I generally try to avoid controversial topics on my blog simply because in my experience it’s impossible to have a logical informed debate with most people on the internet. A great number of us would like to insist that our opinions are more correct than the opinions of those around us without really considering new information or alternative perspectives on the same topic. Despite the reality of this, I feel the overwhelming need to discuss something I came across not too long ago; something that pretty much solidifies my stance on welfare programs in general.
Just so you don’t get the wrong idea about me I’d like to make it clear that my views on welfare hardly coincide with my upbringing. I was raised in a large family that depended heavily at times on the welfare system. While I had two working parents for quite some time, their hard work simply wasn’t enough. The world kept hitting them with one bad thing after another and if I didn’t know my parents as well as I do I would say they pissed some almighty being off and were being punished for it. They both lost their jobs at the same time, lost our home when I was very young, and fell victim to illness time and time again. By the time I was ten my father couldn’t even work and my mother became the sole source of income with only a part time job. Needless to say with six kids and unyielding misfortune, describing our situation as “hard times” would be a huge understatement. There were holidays we had to skip, school supplies we couldn’t afford, and programs we had to utilize in order to stay afloat.
Despite the challenges we faced and the misfortune that befell us, we survived. My siblings and I joined the workforce as soon as we were of legal age. I was working forty hours a week when I was only seventeen and a junior in high school. My siblings were working just as hard at their respective jobs.
Up until my second job in a supermarket I had absolutely no qualms with the welfare system. It had helped my family stay afloat when we all thought we were going to sink. It was only when I began that job that my views of the welfare system began to shift and become something else entirely. Time and time again I watched as people would purchase the most shocking things with food stamps: $80 worth of crab legs, $50 worth of lobster, and over $100 worth of energy drinks. I’ve worked in a grocery retail setting for nearly eight years and during that time I have seen things that would surprise you: hundreds of dollars of hostess products being purchased in one trip, a seventy-five dollar birthday cake for a three year old, and individuals who sell their food stamps for cash (which I’m fairly certain is illegal). What nearly set me off recently and prompted this post was my interaction with a man who “needed to use [his] food stamps before they ran out” the next day, which happened to be the end of the month. What did he buy with those food stamps? Forty dollars in candy; bags upon bags of sugar with not one iota of nutritional value. Did need that candy? No. Could he have let that money be recycled back into the system to help someone who actually needed it? Of course not.
I absolutely hate when people generalize and to be perfectly honest I would love to say that the instances I spoke about above were isolated and didn’t happen often, but the reality is that I sadly can’t say that. These things happened on a daily basis. The majority of the people I came across abused the system in whatever way they could, capitalizing on its numerous flaws. With the only real limitation to the system being its inability to accept taxable items (which has changed somewhat over the years with the advent of Cash Assistance), it’s easy to see how the system could be taken advantage of.
What I find more alarming is that according to USDA statistics from 2008 to 2011 the use of food stamps has increased from 28.2 million to 45.7 million (with that number only continuing to grow in the year or so since). I find an increase of 17.5 million people on food stamps in three years as something notable. It brings about numerous questions and countless concerns.
From what I’ve seen and what I personally have experienced as a child who grew up with welfare assistance multiple times I am disgusted with what the system has become. It’s no longer for those in dire need, but rather an open resource for the masses. While some would argue that there are more people in need now than ever before, I counter with the following:
1. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that unemployment overall within the United States has decreased in the last three years.
2. The welfare system was designed to be a temporary solution for those in need, not a system to feed upon like leeches for years on end.
3. If a person can afford the luxury of a smartphone, that person can afford to buy his or her own food.
The welfare system is clearly broken and without proper reform it may be beyond our fixing. Americans will continue to see the system as a crutch and something to take advantage of. They will continue to engage in buying unhealthy foods, alarmingly expensive foods, and making a mockery of not only the hard work that the rest of us put in on a daily basis, but those who truly need governmental assistance. Of the 45.7 million people on food stamps in 2011, how many do you think really needed it?
Despite my very clear stance on this issue I am always open to discussion and would like to know what you think. Do you have ideas for reform? Do you think we should do away with welfare altogether?
Until next time…stay classy.
– C.M. Berry