Welfare Subsidies

Welfare Subsidies March 11, 2021

A few years ago, I had a far right-wing friend and former work colleague named Barry. He hated any kind of welfare program, called people who collected it “welfare pukes.” But he and his wife, a very charming lady, shared our love of classical music, so the friendship survived…until guess who arrived on the scene. Barry was a wildly enthusiastic fan of The Donald, and that was too much for the tenuous bonds of our friendship to withstand. I haven’t heard from him in several years.

More recently, I have had discussions with another right wing friend about welfare. He shares many of Barry’s opinions, although he is not as disgusting in his depictions of destitute people. Here are some of his recent comments:

I’m not against the idea of welfare. Civilizations always have a way of aiding destitute kinsmen. This would, of course, need to be connected with a plan for self-improvement as a viable tribe member, and harsh judgment on behavior that is detrimental to such self-improvement.

And of course, being that the US is such a large country with so many tribes, such kin-selection wouldn’t be as strong as a country like Poland for example, where everyone is Polish. Thus, welfare here is half-assed, and nobody wants to actually do perennial welfare recipients a favor by judging them harshly for behavior that increases their financial instability.

No, instead, we have the opposite: indiscriminate charity. And as any economist will point out, when you subsidize something, you get more of it. We are subsidizing handout living, and we are getting more of it. And we’re also subsidizing perennial welfare recipients to have children, which they do more of than working- or middle-class people.

There is a lot to dissect here, but I want to concentrate on his assertions that welfare payments are “subsidizing handout living,” and “subsidizing perennial welfare recipients to have children.”

Let’s start by defining the term. What is a subsidy?

Subsidy: A form of financial aid or support extended to an economic sector (business, or individual) generally with the aim of promoting economic and social policy.

In other words, a subsidy is money provided by government to encourage actions that are considered beneficial to society. No one would argue that encouraging women on welfare to have babies is beneficial to society. Is government doing something crazy? Are great numbers of babies being born because of welfare payments?

The myth that women on welfare have babies to increase their welfare payments started with Ronald Reagan, and his “welfare queens.” It was nonsense then, and it is nonsense now. Women on welfare do not have a higher birth rate than other women. In one analysis that I found, the annual birthrate for every 1,000 women aged 18 to 44 on welfare was 45.8, compared with an overall national rate of 71.1. So if those women are being subsidized, it isn’t working very well.

How about the claim that welfare is “subsidizing handout living.” This is usually accompanied by the claim that people on welfare are lazy and don’t want to work for a living.

The majority of welfare recipients are either children, disabled or elderly. These are not lazy people who should be getting a job and supporting themselves. If helping them is a “subsidy,” it would seem to be a worthwhile one.

Welfare programs predominantly help working Americans who receive low wages. Because a person makes low wages does not mean they are lazy, but it does suggest that we need a higher minimum wage.

Here’s another interesting little factoid: At least 13 million people in the US live in poverty and don’t receive any benefits from welfare programs. The subsidy, if that’s what it is, doesn’t seem to be encouraging “handout living.” That would remove people from the poverty rolls. Eliminating, or at least minimizing, poverty is a worthwhile goal for government. Nobody in a nation as rich as ours, with its masses of millionaires and bushels of billionaires should allow any citizen to be hungry or homeless.

There are a lot of misconceptions about people on welfare. Here are two sources that I used for the statistics I have quoted here. Both have a lot more information on our welfare system, and the people it helps.


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