Social Question

Linda_Owl's avatar

Do you understand the "Misconceptions" about America's so-called 'Safety Net'?

Asked by Linda_Owl (7728points) November 12th, 2012

Too many Americans think that poor people are taking ‘advantage’ of our Social Services Programs. You might find this link to be a very interesting read

One has to wonder why Congress has been so active in “Demonizing” poor people? And also, why so many people seem to believe the things that they are told about poor people?

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23 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

One has to wonder why Congress has been so active in “Demonizing” poor people?
No you do not.
It is class warfare, pure and simple.

jerv's avatar

Remember, most of the people who complain often have poor math skills and merely regurgitate the numbers given to them by their talking heads.

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t think people know. They have these impressions based on myths, like the welfare queen myth, and because they know one person like that, they think everyone on welfare is like that. I mean, we don’t even have welfare any more, and yet even people like me call it that. That’s part of the problem.

But when I asked a question about how people have experienced poverty, I got a whole lot of interesting answers that weren’t about stereotypes, except from one person. But the rest of it was about how you get trapped when you have no money, and suddenly everything becomes so much harder. The smallest mistakes get compounded instantly, and you get dug futher and further into the hole.

You can’t plan. You get a ticket or bounce a check and suddenly you can’t raise money for food or heat or to fix the car. Then you can’t get to work. You lose your job, and then you are worse off than ever. You can’t win for losing.

I don’t think people understand that. Even if they did understand, they might not believe it because I think we like to blame the victim. If you’re poor, is must be your own damn fault.

I think people have a fear of poverty. They don’t want to be sympathetic. They feel like they will be taken advantage of. No one wants to be a fool. And maybe it feels like being a fool to help someone. Being taken advantage of is the worst. Especially when you are trying to do good and you have good intentions.

There’s a fear that if you give something, you’ll never see the end of it. It’s like in Japan, if you save someone’s life, then you are responsible for that life from then on. You are responsible for what that person does. I think that if Americans had that same ethos, they would never save anyone’s life, because they couldn’t control the person, and who knows what they would do.

In order to get people out of poverty, you have to provide the assistance those people want, and then you have to stand back and let them make their own mistakes. You can’t make them do the right thing. Yet all Americans seem to think that if they help someone, they have a right to tell them what to do and have that person do what they are told. We infantalize the poor.

Libertarians see this, and want to fall back, and let the poor take care of themselves. They don’t want to infantalize anyone. But this doesn’t work because very few poor can do much without resources. Republicans of course think that if they give money, they get to control the poor, and Democrats are little different, I think.

I think we do have a class war, although I’m not sure that people really understand what differences there are between us. Or rather, they see lots of differences, but they don’t see the important differences, and mostly they don’t understand how to work effectively with these differences.

I doubt if we will make much progress with poverty. But I know we can’t afford to stop trying. Our economy will not survive without more workers, and the unemployed and the poor need to get training so they can do the work that is there to be done.

bolwerk's avatar

Most of the anti-social safety net stuff is myopia and delusion. Many of the people who fall for that Kool-Aid somehow depend on the social safety net.

And I suspect the riled up types don’t pay much attention. Consider this from Republikan acolyte David Frum: “Frum said he interviewed protesters at Tea Party rallies and found that a majority was convinced that taxes increased and that the federal government spent more than $1 trillion on welfare each year. Both claims are false.”

It’s one thing to not know how much the government spends on welfare, but it’s another to not notice how Obama didn’t increase your taxes. Are they even looking at their tax returns? Or are they part of the 47%?

CWOTUS's avatar

I think… many of the people on this site misunderstand the safety net, and the writer of the links in the OP’s question certainly does. Social Security and Medicate, no matter how “popular” and “well-run” are truly bankrupting the nation. “Enough to pay 100% of benefits to all those entitled for the next 21 years” is a pure lie. The money isn’t there. The money simply does not exist to pay those benefits. Oh, it probably will be. It ought to be. It can be made to be there… as long as we can keep the economy going that much longer before we default, and as long as we can keep inflating the currency to make it seem like everyone is getting richer. (Just think of how grand it’ll all be when we’re all millionaires! And how awful that at the same time it will cost $100 K to buy a week’s worth of groceries.)

So, the first fallacy is that “the safety net” is even there. It’s a net that’s held close to the ground by everyone who can still stand and hold it. And the more that people need to use “the safety net”, the fewer people hold it up.

This is one of the myths that isn’t much talked about: Why do so many women work these days?

I’m not talking about single women, widows and those who just really, really want to work. (And I’m not a misogynist who hates the thought of women in the workplace, or who is threatened by them in any way. And I’m also not assuming that “only the husband should work” in a marriage. You could just as easily substitute “the husband” for “the wife” in the following.)

I’m asking, “Why do so many wives need to work these days?” Why is it that in our parents’ day our mothers by and large simply did not need to work an outside income-producing job? It’s because the overall tax burden wasn’t so high. And I’m not just talking about the withholding amounts you see on your paycheck or the property taxes or sales taxes (which didn’t even exist a few decades ago, for those who don’t know that). But I’m also talking about the hidden tax of inflation. Even though a lot of the things that we need have gotten “more expensive”, the biggest cause of the added expense is that the money is worth less. Much less.

So while a family of seven could live pretty well, if not luxuriously, in the 1960s on a father’s $10,000 / year salary (my father’s salary at the time, in fact), these days couples and families with the combined salaries of two people making ten times that amount are hard-pressed. (And maybe we did live sort of luxuriously, in a 4-bedroom home, with two cars and a summer place on the lake. I guess it was sort of luxurious. I sure can’t afford the place on the lake any more.)

It’s this great safety net that y’all love so much. We can’t afford it. The more that we try to patch the safety net, the more people fall into it.

It’s not that “libertarians [want] to let the poor take care of themselves”, as @wundayatta honestly misconstrues it. It’s that we want a lot less government, that costs a lot less and makes much fewer demand on all of us so that not so many people would be poor in the first place. This safety net is killing us.

wundayatta's avatar

So, magically, if we got rid of government, there would be all these jobs, such well-paying jobs, too, so there would be hardly any poor left? And, of course, the few who were poor would, well, be on their own. But not taking care of themselves, I guess. Oh @CWOTUS. Why did you find it necessary to use so many words to say what I said in, remarkably, fewer than you? I guess there’s a first for everything, no?

CWOTUS's avatar

Hmm. Well, we can’t get rid of government magically (or overnight), jobs won’t appear magically (or overnight) and the world will never be perfect, by magic or on any time scale.

However, a richer society (which we were at one point, before we had the hubris to declare a War on Poverty) would have an easier time taking care of its poor. Which is why we foolishly declared that “war”. And which leads me to the question: Have you checked to see who won the War on Poverty?

The war may not be over yet, but we’re being fought to a draw. And now you want to draft more soldiers, right?

ETpro's avatar

@CWOTUS We afforded the safety net back when, and we still could had we not slashed taxes for the rich from 70% on incomes over $200,000 in the ‘70s to 35% on the top bracket now. We did fine in the Clinton years with a top tax rate of just 39.6%. We should have just indexed the top bracket (income over $250,000) to inflation. Consider this.

We can debate where we need to put our resources. But it is very difficult to debate math.

jerv's avatar

@CWOTUS The reason you see so many dual-income households has nothing to do with taxes. Depending on which measure you go by, $10,000 in 1963 is the equivalent of no less than $75,500 in 2012 dollars. My rent alone on a modest 2-bedroom apartment is more than your dad earned then; $850 (cheap for the area) times 12 equals $10,200.

Yet median household income has not risen nearly as much; closer to $50,000/yr, and by definition, half of households earn less than that. In other words, your dad alone earned then more than over half of all households do now.

And it’s that sort of lack of historical knowledge, math skills, and being out of touch with the world as it is that make it nearly impossible to take the arguments of Conservatives seriously.

Also note that if private industry paid living wages and healthcare costs were affordable enough that not only did the average worker have lower out-of-pocket expenses, employers didn’t have to pay so much to offer health benefits, then we would not have to have government doing the safety net thing. So don’t blame government; blame those that make government necessary!

rojo's avatar

@CWOTUS could it be that it takes two people working to keep a household income in line because as a society we have been deluged with propaganda exhorting us to buy! buy! buy! because these days the entire heath of the economy is measured in how much we consume, not how much we produce or preserve?

Until we come up with an economic system that does not depend on the consumption of resources, something that will eventually be forced upon us, then we are doomed to continue to see the general population spend more and more to get the latest gadget or style without thinking about the consequenses.

The safety net is not all that we cannot afford.

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Bill1939's avatar

Is it even possible for enough employment opportunities to exist for all able bodied to have jobs in America, much less in the world?

wundayatta's avatar

@emilianate Did you have an education? When were you poor? How did you get into poverty. Did you have any assets such as intellectual capital that most poor people don’t have? If so, how did you manage to acquire your intellectual capital?

jerv's avatar

@emilianate A rather larger percentage of gunshot victims survive, so by your logic, there is nothing wrong with being shot. Don’t talk odds with a gamer/savant; you will lose.

In fact, it’s sad when even someone with my limited social skills can identify a troll; I’ve only been feeding you out of boredom.

emilianate's avatar


I was born into poverty. I started working in my early teens. Intellectual capital is common sense. I didn’t learn this from anyone. Children have to be in school by law, so I went to public school. All children in poverty go to public schools, they have to. I personally would have loved to quit school so I can work to save up for private schooling. I did end up doing this for the university I attended, though it took some time to save up after I graduated high school.


I don’t think it’s just your social skills that are limited, you have some really flawed logic, completely unrelated. Also, you seemed to agree with me on the other question. If you don’t like what someone says, then just don’t read it, yet you’re doing exactly that.

jerv's avatar

@emilianate I don’t naturally/intuitively understand people the way others do. To me, even the very basics of social interaction are more academic, much the same way that neurotypical people learn engineering and math that I do find intuitive.

I find your mindset curious. I am accustomed to getting information from multiple sources, using deductive reasoning, comparing that to actual experiences, and looking at the big picture. So when see someone like you who seems so opposite, whose experiences are not only different from mine but actually utterly opposed to everything I have observed/lived, I am intrigued.

bolwerk's avatar

@emilianate is a Galtian superman who lifted hisself up by them bootstraps. Gawddamnit.

Bill1939's avatar

I was born white and poor in Chicago 73 years ago. My parents were first generation removed. Father was born shanty Irish and Mother Polish ghetto. While he eventually earn a high school diploma, she did not. Both were hard working, though she had limited employment opportunities until the fifties. Unfortunately Mother was mentally ill, bipolar, but no one knew about such disorders back then. To say our family was dysfunctional would be an understatement. I won’t go into the emotional and physical abuses my sister and I experienced. However, additionally (and likely as a result) we both were social misfits and were tormented by our peers. Getting an effective education, though what was offered then was superior to what most urban students have today, we both were underachievers to say the least.

My point is that though opportunities to “pull oneself up by their bootstraps” may exist, the psychological and environmental realities often makes making such an effort unrealistic. Those who are poor, undereducated, and living in a society that blames the individual who exists in this way, and limits (if not outright denies) opportunities to work their way out of such conditions, have little choice but to become dependent upon governmental largess and exist in relatively antisocial communities.

I am weary of hearing that the poor “choose” to live the way they do, preferring to live like spoiled children taking advantage of the “system” and being a burden on society.

wundayatta's avatar

@emilianate How do you think you came to value education enough to put yourself through university? Was it something your parents impressed on you? Or did you come up with it yourself?

What did you decide to study in university and why did you choose that subject?

Bill1939's avatar

I had not considered college until my senior year in high school. But because I was going to barely managed to earn enough credits to graduate, even though I’d been to summer school three years in a row, my father convinced me to go to DeVry Technical Institute and get a trade in radio/TV repair instead. I did, and then did a hitch in the Air Force trained in radar maintenance.

Afterwards I worked for several companies (Hallicrafters, Motorola, ITT Kellogg), changing jobs because of layoffs. Now, 25, I decided that I wanted to teach high school physics instead of employment roulette and found an inexpensive college down state. It turn out that my math aptitude was inadequate so I settled for a BA in psychology instead (I’d been taking psyc courses just because I was interested in the subject).

After working in a maximum security hospital for three years and, seeing that the administration there was crazier than the male paranoid schizophrenics that I was there to help, I quit. A few jobs and business attempts, my love of community theater led to my becoming an assistant director at my city’s performing arts theater where, after 11 years, I retired from.

While it might seem the the four years in college were for naught, the experience (more outside than inside classrooms) enabled me to see myself in a more positive light and be
relatively less neurotic that I would have been otherwise.

emilianate's avatar


I came to value education by wanting a good/comfortable life. In order to have a good/comfortable life, you need money, and to earn a larger amount of money more easily, requires education. I got into software engineering because I saw it as death and taxes. Society always needs and depends on technology. Its high in the demand, it pays well, and I don’t have to work as hard as I did as a laborer. You also have the convenience to work from home or anywhere around the world.

This was not taught. This is common sense. You don’t need an education to figure this out, just like you don’t need an education to know not to stick your hand in fire, and even when you do stick your hand in fire, you won’t stick your hand in fire again.

jerv's avatar

@emilianate Personally, I have never been comfortable with the idea of taking on more debt than I knew I could pay back, which lead to me opting against taking many thousands of dollars worth of loans out without a guaranteed job. I know people with Masters degrees working minimum wage jobs and struggling with their debts.

Instead, I chose a trade that pays well, and is in demand; CNC Machinist. Machined goods are always in demand, and people are retiring faster than they are being replaced, so growth isn’t bad. I opted against the IT field for a variety of reasons (including the fact that everyone else was going that route at the time, saturating three job market), and I wasn’t fond of bring an electrician (though I have a second well-paying trade skill to fall back on).

Whether your education is formal or otherwise, you do need skills to make money. Amd for those that cannot afford a college degree, that doesn’t mean that you font have to learn to earn. Button pushers are easily replaced and this paid little, but those who set up the machines they push buttons on actually have marketable skills. That is why programmers earn more than data entry clerks as well.

Nice to see that we actually have some things we agree on, even if our perspectives are a bit different.

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