General Question

optimisticpessimist's avatar

Has American perception of government welfare programs changed since its inception?

Asked by optimisticpessimist (3884 points ) February 23rd, 2011

I already read the thread concerning revamping the welfare system. I have several questions:
1. Is it more acceptable (in general not necessarily on a personal level) to be on welfare than it was when these programs started?
2. If so, would changing the perception of the people change how many people utilized the services for extended periods of time?
3. It seems some people do not realize they are using government services i.e. Medicaid, Section 8, food stamps. I do not know where they think the money is coming from; however, they genuinely seem surprised to find out these are forms of welfare. How can they be made aware? Or is it just a matter of changing the name?
4. Would limiting the amount of time a person can receive welfare decrease its usage? (Sort of how unemployment is limited.)

I saw a show once where an older gentleman, probably in his sixties or seventies, had used welfare for a time. After he had a job, he paid back every cent he had received; he even had a receipt to prove it. (How cool is that?) It made me start wondering about how it is no longer viewed by many as charity but as a right.

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7 Answers

ETpro's avatar

US politics has been driven now for the better part of a century by a struggle between classes. The ruling class wants trickle-down. The working class wants a living wage and safety net for those who cannot earn a living wage. They want dignity of life for all. We were moving from a Colonial past when there were the landed gentry and the abject poor, sharecroppers, slaves, etc. plus a tiny middle class of expert tradesmen and shop keepers. That is how the European past of our immigrants had always been. The ruling class, the landed gentry, wanted to keep their position naturally. Some, not all by any means, but a significant portion, wanted no change of any kind. They were loathe to share any of the wealth of this massive new nation with an of their lessers. They wanted it all for themselves.

This division in thought eventually gravitated into a political movement which, after the death of several failed parties, settled in one wing of the Republican Party. They did not rule the party by any means. In fact, the first Republican President freed the slaves, and though most of them were very wealthy, the so-called Rockefeller Republicans of the prosperous North-East were the driving force behind of the early civil rights movement.

But Republicans by and large were appalled at FDR’s new deal. FDR actually scaled back the New Deal Spending in 1936 in answer to Republican outcries, and the result was a second dip, the recession within the depression. To this day, GOPers tell and believe big lie after big lie about how Democrats caused the depression when it was their laissez-faire policies and unregulated, highly-leveraged recklessness on Wall Street along with missteps by the Fed that caused it, and how Republican ideas would have fixed it quickly but FDR’s policies made it drag out. The statistics prove conclusively that just the opposite is true, but those who have adopted a firm ideological view simply ignore any facts that fail to support their beliefs. In truth, FDR didn’t do enough and it was the massive deficit spending of WWII that finally ended the depression.

The welfare programs we have today were born out of the misery and threat of actual starvation of the Great Depression. The programs are far from perfect, and there is no reason we should not continually look for ways to improve them. But despite years of demonization and lies about them, it is not the poor who are sucking all the money out of America. The wealthiest 1% have, since Ronald Reagan slashed taxes on top incomes from 70% to 28%, gained a great deal of the wealth of they nation. They now hold 42.7% of all financial wealth in the USA. The bottom 50% hold 0.06% of the nation’s financial wealth. It is not the poor who are bankrupting us.

We were paying for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and simultaneously retiring debt left over from WWII right up until Reagan instituted Trickle Down economics. His administration tripled the national debt, but it made millionaires and billionaires very, very happy. And the class war that had been brewing ever since this Nation was founded went into high gear.

Now Trickle Down has been tried before. It was called Feudalism the first time it was tried. It didn’t work very well for 99.9% of the people back then, but it was a huge success for a few and left them with enough money to buy private armies to keep the 99.9% in their rightful place, near starvation.

Here’s a simple reduction ad absurdum of Trickle Down economics. If it works, let’s do it up right. Let’s tax the first $250,000 anyone makes at 50%. So a 50% tax on a minimum wage worker. Let’s take the revenues from that and for every dollar over $250,000, the IRS will cut a check for matching funds. So if a worker makes $10,000 in a year, they owe $5,000 in tax. But a Hedge Fund Manager making $25,000,000 and getting an annual bonus of $1,000,000,000 (no joke, that’s pretty common for Hedge Fund Managers) wouldn’t owe any taxes. Instead, we’d gather up the money taxed from the poor and the middle class and fire off a check for $1,024,875,000 to the hedge fund manager so the trickle down can get into high gear.

Under the Clinton Administration, we modified welfare to workfare. Each state sets its rules about how long you can stay on welfare without working if you are able to work. In most, it’s about 5 years. There are certainly welfare fraud issues, and druggies collecting welfare, and families collecting foster kids to live off the money the state provides for the children’s care. But these are the exceptions and not the rule. Find them and stop the abuses, but don’t demonize a whole segment of society as worthless welfare queens.

Between the start of the Great Depression and through WWII and the postwar boom, we all pulled together as a people. We built the world’s greatest military and the world’s most prosperous nation. We ran up debt to fight WWII, but we paid it down. We built the first major middle class the world had ever seen. And we made plenty of new millionaires while we were doing it.

The elites who control the Republican Party and fund it today, people like the Billionaire Koch brothers, are determined to turn the clock back on all that. They have spent decades demonizing and scapegoating the poor. The Koch brothers alone are worth over 10 billion dollars, but it isn’t enough. The poor can just starve. They want it all.

The clear-cut Union Busting going on now across multiple states, confirmed as a coordinated Republican plot today by the guy who punked Governor Walker part1 part2 into admitting it, is a clear sign. Class warfare is underway. The elites that run the Republican think tanks now want a Banana Republic, with a tiny handful of corporatist oligarchs owning everything, and the vast majority condemned to limited education and generational poverty. I for one will fight that idea with every thing I can muster fr the fight. Education is how we win that fight, and it’s also how we teach all Americans that welfare isn’t free, and that needlessly collecting it harms us all.

optimisticpessimist's avatar

I was not trying to demonize anything. I asked if perception has changed for the majority. I see nothing inherently wrong in there being a helping hand for those who genuinely need it, but are more people today willing to take that helping hand for an extended period of time because the idea of taking ‘charity’ has lost its stigma?

wilma's avatar

@optimisticpessimist I think it has changed. It has become a way a life for some people and indeed for generation after generation. I know that that is not what was intended when it began. I think more needs to be done to try and get people who are able to work, to begin to work.
There will always be those who will need our assistance, the truly disabled, elderly, and those unable to take care of themselves. I believe that most folks do want to help provide assistance for them.

ETpro's avatar

@optimisticpessimist & @wilma A greater percentage of people are below the poverty line now than were 30 years ago. The population has also grown in the past 3 decades. So put those two things together and more people end up applying for help. But in the Clinton years, Republicans pushed through workfare. Each state sets its own rules, but is allowed to set them so that nobody can stay of welfare for life unless they are truly unable to work do to severe handicap or mental retardation, etc.

We have a growing number of homeless people on the streets, and have been building homeless shelters which are constantly full. If all those homeless people could just switch to welfare, why don’t they? The answer in most cases is they cannot. The mantra of a growing welfare state is pushed by people who want another tax cut.

I was around and an adult in the 1960s. Things were very good, and everybody believed they would just keep getting better.

GracieT's avatar

@ETpro, once again GAs, and much lurve. I didn’t know all of the background information, and am grateful for the chance to learn.

ETpro's avatar

@GracieT Thank you. :-)

Ron_C's avatar

Welfare has always been an issue. The conservatives made up urban legends of “welfare queens” driving to pick up their welfare check in their new Cadillac. That inspired even progressive states to institute welfare time limits and ‘welfare to work programs”. They think that they teach those lazy people to work and welfare can disappear. There are only two problems, welfare check pay very little but pay more than some of the available low wage jobs. Now that the low skill industrial jobs have been transferred out of the country, what happens when the checks run out? The person has two choices, live in the streets or sell drugs and there are plenty of examples of both behaviors.

Most people do not want to be on welfare! Sure there are a small minority that have self esteem and ambition low enough to be satisfied with meager and intrusive income, but most people would rather earn their living. Even drug dealers made the rational choice to improve their living conditions rather than allow government intrusion into their daily life.

The only real solution is to repatriate the jobs or charge corporations enough taxes, tariffs and fines that the only way they can operate in this country is to manufacture in this country.

I believe that import duties on raw materials should be low or zero and tariffs manufactured good should compensate for the low salaries of the people that make them.

When we were really prosperous, we has a progressive income tax up to 90%, low unemployment, no free trade agreements, and a fair import tax system.

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