What is it about ourselves that makes us hate those on the margins? Do we really think people like it there? How bad off would you have to be to be willing to be seen in line at a soup kitchen or food pantry? How much pride would you have left? What is especially puzzling to me is why people exert so much emotional energy on hating the welfare system.
Let’s start with some facts.
YOU CAN’T GET RICH ON WELFARE
A mom and her child will collect $316 per month on cash assistance (called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). That amount is set by the states (the funding from which matches the federal contribution) and in Pennsylvania that’s all that young mom and her child will get. The amount has not been increased since January, 1985. That’s right, 26 years without an increase.
THEY DON’T KEEP HAVING BABIES
The average family on welfare is 2.6 people. That’s right – not 2.6 children but 2.6 people.
TRY SURVIVING ON THAT
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Fair Market rent in the Lehigh Valley for the 2-bedroom apartment that mom and her child would need was $853 in 2009. So, she would have to earn $34,120, or $16.40 per hour to make ends meet.
For that matter, at today’s minimum wage she would need to work 2.5 full-time jobs to afford that Fair Market Rent.
CONSEQUENTLY, VERY FEW ARE COLLECTING ASSISTANCE
Actually, given those facts, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
But here are the numbers. In Lehigh County, just 1.4% of the population collects TANF. In Northampton, it’s just 1%. That’s right, in the midst of the worst unemployment rate since the early 1980’s, and the most prolonged period of 9+% unemployment since the 1930’s, there are just 4,714 people on welfare out of Lehigh County’s population of 343,519, and 2,925 people out of 298,990 collecting in Northampton.
And, while the unemployment rate went from 4.1% in 2007 to 9% in 2010, the TANF participation increased from .9% to 1.0% in Northampton and from 1.3% to 1.4% in Lehigh. Another way to look at it is that the unemployment rate more than doubled while welfare participation increased by barely 10%. (Click charts below to enlarge)
SO WHY DO WE RESENT IT?
I just don’t get it. Even if every single mom is a lousy, lazy, irresponsible welfare bum, surely the children are innocent. And nobody’s figured out how to better care for those kids.
Even if every single one of them is a cheat, the sheer numbers are insignificant compared to the waste in our defense budget or those among us who cheat on our taxes.
THERE, BUT FOR THE GRACE…
Does that strike too close? I don’t know. But at least you now have the facts. Maybe something else ought to rock your boat. Like, why is it that we haven’t put anyone who brought down the international economy peddling unscrupulous mortgages in jail?