

      Oh, and that’s the other narrative: you? You ARE one of the wealthy so they are coming to take YOUR wealth and redistribute it to those Greedy, Lazy, Awful Welfare Queens who drive Cadillacs while you strive to make your 1998 Jeep Cherokee last one more year. Yeah, they’re coming to take YOUR stuff and give it to THEM. (Forget the blatant race baiting in those stories, just focus on the fact that they tell their base that they are actually part of the wealthy.)

      • Eamon Knight

        I recently ran across a Steinbeck quote that sums it all up. And look, someone even made it into a whole website:

      • Stony

        Excellent, Eamon! And Tom the Dancing Bug has a whole series of “Lucky Ducky” cartoons that are hard hitting on that line of thinking as well. Worth the google.

    • kagerato

      It’s not merely that they have a different definition of the word “poor”. It’s that they largely fail to understand how history, technology, and human society have progressed and why. To address just one aspect of it, what is it that they think has improved the general quality of life so much in just a couple centuries? The answer, by far and away any reasonable measure, is science and technological growth. Yet they would reject the ownership and use of any such technology when it is the poor who benefit from it.

      What do they figure the results of not owning a refrigerator, washer, dryer, television, car and so forth are? It’s basically the equivalent of putting yourself back into the 18th century with no hope of ever getting out of it. These devices save an enormous amount of labor for their cost, which in this post-industrial age is increasingly trivial. They simultaneously improve quality of life greatly. It’s a win-win scenario and a very easy decision.

      • Tracey

        Also keep in mind that many poor people are renters, not home owners. Rental properties (legal ones, anyway) must have stoves and refrigerators and toilets. Many have a communal laundry room with shared washers and dryers.

      • Aurora

        To add to what Tracey said, a lot of poor people who do own homes (or are working on paying them off, at least) have been living their for YEARS. It may even be their parent’s or grandparent’s childhood home. I don’t think it’s out of the question for them to be able to save up a few hundred dollars for a washing machine over the course of a few decades (and most of them do have older appliances).

        Not only that, but going to the laundromat costs more than owning a washer, by a lot. The only reason some people don’t is because it’s easier to scrape up a few dollars every week than it is hundreds of dollars at any one time. And THAT is why poor people really like tax return time (seriously, if you’ve never been in a poor community in April…it’s like Disneyland).

    • Ted Seeber

      The real trinity for most American Christians: Mammon, Moloch and Mars. Republicans worship two out of the three, the Democrats also take two out of the three. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide where they are on the scale.

  • Lisa

    I agree so much, for the most part. I do believe there are certain individuals who would take advantage of support because they feel it’s enough for them, they don’t want or need more and are lucky to “mooch”, but those are a huge minority (I have actually met such a person, hence why I believe they exist).
    How’s it going to help the poor to take away their support systems? Because suddenly, they’ll be forced to sell their work for any price because they have to eat somehow? And they’ll be stuck in that job because they don’t make nearly enough money to improve their situation via education and such?
    I’ve said many times, I’m considered ‘poor’ where I live, and I receive help. There’s no way I, an unlearned young woman, could make a decent living without further education. State support helps me get that education I need. Otherwise I’d be stuck in the same situation many other poor people are stuck in – no education, no job, no money, no education, no job, no money, . . .

  • Saraquill

    Removing support systems and making it that much easier for the poor to fall into debt, go hungry, get evicted, does not contribute to the stability of society.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    I know that their are many, regular, rank-and-file conservatives who genuinely believe that cutting these programs will actually help the poor. But I don’t believe that the rich politicians who tout this idea really believe that. I honestly believe that they just don’t care, or just don’t think about it. Can anyone really believe that Mitt Romney has ever spent more than 5 seconds thinking about life in poverty? He’s never had to and he’s not inclined to. I seriously think these people simply have no concern for the poor at all but they can’t actually say that so they have so they have to tow this BS, indefensible line about helping the poor to become self-sufficient, although they never explain how exactly this is supposed to happen–because they just don’t care.

    Sean is right about Sally and the classes at the Y. But I think your residual guilt over it really speaks to an attitude that we are all taught to have towards low-income people and social programs in this country. See, I believe, like your husband (and I know you too), that such programs exist so that poor and low-income people can have a shot at actually having QUALITY of life. But conservatives do not seem to believe this. They grudgingly acknowledge that poor people deserve to live but they think that, if social programs MUST exist, that they should provide people with just enough to keep them living in misery, the better for them to dwell on how very naughty they are for daring to need help. They’ll concede the right of these people to live, but not their right to live WELL, even in the smallest of ways. It’s like the idea behind the workhouses of Dickens’ time where the giving of aid was combined with the giving of punishment and humiliation, with the idea that this might move poor people to get a grip and stop being poor.

    Sally’s lessons at the Y are no frivolity. They will provide her with good exercise, help her to form good exercise habits, be good for her health and self-esteem and help her to make friends. But you are right that many families less fortunate than yours do not have the ability to give their children such an important opportunity–then when those children become unhealthy, sedentary, and overweight, the cons blame the parents for not caring enough about their children to do what exactly what you are doing to help them.

    • Niemand

      I know that their are many, regular, rank-and-file conservatives who genuinely believe that cutting these programs will actually help the poor

      I’m not sure. That is, I’m sure that this is their conscious motivation, but often if you probe a bit you’ll find a lot of, oddly enough, envy motivating their position. To give a possibly silly example, I work in a hospital where the custodial staff was threatening to strike. One of the issues of contention was that their current health care plan had a $0 copay whereas the plans of the professional staff had copays of $5-10. So I kept hearing the argument, “Isn’t it unfair that we have to pay a copay when they don’t?” Bear in mind that there was no question, no possibility at all, of the professional staff getting the $0 copay. The only option for making things “fair” was for the custodial staff to get a copay. So, IMHO, this position is not one of wanting to help the poor or even of wanting justice, but one of envy. Wanting to take some “undeserved” advantage away from people with less power than you. I suspect a lot of working or middle class conservatives have similar motives and a certain twisted envy of “welfare queens” who “get handed their money.”

      • Liberated Liberal

        Exactly this.

      • Rosa

        The professional staff could unionize and fight for their own lower copays, instead of helping the hospital take from the janitorial staff.

        it is an option. Not one management and investors want us to think about. But it exists.

      • smrnda

        It isn’t like the janitors were making six figures a year with no copays.

      • Niemand

        The professional staff could unionize and fight for their own lower copays, instead of helping the hospital take from the janitorial staff.

        That was my idea. It didn’t prosper. Maybe next time the CEO gets a raise while telling everyone else that there’s no money for raises this year. He makes $1.8 million.

      • Aurora

        I initially thought I’d read that wrong, and then that you’d left out numbers. The janitorial staff actually has no copay? That’s amazing, it really really is.

        I think the jealousy is part of it, especially among the lower-middle and…middle-middle(?) class, who are far enough below the upper-middle and rich to feel like they’re missing out and like they don’t really have all that much money. But then here are these people getting all these neat things, cheaper food, cheaper healthcare, etc. What they don’t seem to get is that EVEN WITH HELP the poor people have less money than they do, by a lot. All the assistance does is help close the gap a little, not put them ahead (the exception being if you just barely miss the cutoffs, in which case, they will be a smidgen ahead of you, but no more than you are of them without it).

        Minimum wage only comes out to about $15k a year, before taxes. The median salary in this country is about $50k. The quality of life difference between these two is unbelievable. For someone who grew up in a poor family, $50k/year is enough to do and have just about anything you could want, and still have money left over (because, well, it’s triple what they’re used to). But the people making $50-100k don’t see it that way, they don’t think about the actual numbers, they just feel shortchanged because they aren’t rich but aren’t getting help.

        Mind you, there is at least one instance where those people truly DO get shortchanged a bit, and that’s in sending your kids to college. If you make under $30k/year, your kids can go to college for free, or nearly so. If you make a couple hundred thousand, you can (perhaps with a dramatic lifestyle change) afford to pay for them to go (depending on how many kids you have in college at one time). But there’s a group in the middle who makes too much for financial aid and too little to just pay for it.

        But you know what? They spent the whole rest of their lives not having to worry about food or the electric bill or whether they could afford to get the car inspected, so it’s not really worth complaining too much about, in comparison.

    • Amethyst

      “They grudgingly acknowledge that poor people deserve to live but they think that, if social programs MUST exist, that they should provide people with just enough to keep them living in misery, the better for them to dwell on how very naughty they are for daring to need help. They’ll concede the right of these people to live, but not their right to live WELL, even in the smallest of ways.”

      This. So very much this.

  • Niemand

    Are your children on SCHIP or something similar? Providing insurance for children has been demonstrated to reduce preventable hospitalizations thus saving billions a year. But politicians rarely let facts like that stop them when there are children to be harmed with an ill thought through tax reduction. Take the Y membership and don’t feel guilty. You’re saving taxpayer’s money by insuring your children and taking them to the doctor when they need to go.

    • Libby Anne

      Yes, SCHIP. And that’s a good point – when Sally complained that her ear hurt last month, I took her in to the doctor right away without having to first worry about whether the possibility that it would get worse outweighed the money a doctor visit cost. It was a good thing, too – she had an ear infection, and we were able to catch it right off the bat. If I’d delayed taking her to the doctor for money reasons, it might have gotten much, much worse.

      Your comment makes me curious. Lots of people in this country put off going to the doctor either because they don’t have insurance or because they have high deductible insurance or large copays. Putting it off means that when you do go to the doctor it’s much worse, and potentially much more costly. The same goes for regular doctor visits – lots of people don’t go because they don’t think it’s worth the money it would cost, and they end up having things go undetected for years. So my question is this: would money actually be saved by going to a universal system where tax dollars pay for everyone’s health care and doctor visits, etc., are either free or have only a very low copay? I would imagine that the answer would be yes, and I’m curious just how high the amount saved would be. And yet, this is all ignored when it comes to the discussion of how to fix our health care system.

      • Niemand

        So my question is this: would money actually be saved by going to a universal system where tax dollars pay for everyone’s health care and doctor visits, etc., are either free or have only a very low copay?

        Yes. The US has the world’s highest per capita cost for medical care for a reason. “Defensive medicine” and overly aggressive treatment are minor contributing factors, but the major reason is that people wait until they are desperately ill to go to the doctor-or, more often, the ER-and desperate illness is harder and more expensive to treat than simple illness. For example, chronic hypertension that can be treated with a single drug, a few checkups a year, and a home blood pressure monitor can turn into multiple heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage, blood clots, disease in the blood vessels in the feet that keep the patient from walking, and other problems, necessitating multiple hospitalizations and expensive medications. And I’m not even counting tax income lost from lost wages, people requiring disability or early retirement, secondary losses such as caretakers having to quit their jobs to watch the person who is ill full time, etc.

      • Libby Anne

        Oh yeah, my grandmother never went to the doctor because they had no insurance, and then she had a stroke. If’ she’d had regular visits, they would have caught her high blood pressure. Instead, she had to spent months in rehab after a lengthy hospital stay. Thanks, Niemand, you’ve strengthened my arsenal of arguments for a universal healthcare system!

      • jose

        I’m looking here at total expenditure as % of GDP and it’s strange. The US spends a higher percentage of its GDP on healthcare than many countries with universal systems, how can that be? US is 17.9% whereas UK is 9.6%, Spain is 9.5%, France is 11.9%, Germany is 11.6%, Canada is 11.3%, etc.

      • Libby Anne

        jose – Because we have the best healthcare system IN THE WORLD! /snark

      • Niemand

        The US doesn’t just spend more money on health care than any other country in the world, it spends more PUBLIC money on health care than any other country except, IIRC, Switzerland.

      • Katty

        Libby Anne, you were wondering about data on health care costs. Also, the topic of inequality and the “rags to riches” myth (sorry, it’s really no more than a myth nowadays) came up in earlier comments. Well, I would like to encourage you to take a look at the blog (and columns) of nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman (“The Conscience of a Liberal” at who regularly talks about these topics. Obviously, he comes from an economic/academic background, so he offers a lot of hard facts and figures, but also very lucid analysis – and the best part is that the way he explains things is actually comprehensible to the layperson.
        The blog has a search function, but here are two posts which I consider highly pertinent: on the fact that intergenerational social mobility (the fancy term for the “rags to riches” story) is currently at an all-time low in the US and on the topic of health care cost in private vs public health care systems.

      • Rosa

        Well, judging by the health costs of countries like Canada and the UK compared to ours, it seems obvious that the answer is “yes”.

        Unfortunately, in the past we’ve written into the law things like “the government can’t negotiate lower drug costs for seniors enrolled in government programs”, so it’s always possible we could protect private firms by designing a universal healthcare system that did continue to pay the highest costs in the industrialized world.

      • lucrezaborgia

        Right now, I have NO insurance. State insurance doesn’t cover me because I have no children and we can’t afford the school insurance because the co-pays would quickly wipe out any perceived savings due to the medications I am on. I currently get them via the patient assistance program and otherwise rely on my school’s clinic. Luckily, they are very well staffed and take very seriously my complaints of illness. The only problem is that they can only help me with very minor issues. My gallbladder was removed a few months ago via emergency surgery and now I am suspected of having seizures. No idea how I am going to pay my bills but luckily a local community health program is helping me with the bills. However, someone is going to be paying for this somehow! Wouldn’t it make more sense to just have me on the state insurance once I’m out of school? I can’t always make it to the school clinic and have been to the ER too many times to count. My credit has been destroyed because I can’t even manage to make minimal payments.

  • jose

    Demonizing the poor makes it easier to pass legislation against them and to make social programs fail. Doesn’t matter if we have to lie blatantly and constantly. It’s what made ACORN fail.

    We want the masses hungry and begging for a job, no matter how precarious, willing to accept anything to get out of their current situation.

    • Stony

      Hungry, begging for a job, and swimming in credit card debt.

    • Ted Seeber

      What gets me is for most, the question seems to be between cutting out the soup kitchen, or denying entry to the soup kitchen to a pregnant mother of four until she kills the fifth.

      NEITHER can be considered generous.

  • smrnda

    People like Romney are the real leeches. He earns his money from investment, which means he gets money because *other* people were working while he was sitting on his ass, deciding what factory to move to China and where unions needed to be busted and whose benefits had to be cut for the good of his family.

    Poor people work harder than rich people. They work harder than I do. As long as you can be working very hard and still be poor, any rhetoric linking poverty and work ethic is 100% bullshit. People working in slaughterhouses are probably all poor, but they are working very hard. The truth is that it’s not how hard you work but where you are in a hierarchy that determines if you are poor or not.

    We need to get rid of this myth of self-reliance. I didn’t grow my own food, make my own clothes, or any other number of things I depend on. These things are there for me because millions of poor workers were exploited on my behalf. The grocery store is open at 3am for my convenience but it is open at a cost to the worker, who must leave a sick child home alone to keep their barely over minimum wage job.

    Rich people, and middle class people, are basically scum. Their lives are made possible because other people are pissed and shat on, and they need to admit this. I get sick of middle class whining too. I know it’s tough to put your kids through college, but when we’ve got people who can’t get their kids food or medical care, the ‘college is expensive’ seems kind of whiny to me.

    Also, rich people have very clear ideas about what their children should be entitled to, so the basics you’re providing are really scraps compared to that.

    • Libby Anne

      Your last line made me think of something. Every time I hear a rich person complaining about how they couldn’t take a tax increase, and then they break down their expenses, I inevitably see “private school” among them. Because apparently private school – which generally means “prep school” – is some sort of basic necessity. Because, you know, how could they ever stoop to sending their kid to public school with my kid! The horror!

      • Niemand

        This is going to sound strange and maybe missing the point, but I’m not sure the people you’ve been talking to are really “rich”, at least not as far as the line the Occupy movement has drawn is concerned. They’re the 2-20%, the upper middle class. The rich don’t worry about having money for private schools or paying for their summer house or whether that third car is a luxury. They just have money on that level. They’re worried about whether they have enough money for a hostile takeover of a slightly smaller company than theirs or whether they have enough money to fend off a takeover or whether that $5 million donation to the local museum in return for having their name on a new hall is a good idea this year.

        Also, there are public schools and then there are public schools. There are schools in Manhattan that are ostensibly public, but you’ll only be in the right district for them if you can afford a $5000/month apartment (or $2 million condo…and you do realize I’m talking about studio apartments, right?). I think of those districts as having a private school fee bundled into the cost of renting. Oddly enough, they always seem to have more resources than, say, public schools in the south Bronx.

      • Libby Anne

        Oh, I know there are different levels – and it’s not people I’ve talked to, it’s articles I’ve seen. The highest tax bracket kicks in at 250K, so it’s usually people making something like 300K or 500K explaining why the can’t take any more taxes, and breaking down their income to explain it. I’ve seek breakdowns that include buying a couple party dresses for a total of 15K. I do think there should be another tax bracket starting at one million, but I think that including 15K dresses and 40K private school per kid as basic expenses they can’t do without is bizarre. Or, as I’ve also seen, including nannies and chauffeurs, once again like they’re absolute necessities. It comes across as very out of touch.

      • Niemand

        The highest tax bracket starts at $250K? That’s just sick! It’s not even that high a bracket, only something like 35% of gross income, minus deductions. What person making $250K couldn’t afford a tax increase AND still pay for private school, if that’s a priority for them. I suppose I should have known that already, but well, my partner does our taxes so I didn’t. I like to think of myself as knowledgeable and cynical about the world, but sometimes-like now-I get hit with just how naive I really am.

        BTW, I do want to make clear that I agree that people who complain about not being able to pay the taxes that support food stamps and medicaid because they “have to” pay for private school need to be hit with a reality stick. There’s no excuse for begin that out of touch.

      • Libby Anne

        Niemand – My bad, I should have looked it up before speaking. It’s apparently 388K now. I still think we need another bracket at one million or so, but at least 388K is higher than 250K.

      • Ray

        Neimund, you are right on the private schools getting more funding. Usually this funding also means more teachers want to be employed there so they would have more skilled and effective teachers than even a regular public school (as a student in the education field, I noticed it’s a common desire to either wanting to be employed in a wealthy school district or a Title I just for school funding). So this means people who can afford it somehow would want their kid into that school because they want the “best”. This is also why we have e raise of charter schools too, people want the best education possible and think that a public school isn’t going to give it to them.

      • Niemand

        Libby Ann, I like your idea of another bracket for millionaires and above. I have another idea: sliding scale fees for minor crimes. If a person making minimum wage gets a speeding ticket, it may well cost a significant amount of her/his days income to pay it whereas a wealthy person may be able to pay for it out of her/his spare change. That’s not equal punishment for an equal crime. Make the penalty a certain percentage of yearly income instead. I think they do this in Scandinavia already. At least I vaguely remember something about the CEO of Nokia getting a very expensive ticket…

      • Libby Anne

        Niemand – Good point! And really, can’t we make taxes slide more too? As it is, if you earn X you are in the 10% bracket, but if you earn X + $1 you are in the 15% tax bracket, meaning that earning that extra dollar actually cost you money by bumping you up to the next bracket. We have high powered computers for crying out loud, it seems like there ought to be a way to make this smoother and thus eliminate those bumps!

      • Jayn

        Libby Anne, that’s actually a misunderstanding of how income tax brackets work. That extra dollar will knock you into a higher bracket, but you’ll only pay 15% income tax on that single dollar–the rest will be taxed at 10%. So while the highest bracket is 35%, you’d never actually be paying that much (although the higher your income the closer you’ll get). And that’s before deductions and such.

      • Libby Anne

        Jayn – Oh! I didn’t realize that! You can tell it’s my husband who does our taxes, lol. But it makes so much more sense to do it that way, so I’m glad they do! Wow, though. That makes me feel even less compassion for millionaires whining about their taxes. Thanks for setting me straight!

      • kagerato

        What Jayn explained there is why they’re referred to as the “marginal tax rates” instead of merely the tax rates. Conservatives frequently omit the difference in tax discussions because it fails to serve their purposes.

        The progressive income tax was originally instituted in the wake of the Gilded Age because society was increasingly becoming governed of, by, and for the rich. I fear we’re in a similar situation now, and the statistics on income inequality seem to support that view.

        Restructuring the income tax rates would help the economy, but you probably wouldn’t guess what needs to be done based on the mantra you get from the mainstream media. Reducing taxes across the board, for instance, provides very little return in economic activity. In terms of growth, high taxes on the rich, moderate taxes on the middle, and low to no taxes on the poor creates the best net effect on employment and GDP growth.

        One of the dumbest talking points you’ve probably constantly heard in the media for years now is that raising taxes on the rich somehow constrains job creation. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Low taxes on the rich actually encourage profiteering, consolidation, and gamesmanship through the extreme accumulation of capital in the hands of increasingly few people. High income taxes, on the other hand, encourage useful spending — especially on labor and equipment — because these activities are not subject to income tax. In fact, the way the tax code is currently structured, certain kinds of hiring and equipment purchases allow for the taking of specific exemptions which reduce a businesses’ net taxes.

        The conservative ideal of “small” businesses — by which you probably think of tiny Mom and Pop stores — driving the economy is actually far out of date. The vast majority of employment in the United States is now provided by medium and large businesses, and they are increasingly incorporated. Even for the relatively few individual and small businesses which would trigger the income tax at the modest ~35% marginal rate, they pay this only on their profits (not revenue). It’s pretty safe to say that if you’re bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit with just a few people you’re doing fine, and maybe should consider expanding your employment rolls and stop thinking of yourself as a “small” business.

      • Katty

        You are absolutely right, kagerato. And just a further note on marginal tax rates: There have been studies* conducted to determine the optimal top marginal tax rate – that is, at which point raising the tax rate in the highest bracket actually leads to less income because people will work less (because they get to keep so little of their extra dollars and prefer to have more free time) and evade taxes more. From a purely fiscal point of view, it would make sense to raise the top marginal tax rate to exactly before this happens so as to maximize tax revenue. And guess what the results showed: the optimal top marginal tax rate is somewhere around – wait for it – 70-80%!

        Paul Krugman (yes, again – I’m sorry but he’s just great on this topic!) says this so much better than I, for example here: and in a bit more detail here:
        (And now I’m done with the Krugman links! Thank you for your patience! ;-) )

        *) One such study can be found at though it is not exactly an easy read, not even if you have an economic background…

      • smrnda

        Enough of that bullshit. My parents both had PhDs, and I went to a very below-average public school and did just fine. The reason rich people send their kids to exclusive schools is so they can develop greater disdain for the lower classes.

      • Ray

        Smyrna, I understand your point of view, but as someone who went to a private school for their last two years of highschool, it is not like that across the board. I was placed there because my public school didn’t want to or could handle my disabilities. My parents did this not because they wanted me to have disdain for lower classes but so I could get something out of school that I wasn’t getting in a public school where I was seen as inhuman. Am I a rarity? Maybe.

    • lucifermourning

      wow. a little perspective on tax rates:
      I live in the UK. basic tax rate is 20%. Once you earn £34,371 (approx $55,000), it becomes 40%. At £150,000 (approx $240,500), it’s 50%.

      now, we don’t have to pay for health insurance, which is a big expense, so money goes a bit further. but seriously. the idea of complaining about paying 35% when you’re earning $388,000 – or even $250,000 – just seems insane.

      • Katty

        Right?!? Where I live the top marginal tax rate of 50% kicks in at about. 60,000 EUR (approx. 80k USD) a year. And that’s after they charged you somewhere around 19% for social security (this includes health insurance as well as a retirement plan).
        And you know what? I’m fine with that, knowing that if I fall, there is a safety net that catches me. Also, I sleep better at night knowing that even if I don’t manage to donate to charity directly because I’m the bread-winner in a single-income household and we have our own financial troubles, at least I’m contributing indirectly to the welfare of those who are even worse of than I am.

      • Kristen inDallas

        Yes and you also have great mass transit there (in the UK), making it feasable not to own a car. The avg american spends about 30% income on housing and 25-30% on transportation costs. If we (middleish income folks) gave another 20% to taxes plus whatever comes off the top for (no choice about it) retirement and (no choice about it) healthcare. There isn’t much left. So we choose between healthy food for 2 or daycare for the kids and eat crap, cause you can’t have both. The US need to stop acting like we can have the same social policies as dense, largely urban countries. More people live here than just wealthy urban and poor urban. There are all sorts of folks in the in between bits that do actually need to make a car payment from time to time.

    • lucifermourning

      my husband and i are both on low enough salaries that we pay the basic rate (20%). we do own a car and, for the price of my annual train ticket, we could run a second car, if i worked somewhere where that was the most practicable option. (but i work in London, so driving in would be crazy). living near London, housing costs are high, and we get smaller homes for the same money.

      we have put off having kids due to day care costs – but if one of us got a job that put us in the 40% tax bracket, the extra money would cover the cost of day care easily.

      i’m not saying that UK tax rates are exactly right for the US, only that the idea that someone making $200k a year cannot afford more taxes comes across as ridiculous.

      i’m actually American, so yes, i do know what it’s like in both countries.

  • Aimee

    removing the safety net absolutely will directly cause an increase in crime, especially theft. I know when I was very poor (truly getting by with the absolute minimum necessities) I ended up stealing food from my work (grocery store deli). It was mostly the out of date food that would go in the trash otherwise, but I would also take fresh food home, and I would also take soap and things like that when I needed them. There were many days when that was all I would eat.

    I am not sure if I could have gotten on food stamps at that time because I was considered a dependent of my parents even though they were not supporting me at all during those years. If I was in a similar situation again, not making enough to eat and there were no food stamps, you bet your ass I’d turn to stealing again. When the first needs are not met for food water and shelter, complex morality like “do not steal” doesn’t really register anymore.

    And don’t feed the line about churches supporting the poor. Think the churches can pick up all those millions of hungry families? Hey if we could say, enforce charity like food stamps (make sure it is being fairly handled across the board) then we could save taxpayers. Maybe these Republicans can champion the cause of the nation’s churches to pick up all the needs of welfare and food stamps.

    • Tracey

      Where I live, most of the churches spend their money building ridiculous additions or sending their members on missionary trips around the world, so they can lecture people “you’re doing it wrong”.

  • Stony

    Creating a struggling middle class does a few other things, as well. Every struggling farmer or small business owner starts to rail against what they see as unnecessary regulations, many of which seem to constrain them unfairly. The rich and larger corporate farms and corporations can often circumnavigate the regulations or flaunt them, building the cost of the fine into the cost of doing business. So the little guys vote against the regs, the larger guys get fewer regs, and we start down a slide of shitting in our own kitchens.

    • kagerato

      While you’ll never find me arguing that the law is simple enough (both the Federal and nearly all state codes in America are convoluted and self-contradictory), there’s often important details being left out in politics. Many regulations are not even “law”, proper, to be precise. They’re simply the current policy of a particular executive body. Furthermore, high profile regulations often have exemptions or limitations attached. Several of the controls in the Dodd-Frank financial bill, for instance, do not apply to medium sized banks but rather only to the largest banks in the country.

    • Carol

      They dom’t just circumnavigate them, they write them. They love regulations because it keeps the other guy out. In this day, it is the height of absurdity to think people can succeed competing against global mega corporations, corporations that basically don’t have a country. And as long as they can get everyone to chant rah rah America, they can continue raping and pillaging the planet and ruining lives.

      • Liberated Liberal


    • AztecQueen2000

      Additionally, some of the regulations that are barely noticed by a large corporation hurt a small business. For example, worker’s compensation insurance. Wonderful law, but expensive. So, small business owners keep their employees off the books, with NO worker’s comp protection, because paying for all their employees coverage would drive them out of business.

  • asmallcontempt

    THIS. This perspective drives me absolutely BATS.

    I have a specific family member that is CONSTANTLY carping about food stamps and welfare on facebook (thankfully, our face-to-face interaction is limited to few and far between family events, so I never have the opportunity to get all fisticuffs on her when I see something that makes me ragey).

    She’s a Christian, and her blatant hypocrisy and lack of empathy for the poor is absolutely bananas. When I was a believer, the perspective and behavior that many Christians had on this topic really made me question my own beliefs…and my definition of “love”.

    There seems to be a couple of ideas in play, at least in what I can understand from our interactions online: A) she comes from a conservative perspective that food, shelter, and medical care are “entitlements” that you ought to pay for yourself, not something that the government provides and B) that her perspective on “entitlements” and the poor are “just her opinions and nobodie’s gonna change it”. It seems to me that even demonstrating the morally bankrupt and cruel position of, effectively, consigning people to poverty and starvation (if all government assistance programs vanished, say) doesn’t much matter in light of the “I have made my opinion and it is what it is” stubbornness of a person who cares nothing for outside evidence.

    To be honest, I think there is a certain degree of validation of the “it’s my opinion and that’s how it is” in the Christian faith, particularly in sects where personal experience/”developing a relationship with God” is the primary focus. It doesn’t matter that I can demonstrate that she is FACTUALLY WRONG on specific points (like welfare fraud, which I’ve explained over and over) because her EXPERIENCE validates her opinion – and therefore she thinks she came to that opinion completely justified.

    The best part is seeing all of her friends and acquaintances who are on government assistance of some sort AGREE with her; we have done such an excellent job of vilifying the poor in this country that they feel the need to hate themselves publicly and agree that they are low-productivity societal leeches even as they are living lives that demonstrate the opposite. Head as’plode.

    • Noelle

      We must be FB friends with the same nutty relatives.

      I’ve also found that switching gears and bringing out real-life experiences that condradict the previously held belief are discounted too. It is only that person’s experiences that matter, and no one else’s. If they know a good-for-nothing gub’mint mooch, well then everyone is.

      In my own experience, I personally benefitted from various government programs and charities to pull myself into a comfy upper middle class life. Now all my loans are paid off and I pay lots of taxes, like a good little citizen. Even though said relative knows me and knows this proof, it will not dispel her previously held mooching myth

    • Katty

      I think some people aren’t even aware of the government help they get. The earned-income tax credit, for example, is a subsidy for working families yet in the minds of many a tax credit probably doesn’t count as “government aid”. So that makes it easy for them to claim that they are self-sufficient and do not rely on the government, while counting on Medicare for when they retire or tax credits to be able to afford stuff for their children.
      During the last primary season the New York Times published an extensive article on how those who think of welfare recipients as “moochers” often depend on government programmes themselves, which can be found here:

  • peicurmudgeon

    I think it might be worthwhile to take a look at the experience of Canada. Here, the social safety net has increased considerably over the past 50 or 60 years. In my own memory (from the lat 60s on) I can see a huge difference in the standard of living for most of the very poor in Canada. We still have extreme poverty, but the amount is still small compared to the US. From my perspective here in Eastern Canada, crossing the border and taking teh back roads in Maine, I see housing conditions that I have not seen here since my childhood.
    Even on this superficial level, I can see a huge difference in our countries.

    • Niemand

      The US has a GINI coefficient similar to that of Argentina and worse than Nicaragua’s. Canada’s is a lot lower, but I’m sure Harper and the other conservatives are working on that “problem”.

  • K

    Excellent post and so, so true.

  • Rachel Strietzel

    Excellent post. I just wanted to add that as a progressive Christian, there are many people such as myself who DO desperately want to help the poor and think that government programs are one excellent way to do that. I know you know that, but I wanted to give voice to the fact that I am a liberal because I am a Christian, not despite being a Christian.

    Related to your post, I tend to think of this study ( when I think of politicians, most of whom are millionaires. Try as they might, can one really remove themselves from their position enough to empathize with others? It seems that ability is somewhat limited.

  • Shawn

    This so neatly dovetails with my own recent experiences. My brother-in-law (a dentist) recently told my wife and I that he had become a Republican because of his experience with Medicaid patients. Some of them miss appointments, he said, and they all seem to have smartphones and nice clothes. When I ask him whether the government should actively be taking away anything from people on assistance, he’s a little cagy. He just seems to think that if everyone on a government program isn’t appropriately deferential to him and/or suffering in their penury then something is wrong somewhere.

    I really don’t know what to say to him on the subject, but he’s always very dismissive about social programs while simultaneously being totally ignorant of what actually exists and what it covers. And I do his taxes, so I know it would take someone making minimum wage nearly two decades to make what he does in a year.

    • ArachneS

      Lol about the smart phone too. I hear it all the time on asinine facebook posts. As if nobody has noticed that within a couple years of being in the market any handheld electronic device has not been lowered in price so as to reach as many people as possible. Never mind that companies are selling them on big sales, sometimes even offering them free with a service plan. Never mind that people are going to be paying a payment plan anyway because they need a phone to get a job or keep in touch with anybody. Never mind that a smart phone could actually save money or time because it can offer internet access to someone who might have to otherwise take time out to go to the library or pay for internet (and a computer!)at home.

      I’m sure, if you forget that you don’t have a smart phone because you are able to have a home phone, and internet, and a cell phone, and cable tv then you might think it’s “not fair” that “those people” have smart phones and get gov aid. But the very fact that one can forget that and envy poor people means they are completely blinded by the privileges they enjoy themselves.

      • Rosa

        Never mind that many jobs work on the assumption that you have a cell phone, and will fire you for being unavailable. Or that you might be, say, managing kids who are home alone because you’re at work.

        I had a job in a phone room where they updated the phone system back in about 2004 in a way that made there be no way for anyone to take or make a personal call at their desk – eliminated the admin phone line, put all incoming calls in the queue, and worst of all made the phone system turn off even to specific-to-your-extension calls at closing time. So, like, I couldn’t get a call from home saying “can’t pick you up after work, walk home.” – just before closing time the wait time was high, and then after that no calls would come through. People complained and management said “well we will just allow cell phones in the office so people can get emergency calls.”

      • lucrezaborgia

        I have a fancy smart phone. Cost me $179 and is $45 flat-rate monthly. Husband has a cheapie slider that is $30 a month. We don’t have a house phone…oh and house phones are becoming insanely expensive!

    • smrnda

      I was on disability once, and yeah, I still actually *owned* the things I had from back when I made a comfortable salary. A lot of things depreciate rapidly in value – a computer you’ve used that’s more than a few years old you can’t sell for much of anything, and when you need it to both look for work and (in the future) work I’m not going to sell it just because I’ve suddenly become a lower form of life for being on government aid.

      Lots of jobs will only take applications online – you can go to a library where you get 30 minutes to use the computer, but seriously, you can’t get a job without a computer, phone, and yes, NICE CLOTHES. Try showing up dressed like you’re poor for a job and see how that works.

      I think conservatives, believing in hierarchies, feel that a permanent underclass is necessary. There has to be someone to oppress.

    • Niemand

      they all seem to have smartphones and nice clothes.

      But do they have minutes on their smartphones? As others have pointed out, things like smartphones and clothes don’t disappear the moment you lose your insurance. And suppose they do have a plan? A cheap calling plan is, what, $50 a month? A cheap insurance plan is more like $500/month. So demanding they get rid of the cell phone to pay for insurance would be like, well, like getting rid of PBS to solve the national deficit: not going to help and eliminating something that might help in the long run.

      • Carol

        HBO did a show about this, they interviewed people on Long Island who have lost their jobs and are struggling to hold on to what they have and it “appears” they have nice things, but they are struggling. People won’t be happy unless they can begrudge people all their belongings and see to it that they hit rock bottom.

      • KS

        OK, this is off topic, but I just have to ask: Really? 50$ a month is CHEAP? I’m used to paying the equivalent of roughly 10-15 US-$ a month. (And I’m from a place with a generally high cost of living.) Hm, maybe it’s because the US is so big…?

      • Eamon Knight

        Continuing the de-rail: $50/month? I pay about a quarter of that on a pre-pay plan (good if you don’t have a lot of usage).

      • Libby Anne

        What? The VERY cheapest you can pay for a smartphone plan per month is $35, and that’s from companies that make you pay the whole phone price – around $600 – upfront, which is how it can be that cheap. AT&T and Verizon charge at least $55 for a single smartphone plan per month, or $110 for a two phone family plan, or $140 for three on a family plan, and that’s with no texting, minimal data, and no insurance on the phones. AND that’s before adding 15% taxes and fees.

      • Niemand

        Whatever the actual cost is for a monthly phone plan-sorry, it’s another one of those things that my partner arranges and I have no good idea of how much I pay*, it’s not $500 a month, which is a cheap health insurance plan. Cutting the phone service off (and it’s likely the only phone service the person in question has-they probably have no land line) won’t pay for health insurance and will decrease their odds of getting a job by making it hard for potential employers to contact them.

      • KS

        Oh, I absolutely agree Niemand! Your point is completely valid, whether a plan is 50, 20 or even 70$ a month – that’s why I said my comment was off topic.
        Anyway, the number of 50$ per months came up a few times, so it would seem your estimate was pretty acurate. And having looked this up for my sister just yesterday I happen to know that in my (European) country the cheapest plan with unlimited internet access, 1000 messages and 1000 minutes per month costs 15 EUR a month AND they give you a smartphone for free. Only thing is, they make you sign up for 24 months. Without internet or phone, it gets even cheaper and you don’t have the 24 months requirement.

      • kisekileia

        Canada cell phone plan prices are even worse than the U.S. I pay $80/month, although part of that covers the cost of my iPhone, which I got for $100 plus a few extra fees up front. I have severe ADHD and am a terrible navigator, and having a phone with a compass and maps application reduces the chance that I’ll be late for job interviews. Having a cell phone also means that I don’t have to pay extra phone fees every time I move, and that I’m able to call 911 from any location, which is a necessity for someone who, like me, has severe food allergies. I haven’t owned a land line in my life and I’m in my late 20s. Sometimes low-income people who spend money on seemingly frivolous things do actually need those things.

      • Eamon Knight

        Oh *smart*phone. Missed that, never mind (hangs head in embarassment).

  • Sarah

    I’m pretty sure my boyfriend and I, with our combined part time jobs, still qualify for food stamps but we made the decision not to apply. We live in one of the worst states for unemployment and we don’t have children, so the way I look at it, we’re saving that aid for someone who needs it more. Because we’re both part-time employees, neither of us can get insurance, so it makes it that much more important to cook healthy meals and stay active.

    I’ll be asking my mom for a dental check-up for Christmas, and my boyfriend’s mother might get him new contact lenses. I pay full price for BC at PP, not just because we can not afford a child, but also because by paying full price, some other girl is able to get her BC for less.

    If we don’t “look” or “act” poor, it’s because we both had the benefit of relative middle-class upbringings along with lessons in how to set budgets, how to live without cable TV, and how to not eat processed fake food that’s much more expensive than real food, both up-front and in long term health effects.

    Sure, we’re living pretty well at the poverty line. But our experience is so far outside the norm that most people assume we’re eccentric trust-funders. I work at a homeless shelter, and I see how close we are. That’s why I believe the “safety net” doesn’t go far enough. Food stamps are great, how about meal planning and nutrition classes? Medicaid/medicare is great, how about gym memberships and anatomy and biology lessons? It would be FANTASTIC if everyone currently on food stamps didn’t need them anymore, but the answer isn’t as simple as “They just need to get motivated and get a better job.”

    • Katty

      Wow, I’m really impressed with how you give to others despite your own struggles – I just wish those who can afford it more easily were equally generous!

      I’m usually not one to bring up religion but since someone above asked the (rhetorical) question of how “somewhere so Christian could be so unchristian” I was reminded of this episode in Luke 21: “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.””

      And didn’t he also say at some point that it was easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven? Really, I don’t believe Jesus would have voted Republican…

      (Quick disclaimer: I DON’T think, government needs – or even should have – any religious reasons for providing a safety net to its people. Overall social welfare and basic human decency is enough of a motive in my eyes.)

      • Liberated Liberal

        According to quite a few extraordinarily intelligent republicans on Huffington Post, God is only going to bless America again when Mitt comes into office. Maybe Jesus and God are having communication problems? :P

    • Lusy

      “We live in one of the worst states for unemployment and we don’t have children, so the way I look at it, we’re saving that aid for someone who needs it more. ”

      I don’t get this logic. It’s not like there’s some set limit for the number of people allowed to access state aid. You getting food stamps wouldn’t kick someone “more deserving” off the program, any more than you taking a jog at the local park would kick someone “more deserving” off of the play equipment. You have the right to assistance such as food stamps by mere virtue of being a US citizen who meets the requirements. Would you give up your other rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, political affiliation, etc. as easily as you do this right? What you have there is a fine argument against using private charity, but from a social policy point of view is basically like saying “I don’t vote, because I want the vote of people more deserving than me to count for more.”

      Attitudes such as this also help to create an environment in which genuinely deserving people are criticised for using services that they are entitled to (hence the word “entitlements”), and make it easier for those who oppose such programs to cut them.

      • Sarah

        You’re right, there’s not a set limit of aid available, but there are only so many people working in the offices processing the paperwork, and there are only so many hours in the day. Another single friend of mine applied a couple years ago, and the normal 30 day wait period grew to 90 … then 120 … finally he just stopped calling and moved.

  • smrnda

    Thought I would add this. I was on disability for a few years, and unless a person supports State aid for the disabled, they don’t support aid for the disabled. They can take their ‘religious and private charity’ and shove it up their asses. Religious charity exists only for the reason of finding needy people that a religious agency can exert control over. I’ve seen how these places are run – you have to attend their church to get their aid.

    I have mental health issues – what if the religious charity wanted (for my own good of course) to not have me get real medical treatment or medication but to do things “God’s way” and I’ve got a choice between doing what is bad for me and be on the streets? What if they wanted to control my social life ‘for my own good?’ Make me attend ‘discipleship meetings’ all the time? Make me convert to their religion?

    Government aid gives you what you need with no more interference than necessary, and that’s how it should be. I got a check, some other benefits, and that was that. As long as I went to a psychiatrist every so often, things were fine.

    Private agencies are also not open to being criticized by the public. We all get a say in how a state agency is run, but it’s take it or leave it for private ones.

    • Sarah

      Well said. Your criticisms of private religious aid can also be extended to ANY private aid, including within-one’s-own-family aid. “Well, gosh, beloved daughter, I’m sorry you’re having a hard time paying your bills. I’d love to help you out but you know how I feel about that darkie you married and your mud-blood offspring. Maybe if you leave him and put the child up for adoption (you know you’re not really equipped to raise a child facing such challenges!) I could help you out a little bit.”

      The great thing about government aid (in theory) is that it’s the SAME aid for EVERYONE. Everyone had to jump through the same hoops (paperwork) and no one can be denied because of religion, skin color, sexual preference, etc.

      • Ted Seeber

        I give to a ministry where we don’t ask people to jump through the hoops. We don’t waste money with paperwork. We don’t give because they are members of our religion, we give because we are members of our religion. We don’t even ask our clients their names, though we do ask them if we can use their story (without names) to get further giving. I’ve even told our volunteers NOT to ask religious questions at all.

        Now having said that- there is NO WAY we will ever have the resources to “save the poor from their lot” as Jesus told Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. We need an economy that will help, or failing that (and it is currently failing big time) redistributist transfer payments.

      • smrnda

        Glad your organization is different than most of the others out there and that you totally acknowledge that private and religious aid can’t possibly do it all.

        I think in other posts you mentioned being Catholic. Overall I’ve found Catholic organizations better at doing this than Protestant ones. Part of this might be theological differences or cultural ones – the Catholic church served immigrant groups who were more likely to be down and out in US history.

      • kisekileia

        Agreed. My parents cut me off financially when I moved in with my boyfriend. I really don’t think I’m alone in that sort of situation.

  • Nurse Bee

    I’m kind of torn about this. I basically work as much as I do so my family has healthcare (my husband’s employer would cover only him (with a pretty crappy plan at that)). I could quit and stay home while putting my children on the state insurance. But since I have a good degree and a good job, I feel the right thing to do is to provide for my family. (Of course by some of my fellow Christians standards either way is wrong–part of the reason I read your blog in the first place).

    • Liberated Liberal

      We should look at it this way: there are always going to be those that take advantage to some degree (I know some). It would be true for health insurance, or any other aid that exists, in any culture. But to take it away would mean that those who really do work hard and truly have no other options would be told to go f*(& themselves. You are doing a great thing, and obviously it works for you. But what if suddenly you were ill, or laid off, or any number of things happened so that you could no longer provide insurance for your family? That is what these things are here for. So that you don’t have to live in agony over the idea that your family will have nothing if one of these things happen (and in this economy, it could happen in the blink of an eye).

      Allowing for the fact that some people will take advantage should be a part of the cost of “doing business.” We have no right to control what these people do with the little cash they have.

  • AnonToday

    So, I’ve commented here before under another name, but this is a little too personal to tie to that. This is also mostly me venting, but if anybody has any ideas on how to be better-adjusted about this, I’d love to hear them. I’m having a really hard time now with self-inflicted poverty and how much responsibility we have to help care for people who relentlessly waste their resources. Close relatives of mine have received low-to-mid-six figures in inheritance over the last decade. They now have low-five figures left with a small pension that doesn’t cover half their monthly expenses, are not looking for work (one took early retirement and has moderate back problems, the other is pretty able-bodied), and a pipe dream about an investment that’s been going to pay off any day now for a half-decade. I absolutely think there should be means in place to protect them from being on the streets, but I am having a really hard time with the idea that these relatives indulged beyond their means, and now my family personally, and larger society more generally, will have to be a safety net for them. I wouldn’t want to live in a society where they were let starve if our family couldn’t afford the extra mouths to feed, but it raises my hackles nonetheless. (Maddeningly, these relatives are a.) very religious, and b.) all about the FOX News Republican talking points.)
    (Sorry to vent all over your comment section, Libby Anne, but my normally compassionate, liberal stance on things has been tried by this ongoing situation. It’s like confession for agnostics!)

    • Katty

      You are right, AnonToday, that does sound incredibly frustrating. And here’s the thing: Where there is a safety net, there will always be some who take unfair advantage of it. That’s despicable – but it’s a price I, personally, am willing to pay for the greater good of all.

      That’s not to invalidate your anger – you have every right to be supremely pissed off at those irresponsible relatives of yours! And I doubt it’s the same in the US, but here in Europe I feel like there sometimes is a sense of “I’m so clever, outsmarting the system” connected to welfare fraud, which I think is not at all OK, so more anger in general would be welcome to make this behavior socially inacceptable. (Not saygin that your relatives are committing fraud, I just went of on a tangent for a bit!) However, as someone argued above, the good thing about gov’t aid is precisely that it does not make moral judgments. Remember that while you have detailed inside information in this case, outsiders in general are poor judges of a person’s/family’s real situation and how they got there. So yeah, that will probably not help you at all in your current situation, but in the name of “society as a whole” I would argue that we’ll just have to live with it as the lesser of two evils.

    • Rosa

      I have this relative too (though thankfully he remarried to someone with a state pension, so I won’t have to decide between caring for him personally or seeing him out on the street when he really can’t work anymore.)

      So, here is my solution for feeling better about it: it’s not them who would suffer if there were not state aid. It would be you, or someone else in the family who just can’t stand to see them freeze/starve. It’s to stop them from pulling down the REST of the family that we have things like social security – having idiots for parents shouldn’t doom younger people to a life of servitude to them.

    • Carolyn the Red

      I guess in my family, I have to view that whatever choices certain people made to waste money, today, they’re struggling. It doesn’t matter if they could have done better, right now, it’s too late. The choices are to punish them for their past, or to acknowledge that they’re still deserving of some minimum standard of living.

    • smrnda

      I think the difference is your relatives got *inheritances.* Right now, they aren’t really in the same position that poor people are in, they’re just in the position that now, they might have to go out and make their own money and accept having enough money to live but not being rich.

      I mean, the scraps of affluence that your relatives have left are way more than what a lot of working people have.

      Perhaps part of their problem was that they were merely affluent and not really wealthy, but nobody wants to admit to being on the bottom of the 1% so they wall want to live like the 0.0001%. I’d say tell them to get jobs.

  • http://Love,Joy,Feminism Northstar

    Well, one can always just execute the poor:
    He ends with a Bible quote, of course.

    • plch

      More proof that one can find a Bible quote to justify *anything*, of course the parts about giving everything to the poor aren’t so important… I have no words. A society where poverty is a capital crime, it could make an interesting dystopia novel, but think that someone would actually think that it could be a good idea (and a moral one at that)… *argh*

      • smrnda

        I think eventually the population would consist of one person who is then pissed off that he can’t only not find a butler and maid, but that he can’t find food.

      • Rosie

        I would love to read that novel.

  • Rilian

    I was temporarily in a “i might not get to eat today” situation. I was also once roofless for 3 days, and the closest shelter was like 100 miles away. Anyway, I was actually in college at the time, and I was hanging out on the campus at 4:00 in the morning, and a school cop came and ran me off, refusing to believe that I was a student there. People act like being roofless is a crime, but what the hell do they expect you to do? Just crawl in a ditch and die, I guess.

  • sandra heretic

    Incidentally, the YMCA has a very good program for subsidizing low-income memberships so that no one needs to forfeit the health and community benefits of belonging to the Y because of economic hardship. Admittedly, each individual YMCA gets to set their own prices and discounts, etc (to some degree) but you can use a membership card at any location. So it pays to shop around a little to get a price structure that works for you, even if you don’t go to that Y and you use a different facility.

  • Carol

    Libby Anne, don’t feel guilty that medicaid allows you to afford programs for your kids. Anyone who has parents who are on social security and Medicare are also indirect beneficiaries of these programs, allowing their parents to not go bankrupt, and possibly being able to protect their inheritance even. People just don’t see the “wealth protector” effect these programs have for them, indirectly.

  • Lizzy

    Demonizing the poor makes me so angry. Most of the people that hear talking about the moochers in society have no idea what it’s like. I grew up poor, there were times when there was no food in our house, I remember buying groceries with foodstamps that looked like Monoply Money, and ever visit to the doctor was paid for by Medicaid. I will admit that my parents were terrible with money and they probably shouldn’t have had 3 kids that they couldn’t possibly pay for. The fact of the matter was that my brothers and I were born, we did need to eat, and we didn’t deserve to starve because of our parent’s bad choices.

    I wish that everyone was responsible and always did the right thing, I really do. Unfortunately, that is not the world that we live in. The people who will pay the highest price if we cut social safety nets are children who have done nothing wrong. Thankfully, I had a healthy childhood. I got a decent public education and I was able to attend my state university for free because of federal grants and state funded scholarships. I’m now in graduate school and when I’m done in a couple of years I will have a very good job. I’m so used to living off of $20k/yr that it boggles my mind to think about making triple or quadruple that. I won’t resent one penny of the taxes that I pay because I’ll know that out there somewhere is another little girl who just needs a chance to make it out of poverty. I know that I didn’t pull myself up by my boot-straps, I was lifted.

  • Travis

    Dear Libby,
    A thoughtful article! As a Christian, though, I wonder whether, although you called yourself an evangelical, you never truly surrendered your soul to the love and lordship of Jesus Christ.
    As for what the Bible says about the poor: “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.” – Proverbs 21:13
    God will judge Romney and the other politicians, but I hope that you will not let the greed of others keep you from the best hope in life, which is the love God has for us. You are right; you did not pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You were lifted – and, ultimately, the One Who lifted you was God. He has given you your family, your body, your talents, the air you breathe, the food you drink, the friends you enjoy, and everything else. He deserves your love in return, because He has NOT given up on you!

    • victoria

      I don’t want to presume for Libby, but this sort of talk – that Libby wasn’t a “true Christian” or didn’t have a personal relationship with God or what have you — comes up periodically in the comments on this blog.

      I understand that plenty of Christians don’t believe that anyone who is actually “saved” can renounce their faith, but if you read Libby Anne’s story it’s absolutely, abundantly clear that she believed fervently in Jesus, spent a lot of time in prayer, and took a great deal of joy in what she perceived was her personal relationship with Christ.

      To assume that anyone who doesn’t share your beliefs just hasn’t tried hard enough, or just didn’t do it the right way, is an insult of the highest degree. Given her background there is every probability that she’s spent a lot MORE time studying the Bible with an open heart and in prayer than you have.

    • phantomreader42

      Travis, you are a condescending asshole (not that this makes you unique among christian apologists, far from it). You don’t get to pretend that you know what Libby Anne believed better than she does because the voices in your head tell you that when a christian realizes that christianity is a load of nonsense, history magically changes so they were never actually christian. You’re bearing false witness, Travis. As I recall, that imaginary god of yours is supposed to have some sort of problem with that.

  • smrnda

    My take on God judging the wealthy – some consolation. It also seems like the emphasis on ‘faith and not works’ has created a level of comfort with wealth among American Christians who believe that it’s just a blessing because God must love them an awful lot.

    Plus, Christians are usually the first ones wanting to destroy the welfare state, because people might not have to go begging for food at the local church and they’ll miss out on people to proselytize. In my life I’ve just seen Christian so consistently being mapped to the least compassionate political and social views that I can’t buy it.

    I know all religions have hypocrites, but Christians are the ones who say you can actually have a personal relationship with Jesus, and that there’s this thing called the Holy Spirit. So, if that’s the case, if there’s actually this real-live supernatural connection, why doesn’t it seem to make any difference? Even if people aren’t doing it right, God ought to be pretty powerful here.

  • wanderer

    I have found as well that the less I believe in evangelical christianity, the greater my empathy and compassion and ability to really listen to people. My respect for people has grown. I have much less of an agenda for the lives of others than I did before.
    I remember when I was a christian I would feel frustrated when people called us hypocrites. I felt that everyone was faulty, no one was perfect, so of course we aren’t going to measure up to the bible all the time. What I realize now is that it’s not that I wasn’t trying hard enough to be a good christian. It’s that the doctrine itself was setting me up to act opposite of Love. I was being told that disrespecting others is loving. That and much more….Hope that makes sense.

    • Rosie


  • AnonToday

    Thanks for the feedback everyone. It helps to know that I’m not crazy in my reactions.
    @Smrnda – I think you’ve got it. They were always working class and less well off than the generation above them. The inheritances came from liquidating the houses that had appreciated significantly over time in expensive markets. It’s really sort of like the standard sad stories about lotto winners, but it still pisses me off, even if it’s a Thing That Happens. I think they’ve got some kind of crazy plan to stay afloat, being mad that everyone gets to really game the system but them (Obama phones!!), but I wish they would get jobs. I think they would actually feel better about themselves, too.

  • PM

    I struggle like anonymous above mentioned. I have been working with the poor for 20 yrs. More often than not I see people who have no desire to have skills to budget or to care for their health. I see people who smoke 2 to 3 packs a cigarettes a day ($300-$500/month) be referred for help from welfare because they can not afford medications (which are needed because they smoke). I understand smoking is an addiction that must be treated but I rarely see someone in this position that wants to quit and will take advantage of the free smoking cessation programs. I rarely hear anyone talk about how addiction (tobacco, alcohol, drugs) fuels poverty. I often hear people tell me they can’t afford food. When I suggest they cut down to 1/2 pack per day of cigarettes they look at me like it never crossed their mind. I understand some people make poor choices because that is all they know and no one has ever modeled a better way for them. Human behavior is complex. Human nature is broken and people should be helped in their brokenness.

    Over the years I have seen more of a learned dependance that I don’t think helps people be who they should be. People just give up the fight and lose their self motivation or desire to set goals for themselves. I do not have experience with all the poor so this experience is limited. I know others see a completely different picture and that picture is real as well. I write sincerely because I am searching for a way to truly help people. I do not believe in throwing people out on the street even if they make bad choices. I see plenty of bad choices. I am amazed at the number of tattoos people have who rely on gov’t assistance. That is a constant. If you have ever been poor and saved every penny and stayed off assistance it is hard to swallow when people come along and use the system without much thought. It becomes a way of life.

    My husband and I focusing are giving to charities that help people get to the next step. Yes they need food and shelter but they also need other skills and they need to understand how important it is to use the resources they are given responsibily. Resources are finite and they will not be there forever if they are not used properly.

    • Rosie

      I wouldn’t say “learned dependence” so much as “learned helplessness”. I see quite a lot of this even among the working poor. Thing is, people require access to a certain number of resources in order to be able to do anything. In a primitive society, these resources would be land, clean air, clean water…and from these things they could gather or grow all they need for food and shelter, and ideally make a little extra for trade. Too many people these days are born (or become through unfortunate circumstances) without not only food and shelter and medicine, but without the resources to make/acquire these things even if they have the motivation to do so. Often in the US, people are actually prevented (by zoning laws, private property laws, and the “authorities”) from helping themselves by, say, making a community garden in an abandoned lot. And after a while, they stop trying. If we want people to take responsibility for their lives, we have to not only provide them with some resources, we also have to give them the power to actually do something about their situation, and stop punishing them when they do.

    • Rosa

      You rarely hear about how addictions fuel poverty? I’m surprised, I hear about it a LOT.

      The thing about giving up all your pleasures to save up money, is that so many programs are means-tested, savings is often actually discouraged by the program rules that are intended to make sure only the truly deserving get help. Same with healthcare and rent assistance – if you get a little bit more money coming in, at a lot of levels, you lose way more than that little bit in assistance. So why do it?

      If the programs were MORE generous, instead of less, they’d help people that had one foot on the ladder take the next step up, instead of abandoning them on that bottom rung, vulnerable to any small setback pushing them back of the ladder completely. We need a much higher floor for health care, food, and childcare assistance, so it gets people up to skilled living-wage jobs instead of just some kind of job at all.

    • Niemand

      A person who smokes 2-3 packs per day and has health insurance can get a variety of medications and psychosocial therapies to help them quit smoking. One without is stuck with trying to quit or even cut down without help…a process known to have a >90% failure rate. Again, the simple measure of having health care available to all could help a lot of people out of their addictions and reduce their poverty. But that requires acknowledging some societal responsibility and that doesn’t look like it’s happening soon. Certainly not in the US and it looks to me like a lot of other countries, including some which are traditionally quite good at this, are moving away from a model of shared responsibility and shared effort at improving people’s lives. This makes me sad because ultimately everyone, including the 0.00000001%, will lose.

      • PM

        Actually the people I am referring to do not have health insurance. They are given incompensated care with no questions asked. They DECLINE the free programs offered to them to quit smoking. It is as simple as that and it is very sad.

      • PM

        I wanted to add the population I am referring to is the one on medicaid and ones who do not have health insurance but qualify for uncompensated care from our local hospital. Medicaid offers smoking cessations resources for free or very little cost. Rarely do I see people on medicaid or getting care for free take advantage of these resources. They are not interested in quitting because they are not the ones paying the financial consequences of their addictions. So my point is even when people are poor have the resouces given to them they do no use them. Yes, there are smokers out there who do not have access to free resources. But it is pathetic when someone is offered the program for free but declines and pays $300-$500 a month for cigarettes and can’t afford their medications. This is where I think medicaid or charitable programs needs to require people to go thru the smoking cessation programs.

  • Jamie

    This is a mixed topic for me. I work for a small police department that also houses the municipal general assistance office. I will say in all honesty that at least half of the people that come in for assistance ARE just taking advantage of the system. Some openly admit that they moved to Maine because the welfare system is so generous. Many pretend that they’re working hard to find jobs, but then they stop showing up to work once they get aid from the city. Because this is also the PD, we know just how many of these people are habitual shoplifters, drug abusers, etc. It is extremely frustrating. Yes, there are also those who do need help because they have children, they’re legitimately disabled, or have actual mental health problems. It’s the ones who ask for assistance because they need money for cable TV that drive me batty…
    My husband and I both have full-time jobs. We also have a fair amount of student debt between us. Because of his job, we can only buy a house in a certain (expensive, coastal) area. Because of our student loans, we have a very limited house budget. We spent last winter house sitting for an old lady in order to save money on rent, and we’ve spent the last 6 months living in a camper (no internet access, and certainly no cable) on a horse farm so that we can continue to save on rent while we house sit. We just went and got re-prequalified for a house loan, and learned that we almost make “too much” money to qualify for a low-income first-time-homebuyer loan because we’ve both been working to earn overtime money. My husband also took some initiative and started a small business to help us get ahead…and that too means that we earn “too much” to qualify for a good loan. He had to crunch some numbers with an accountant to certify that he made no profit with his small business, otherwise we would have been denied the loan and would have had to take one with a higher down payment, higher insurance, and higher interest rate. Basically, my point is that the system does not reward those who work hard to scrimp and save and earn a little extra money. THAT is why people get so frustrated with the welfare system and those who ARE abusing it.

    • Libby Anne

      Basically, my point is that the system does not reward those who work hard to scrimp and save and earn a little extra money. THAT is why people get so frustrated with the welfare system and those who ARE abusing it.

      This is true, and I absolutely think our current system needs reform. For example, my husband and I are consciously aware of where the medicaid cutoff is. We are under it without a problem, but when we do go over it someday (likely not until we are through grad school and get jobs) we will have to assume the cost of Sally and Bobby’s healthcare ourselves. Currently, it would cost $8000 to add them to our plan, each year. This means that if we were to go, say, $3000 over the medicaid cutoff we would actually end up being set back $5000. I could see a situation in which it would make more sense to turn down a raise or promotion than to take it and lose medicaid simply because taking the raise and promotion would actually mean an income cut. We need to find a way to fix these rough edges, but simply declaring that there shouldn’t be a social safety system at all isn’t the answer.

  • Toryshane

    First of all let me say that I do agree that the way we talk about the poor in this country is horrible. However, rhetoric is much more complicated that a lot of people seem to think. For example, and let me preface by saying that I am in no way trying to diminish what you do or how you do it.

    You and your husband have two children. You both made the choice to go to school and pursue a higher education. While this is laudable it also a personal choice. There is no promise, nor should there be a promise that after graduating you automatically find a good paying job. Good paying
    jobs should go to people who have earned them and the simple act of having a higher degree does not always equate to having earned anything more than the degree itself. What I mean by this is that in your case, you made a specific choice that has placed you in a category that is defined as “poor”. It is not circumstantial or a matter of your birth or even the economy. You chose to pursue a path that follows through financial hardships in the hopes of arriving a financially secure destination. You are correct that Romney calls this mooching. And the reality is tit is mooching.

    Please before you go off on me let me explain… A person who has a need which they themselves cannot meet are what you might call charity cases (and I mean this in a purely rhetorical way). Lets say these people have mental or physical issues, Or lets us say that these are people who live in a factory town and the only factory shuts down leaving them without income and thus without the means to leave town to find another job, or let us say these are people who are homeless due to purely circumstantial reasons. These people are not “moochers” even though they take money from the government because they take based on a practical need. By contrast you, and many others (though it is no where near 47%) have made a personal choice. Let us to keep with a theme compare this to someone who is homeless because they choose to be homeless, the so called dumpster divers or squatters who have the means to work but choose not to work. They take from others through charity based on a personal choice. There is no practical need for them to receive anything from anyone because they have all that they need to get what they need. And whats worse, giving charity to this group of people means someone who is really worthy is left out. I am reminded of a story. It is Thanksgiving ata Soup Kitchen. Food is plentiful at first and lots of people show top for the free meal. Over time the food dwindles. Now it turns out that some of the people getting free food have jobs, and homes, or that some of them have other means. Then later that night a family comes along, the father is really down on his luck, injured and cant work, his wife passed away and his three children are in tatters. They are hungry but there is no food because too much of it went to people who really did not need it.
    This is the danger represented by the so called “moochers” and often that danger is not deliberate.

    Now in your case, I have read nothing that would indicate that once you and your husband graduate you and find jobs you would continue to take from anyone. But imagine if after graduation, if after getting a job you continued to take charity or medicare for your children? Or imagine if you could not find a great job, the market just doesn’t improve. Would you settle for any job that helps your family or would you continue to take charity? If you could afford to pay for your own children’s health would you still take money from the government of you knew that this money reduced the help that could go to other people?

    This is where you, or I or anyone else could become a “moocher”…

    I know someone who decided to go for a graduate degree. he had a decent job but got laid off. Rather than look for work or take something that was beneath him he went back to school. for two years he attended class while his wife had to work and his children wore hand me downs. He graduated and now is a night manager at a local restaurant, a job he could have got without a Graduate degree. We are our circumstance, but we are also our choices.

    I can promise you that the Republican party is not as extreme. I believe in free healthcare if and only if that healthcare is good if we can afford it without hurting other important areas and if we are not compelled to participate in anything we do not wish to participate in. I am very conservative, a Christian, though not evangelical and give freely of my time and money in what I hope are good causes. And yet I have been demonized by many atheists and many liberals who refuse to move beyond the label of conservative or Christian…

    I would add only one more thing. You said “I am a much more moral and loving person today as an atheist than I ever was as an evangelical.”. I believe you are wrong. If you are good and moral person then it is not because you are now an atheist or because you were an evangelical. Saying this seems to indicate that you feel that being an atheist is more compassionate than being an evangelical when in reality there are atheists who are perfectly cruel people and evangelicals who are perfectly good people. It goes both way.

    • smrnda

      Okay, I agree that getting an education is a choice, but if you want to make more than minimum wage, you’d better have one. You make it sound as if getting an education is this frivolity that people are just blowing money on. If we don’t have college educated people, who will do the jobs that require specialized knowledge and training? Who will be making decent enough money to pay taxes? I’m sure that if Libby Anne and her husband didn’t go to college, they would probably end up needing more aid in the end since they’d be a part of the permanent working poor, so helping them now means they won’t need help later.

      Romney was born a rich, privileged white boy so his going to college was always a given, so of course he’s going to look at anybody whose rich mommy and daddy paid for it in full as ‘moochers.’ I consider that a sickening, obnoxious attitude. My parents paid for my college because they were totally loaded, not because of any merit on my part. I’d argue that Libby Anne is earning her education more than I ever did. Libby Anne and myself were in different positions entirely because of birth. Are you suggesting that college should only be something members of the privileged classes get?

      I mean, why is public funding for people going to college mooching but not high school?

      If your point is that ‘well, if we give money to them it’s less for the truly needy’ well, I’d agree that most of the aid should go to the truly needy, but just because there is a guy living in a trash can doesn’t imply it’s wrong to give aid to a person living in a tin shack. Assisting people with the cost of college should only be out of the question if the resources aren’t there to help both them and poorest people. The resources are there, they just aren’t being distributed correctly.

      I’d argue that Romney and other members of the upper classes are the real moochers. What Romney does for ‘work’ is to find way to screw workers out of money so that investors, who don’t work but who make money from passive ownership, get more. Investment is mooching – it’s buying the right to profit from someone else’s work. Many wealthy people do nothing but leech of the work of others. Why take on Libby Anne for ‘mooching’ where there’s some trust-fund baby with millions out there whose never worked a day in his life?

      As for the Republican party, there are Republicans who believe that poor people should be executed, that rape cannot cause pregnancy, and that rebellious children should be stoned. I have a hard time thinking of it as anything but a party of the Dark Ages. Not so extreme?

      • PM

        My parents gave me a total of $3200 during the 4 years I was in college. My education cost over 40,000. I paid for everything else books, food, travel, clothes etc. I worked, got scholarships, loans and yes even a pell grant of $2000 per year because my parents income was very low. Libby does have an undergraduate college degree. It is no one’s right to get a graduate degree and live off gov’t assistance to do so. Have at least one partner in the marriage get a job and put each other through school.

      • Jayn

        Regardless of whether or not it’s a right, more and more it’s becoming a necessity. As more people go to college, simply having an undergrad degree doesn’t make you stand out the way it used to. Saying ‘one of you get a job and pay for the other’ misses a bunch of issues–the economy and cost of living, the job market, the cost of education. I’m in the fortunate position of not needing a job for the money, but even though my husband got a decent job out of college I’m not sure how well we’d be able to pay for me to go to university if I chose to.

    • PM

      I always had this impression that gov’t assistance was for people who found themselves in unexpected situations that they did not plan for. Libby and her husband chose to have kids and chose to get graduate degrees. I personally could not do this and expect my neighbors (the tax payers) to pick up the tab. I would like a graduate degree too. It would probably raise my income. This is part of the problem in American is that people look to the gov’t to be their savings account and their back up plan for everything. I think it is unacceptable to use gov’t assistance because you want to get a graduate degree.

      Health insurance is expensive for many reasons. One is that we have amazing technologies available to treat cancer and to keep people alive with illnessed that in past years would haev killed them. I have not figured out how this is all going to be paid for if not many actually pay for it.

      • kagerato

        This is ignorant. No one, let alone the government, “picks up the tab” for graduate degrees. Individuals either have to borrow the money to pay the (now often exorbitant) tuition, or they have to work for the university (and the overall pay rate is sub-par at best).

        Now, there are people (myself included) who think the government ought to be subsidizing higher education, but in practice it contributes so little. State grants to schools are spent mostly on research, marketing, sports, and administrative salaries these days. (The ratio is even worse for for-profit schools, which are a sick joke.) The student loan program was given a slight revision by the Obama administration, but the interest rates are still too high and with the cost of tuition, living generally, and the job market having worsened as much as they have, it’s very clear that borrowing for education carries a far greater risk than it used to. Discharging student loan debts is also next to impossible, making them a rather special kind of obligation than will follow you to the end of your days (sometimes literally).

        As to the cost of health care, that’s actually related. When becoming a doctor requires borrowing $100,000 or more, with a contractual agreement that forces repayment regardless of ability to pay and cannot be eliminated even through bankruptcy, it’s no real wonder why there aren’t enough doctors. Think about this for a minute. At five percent interest, $100,000 of debt accumulates $5,000 worth of interest in one year. This compounds back onto the principal if it’s not paid immediately. That debt is going to be completely unpayable very fast if one doesn’t find a high paying position quick. Why take the risk?

        The result is that medical staff never have a sufficient labor supply to meet the constant growth in demand caused by our aging and increasingly sick population. Low supply, high demand equals high costs. It’s trivial economics.

        There are other big causes, too, which are avoidable. Hospitals and clinics are funded by a for-profit insurance system which takes a minimum of five percent of all revenues off the top. In practice, it’s typically closer to ten or even fifteen percent. “Obamacare” (PPACA) puts some limits on the profiteering, but they’re not nearly stringent enough. Single payer systems in other countries end up doing far better at the care-for-unit-cost metric.

        When it comes to drug costs, the pharmaceutical industry is similarly a vampire sucking the life out of the system. The industry primarily pursues the development of drugs which are expected to provide the most profit and the best chance of a (ridiculous) 20-year patent. They typically base their efforts on publicly funded research without paying anything of significance back into the system that formed them. Further, they spend a not-so-cute sum on constantly advertising prescription drugs on television, as though consumers should somehow be encouraged to acquire drugs they don’t even need just for the hell of it.

        None of the main issues in medical costs, though, is somehow the growth of technology. If anything, research and development in biology and medicine has been too slow with far too little to show for the billions spent every year. Sure, there are endless new promotions of “treatments”, but notice how these are “treatments” and not “cures”. The effectiveness of many alternate treatments and drugs for conditions is highly questionable in this for-profit medical market. Drugs which barely perform better than placebo and whose only evidence of utility is a single drug-company study still make it to the market and are rigorously promoted. Obamacare tries to set some extremely sparse, very minimalistic standards and recommendations on how effective a treatment needs to be in order to justify its use, and Republicans responded by screaming about “death panels” and “killing grandma”.

        There’s also a huge shadow industry in “alternative” (fake) medicine, which pursues nonsense like homopathy and acupuncture as treatments (again, treatment, not cure) for conditions. None of these alternative techniques work any better than placebo. If they did, we’d just call it medicine.

        Some of our health problems are caused by lifestyle issues, not just the aging population and environmental hazards. Scientific study has repeatedly linked people with poor diets and poor exercise habits to higher risks of several chronic conditions. Alcoholism, cigarettes, and other drug abuse also frequently lead to some severe health problems if they continue for many years. These are issues which could be noticeably reduced if we made a very significant and continuous effort to address as a society. Unfortunately, just about any public policy which tries to deal with them gets labeled as tyranny and is viciously opposed, not merely by private citizens but by huge corporations with a lot of profit at risk if sales of their destructive junk go down.

        So, yeah, there are “many” reasons why health care is expensive. Pinning it on technology is naive and counter-factual. Technology, used wisely, has substantially reduced costs while increasingly quality of life by a tremendous amount.

    • kagerato

      You’ve clearly not looked at any job listings lately if you think a higher education is optional. The vast majority of decent positions require an undergraduate degree of one sort or another. While masters and Ph.D’s are still a choice in some sense, there are quite a few fields where you won’t be going anywhere significant without one.

      The days where you could easily get a quality blue collar job are essentially over in America, and there’s no sign of them coming back. There are practical, legal, and structural reasons for this. Labor is relatively expensive in the West compared to the bare subsistence levels paid in much of the third world. Tax law allows and even encourages the sheltering of profits in foreign havens. Robotics has advanced to the degree that many products which were once hand-made can be more consistently and effectively built by machine.

      Trying to blame any economic issue on “moochers” is bordering on severe self-delusion and complete ignorance of the actual economic conditions and causes. Any halfway credible economist can explain how substantially the macroeconomic trends have dramatically shifted in the post-WWII era. With the current policies driven by the Republican party and given mostly a free pass by the Democrats, there’s little chance of reversing these changes even for a short time.

      More importantly for the future, we need to figure out how we’re going to deal with significant problems in employment, health, income inequality, housing, and several other sectors. There’s no panacea that will flat-out eliminate any of the structural issues, including the gradual rise in energy costs, the aging population demographics, the increasing irrelevance of manual labor versus robotics, and so forth. So we’re going to need to be very creative and start working on some novel solutions.

      It’s certain that thinking you will improve the economic condition by gutting public services or public works is mistaken. All that accomplishes is taking even more money and more demand out of the economy and putting more people into permanent poverty. That the rich still think this works, despite having tried and failed with the same strategy dozens of times over the centuries, is really telling about how entrenched their egotism is. In a dark humor sort of mood, it could almost be seen as amusing that they think they can survive and prosper without the cooperation of the vast majority of the population.

      • smrnda

        A problem some economists identify is that our workers are too productive. It’s too cheap to produce more than can be consumed, so we get this bigger and bigger surplus of workers who either end up unemployed, or highly underemployed, with uncertain job prospects since the enterprises they work in are usually highly dependent on people blowing money on things they don’t need.

        We really don’t need every able bodied adult working 40 hours a week. It’s just that’s what’s necessary for the wealthy to maintain their position of privilege over the rest of everyone else.

      • kagerato

        Good point, smrnda. That’s the conundrum of exponential growth combined with capitalism. Eventually, the productivity overflow will cause a structural shift in the economy somewhere. Our leadership has either never figured out how to prevent it, or doesn’t care to try. The best we’ve managed to implement so far is to take a similar approach to the democratic socialists, and set up a very substantial safety net so that unemployed workers have somewhere to land and re-train into one of the active, new sectors of the economy.

        People who propose completely restructuring the economic system so that it’s not dependent on exponential growth or private capital are considered “radicals”, as though they were crazy. I think it’s the current scheme that is insane. Where else do you find people accepting a system where failure is built-in by design?

        I’ve mused before that there are essentially only about eight sectors of the economy which are truly essential to human survival and well-being:

        [1] resource acquisition and management (mining, recycling, waste control, et cetera)
        [2] agriculture
        [3] housing
        [4] transportation
        [5] manufacturing (producing tools required by the other key activities)
        [6] health care
        [7] governance (the decision making bodies, whatever their form)
        [8] research and development (creates new tools)

        What’s fascinating is not the list I’ve constructed here, but the items that are missing from it. Banking, insurance, and real estate aren’t strictly necessary and they don’t directly fulfill any key need or purpose. They’re artificial structures that are supposed to be facilitate the performance of the other sectors of the economy. A means, not an ends. Yet these are some of the largest actual sectors of the real economy.

        Some may question whether entertainment, also a large chunk of the economy, belongs on the list. I don’t think it does. It’s not only that strictly speaking, no one is going to die from boredom. It’s also that if all practical compensated labor were focused on the eight sectors outlined and nothing else, there would likely be so much spare time and labor leftover in the economy that people would surely spend it on creating entertainment just for the fun of it.

  • smrnda

    I see no reason why people can’t get assistance based on their level of need. Libby gets *some* assistance, she isn’t getting every single cent she has from the government.

    If we’re talking about college, I was sent to school with about 50,000 in the bank. So yeah, I’m from the class of people who ‘pays for things’ and I’d be perfectly fine with paying higher taxes so that people like Libby Anne can get through college. I didn’t earn that money, or at least not most of it. I would be *all for* me paying more taxes so that you, PM, would have had an easier time getting through college.

    On graduate school, there are areas of work where you need a graduate degree to actually get a job. Doing the ‘one partner works while the other person goes to school’ just drags out the process to where you’re looking at decades before you cash in. Schools are already biased against people with kids to begin with, since it’s just assumed that nobody in school has kids. Financial aid is biased against parents since it assumes that it’s only financing an adult who wants to go to school – you’re kids are still your responsibility which means it’s much harder t

    Plus, we all get things we didn’t exactly pay for. Who paid for the roads? The military? The police? Fire department? Keep in mind that Libby is a taxpayer too, and that her tax money is probably going towards things that other people use more than her. This game of “I’m compensating *you* because you get X and I don’t” is a pointless game. Even the wealthy are compensated by the government with all the tax dodges they get.

    Health insurance is expensive because insurance companies are not in the business of making sure people get health care, but that they make a profit. That CEO needs a few million more dollars this year or else he just won’t be able to buy that new house. Health insurance is expensive because employers negotiate with insurance companies for plans, and without any sort of strong labor movement the trend has been to degrade health coverage for workers so that shareholders can make more money. We’d have more money for health care if these parasite shareholders weren’t raking in all the profits while the workers get screwed.

    Health care is always going to cost lots of money because we expect it to work and be delivered by competent experts. But so is national defense, and we pay for it collectively. Why not do health care that way? It’s clear that other countries make it work. If we all pay into a system and all benefit, at least we can cut out everybody who is just trying to run it as a money-making enterprise, where every shred of profit is money that could have actually been spent on treatment.

    On health care, poor people often make bad choices, but a lot of this is upbringing and education. I can’t expect some dirt-poor hick to realize how irrational it is for him to smoke 2 packs a day any more than I’d expect some primitive to understand that the glowing rock he thinks is magic is really radioactive waste that will kill him. (to a lesser degree -hyperbole there.) I mean, yeah, it’s obvious for lots of us, but how obvious is it for the people we’re talking to? I just don’t think middle class people do a very good job communicating to working class people overeall.

  • smrnda

    Kagerato, an entirely correct and well-written response there.

    On our current system, a problem is that it isn’t sustainable and that can be verified through many forms of empirical analysis. The other problem is that people who believe in the doctrine of government non-intervention into the ‘market’ or a more libertarian economic forms don’t believe in it because there’s empirical data that it’s beneficial or sustainable, but because they believe that it’s based on principles that are axiomatically ‘true’ or ‘right’ regardless of their consequences in the real world. I had a discussion with a libertarian who took me to task for holding ‘consequentialist’ ethics, meaning that I based my standards of good or bad on harm or benefit to people rather than ‘intrinsic metaphysical worth’ (whatever that is.)

    Occasionally these people will try to twist facts or figures to make a case. Some people combine their economic views with their religious ones – unregulated capitalism is “Christian” since unlimited acquisition of wealth is either a god given right or else is a sign of god’s blessing, or that a disbelief that exponential growth can always occur is a denial of “God’s provision.” Another problem is that, regardless of how bad the system may work for most people, it works well for a few at the top, and they are often very incurious and uninterested in how the system works for others. Does a shareholder really care that his dividends come from screwing single moms out of overtime pay, or from making them work off the clock?

    The things you mentioned (banking, insurance, real estate) really do serve no function except as a means of rationing existing resources through anti-democratic means (with no question as to the legitimacy of the claims of the current owners.) I mean, we have homeless people, families, and empty houses that banks aren’t letting people live in because they can’t make MONEY that way. It’s just a way of locking up resources that could be doing someone some good. I know that many people might object to this as a way of me lashing out at private property, but we’re talking ownership on a level of not a person, family and a house, but of a few people who probably own millions of houses. There’s no way anyone or any institution can argue there’s some merit to that.

    Entertainment is a tricky one. I’d actually prefer to see entertainment become a more do it yourself, local thing, but it’s not really relevant to your point.

    • kagerato

      “Intrinsic metaphysical worth”, as well as “inherent meaning”, and several other constructs are nothing more than pretentious philosophical hand-waving. They’re a red herring introduced to distract from the issues at play and disguise the fact that the speaker is using a fundamentally selfish and irrational argument from authority. They might as well write “I don’t agree because it doesn’t serve my best interest” and leave it at that; it would be far clearer and much more honest.

      Excellent points about how religious and economic argumentation gets subtly mixed together, as well as how the FIRE sector functions as a system of rationing. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

      • smrnda

        Something I like to say is that survival depends on access to resources, so that those who control resources control whether or not other people survive. There are no totally free actors engaging in completely volitional exchanges – people with less must accept conditions imposed on them by those with more and they are not really in any position to bargain. The usual libertarian sleight of hand is to define ‘compulsion’ as ‘something government makes you do’ – at least we all have a say in government, we didn’t all get a say in how property would be distributed, and property today exists because of force, violence and conquest in the past. So if property rights have to be protected against force and seizure, then all property originated there and no property claims are valid.

        My take on that ‘no claims are valid’ is not that I’m against any private ownership, just that property rights are a social construct and should be managed by some sort of democratic consensus where the right to acquire property is balanced against other rights. When a person is telling me that it’s ‘freedom’ for a business owner to choose not to hire minorities, or fire pregnant women ‘because it’s free people engaging in voluntary relationships’ and a law against firing women for getting pregnant is tyranny because ‘it’s the government intruding on the free agreements of free people,’ it’s just a denial that the person who controls the resources controls the game.

        Occasionally I encounter the argument that property rights are more valid than say, a right to health care since property rights exist without the need for someone to supply them. The problem is, without a police force and legal system, property rights would exist only as a meaningless abstraction. They exist because at some point in time, a blatant seizure of property was considered valid, and then all possible subsequent, identical seizures were declared invalid, and a huge apparatus was put in place to protect the rights of those who had originally seized the property.

        Perhaps the private property fetish is strongest in the US because our nation was founded on such a blatant and undeniable act of violence and theft.

  • Valerie

    This author and so many respondents are the reason why this country is fiscally, and quite frankly, socially failing. The poor are are marginalized by a government who attempts to control them with money and goods, and a never ending message of hopelessness and victimhood.
    Growing up poor, I know firsthand the trials and tribulations that accompany poverty. Thankfully, my sister and I were able to lift ourselves up through caring people and good educations. Social justice has been bastardized by lefties the world over. True social justice begins in your family, neighborhoods, churches, and community organizations. The social justice as prescribed by Dr.Paul Kengor is the social justice that works, and the social justice that I believe in.
    A government that is small,smart, and simple is a government that serves its people best.

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