April 20, 2014

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

U.S. social inequality complex

Flickr/tobym

In a time when poverty is reaching its highest level in decades and mid-level jobs are increasingly hard to find, it would seem like helping out those less fortunate would be a national priority.

Instead, America has been turning its back on the poor for the past 30 years. The United States has an unfortunate way of looking at poverty. Our national discourse has a unique quality among the world’s many cultures in that we that don’t just overlook our poorer compatriots, but openly denounce them. This attitude, mixed with shrinking opportunities for the lower class, jobs moving overseas, increasingly expensive education, record low funding to public education and a skyrocketing income disparity in the United States creates a poisonous environment for those Americans who are struggling to achieve the “American Dream.”

Politicians and media figures alike have undertaken a campaign to demonize the lower class. The word “welfare queen” became a commonly used word in the 1970’s, coined after a famous speech by then GOP presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in reference to a nameless woman from the South Side of Chicago who allegedly had 80 different names, had illegitimate children simply to gain more checks and collected veterans’ benefits without ever having served. The woman, however, was later found by Chicago officials to be completely fictional.

This fabricated story used to enrage the masses to take action against those in need of a helping hand seemed like an obvious ploy to gain voters. That made no difference to those seeking scapegoats in a time of turmoil. Regardless of the intentions involved, the war on poverty quickly became a war on the poor.

When Paul Ryan was swept into the national spotlight after being named the GOP’s pick for vice president, he also got a huge new audience for his own plan to cut the nation’s deficit. One of the centerpieces of his plan is the issue of welfare reform.

Conservative pundits and politicians alike have championed the cause of drastically cutting programs aimed at aiding lower income Americans, including unemployment benefits, children’s nutritional assistance and social security. Right wing heavyweights from The Heritage Foundation to Rush Limbaugh to Bill O’Reilly have spent countless hours trying to discredit and demonize underprivileged Americans who receive aid from the government. Anti-poor activists have done everything from concocting studies on how poor families owning refrigerators should be ineligible from receiving food stamps, to suggesting that if poor Americans are suddenly forced to live without any government safety net they would magically lift themselves out of poverty. Additional studies have been conducted blaming inner city schools for failing standardized testing despite having their budgets cut year after year.

S.C. Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer even said that we shouldn’t help poor people because “we don’t want them to breed”. Why would any decent person treat millions of people like animals? “Fiscal responsibility”, apparently? It appears that those on the far right are willing to say or do anything to eliminate programs that help the needy.

But what does welfare really cost American tax payers?

The numbers say it all. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Federal Government spends $59 billion on traditional social welfare programs per year. While the number seems staggering, comparing that to the $964.8 billion the U.S. spent on the military in 2011, puts it into perspective (). Social welfare programs only make up about 3 percent of the Federal Budget. Another less publicized budget figure shows that $93 billion goes directly towards corporate welfare; this accounts for 5 percent of the federal budget.

None of the so-called deficit hawks of the right wing seem to care about eliminating tax loopholes, and even handouts, to companies that are often running record profits. The previous figure doesn’t include the $53.9 billion in tax breaks or $16.3 billion in handouts to oil companies the federal government provides yearly. It’s clear that aid to the poor isn’t our biggest problem when it comes to government spending — it’s aid to the rich. It should be considered logical to give money to those who need it instead of those who don’t. Then why do we act as if social welfare, not corporate spending nor even the military industrial complex is the biggest strain on our budget?

The answer is simple: Poor people don’t have money. In this post-Citizens United world where anonymous donors can spend unlimited money to support a candidate and lobbyists rule Washington, many politicians have decided to find a comfy place in the back pockets of corporations. So instead of letting voters see their tax money getting funneled into sweet deals for fat cat CEOs, the Ryans, Mitt Romneys and their right wing media counterparts find other things to distract us with.

What could be more enraging than hearing about lazy poor people living off of your hard earned tax dollars? Maybe shady back room deals giving undeserving corporations billions of dollars. But the rich and powerful don’t want you talking about that; just hate the awful poor people who conveniently lack Super PACS and lobbyists.

It’s time for us as a nation to put aside our anti-poor bias and fix our broken system. Money shouldn’t run Washington  the people should. And while many act like people are just bank accounts, we know corporations aren’t people. The millions of underprivileged Americans who are struggling to get by deserve to be treated as people instead of anonymous Super PACs.

Eric Smith is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at emsmi0@student.umass.edu.

 

Comments
18 Responses to “U.S. social inequality complex”
  1. mason says:

    Actually entitlement spending is around one trillion dollars because you did not include medicare/medicaid and social security; also this amount will significantly increase with federal health care expansion. As you stated the other portion of the budget is dedicate to defense spending and if you consider defense spending at least for a superpower for the purposes of maintaining it’s status than it’s similarly in the one trillion dollar range once you include the cia,,state departmen, homeland security.

    Anyway if you were to cut spending in a 100 billion in each category we could fund better government spending that benefits all opposed to specific interests(foreign policy) or a specific group(underclass) and say provide free higher education for every student in America.

  2. David Hunt '90 says:

    Eric, Eric, Eric. We have shoveled TRILLIONS at “the poor”. With what to show for it? Nothing. Just an ever-expanding class of people dependent on government largesse who sell their votes for food stamps and other trinkets from the Left – who steal what isn’t theirs and dole it out, all the while bragging about how generous they are.

  3. Jamie says:

    David, every single one of your sentences is a lie. We have NOT given “trillions” to the poor. The article mentions the exact numbers. We DO have a lot to show for it: the poor are significantly better off today than in the 1960s, when most of these programs started. The group of people “dependent on government largesse” (i.e. welfare recipients) was SHRINKING, not expanding, before the crisis hit in 2008. It has also started shrinking again after 2010. And finally, the only people who “steal what isn’t theirs” are the rich.

    Mason, this article is about the poor. Most of that thing you call “entitlement spending” consists of Medicare and Social Security, which are programs for the elderly (regardless of wealth), not for the poor. In fact, this is an important point to remember: the majority of “entitlement spending”, by far, goes to middle-class old people, NOT to low-income people. And then those middle-class old people turn around and vote Republican. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

  4. David Hunt '90 says:

    Jamie:

    According to Congressional Research Service (CRS), a group with a staff of about 900 lawyers, economists and scientists who conduct research and analysis for the United States Congress, in 2011 the U.S. government spent $1 trillion for welfare benefits, including $746 billion in federal funds and $254 in matching state funds.

    That a Trillion. With a “T”. In one year.

    As to “the rich” stealing? So, invent a product or service that people want, and are willing to give their money for, that’s “stealing”?

    WHEN, not if, the economy collapses and your food stamps and Obamaphones run out, don’t come to my house looking for food. I’m already buying pikes for the heads of looters.

  5. mason says:

    I would like to say I was making an observation, in no way is my opinion in any way similar to david hunt

  6. mason says:

    That’s a fair assessment so in order to clearly understand you would need to calculate the portion as a total percentage that is allocated to the lower class and equally important the amount of spending allocated to the poor as a proportion as well, as obesity, lung cancer and diabetes rates is higher among the poor and in addition the poor receive a highest social security retirement benefits, higher than the pay in and at an income to the amount paid in higher than the classes above the lowest class.

    Anyway my opinion is not like david hunt, I am not making a policy stance. I am saying we can reconsider both foreign policy and entitlement spending to more efficaciously allocate those funds to benefit other portions of the populations and important sectors of society like education.

  7. mason says:

    and equally important the amount of medicare/medicaid spending

  8. Corporate Welfare says:

    Although I have many bones to pick with this article, I’ll limit it to your characterization of oil subsidies as “aid to the rich.” Regardless of the inevitable storm of recriminations about Exxon Mobil’s profits or Rex Tillerson’s last bonus that is coming my way, ending our subsidies to oil companies would disproportionately harm the middle class.

    The term “corporate welfare” is quite simply a misnomer. Generous executive compensation packages and large profits are implicit in all corporate environments, not just the oil industry. More to the point, it’s foolishly naive to expect Exxon Mobile to take the hit if the subsidies it receives were to suddenly disappear. The truth of the matter is that almost all of the oil subsidies we pay ultimately contribute to lower prices at the pump. Accordingly, discontinuing oil subsidies would unequivocally result in higher gas prices.

    The spike in energy prices that would result from ending the oil subsidies would push a teetering recovery back into recession, further contributing to the disturbingly high levels of poverty we have seen during Obama’s administration. In general though, the dysphemism “corporate welfare” obscures the fact that oil subsidies constitute a redistributionist welfare policy. Given that the top 10% of Americans pay for 70% of all federal tax revenue, in tandem with the fact that energy costs take up a larger portion of middle and lower income peoples’ budgets (versus higher income brackets), oil subsidies are a form of welfare for the majority of Americans (excluding the rich). Taking away oil subsides would result in a spike in gas prices that would disproportionately harm the middle class, and send us spiraling back into recession.

  9. txr says:

    Here are the actual numbers on federal government spending in 2011, by the way, so that people like David Hunt can stop throwing around random numbers from supposed “studies” with no basis in reality:

    http://www.cbo.gov/publication/42636

    Welfare is a part of the “Other” category, within mandatory spending. The entire “Other” category, which also includes many other things besides welfare (e.g. tax credits, corporate welfare, veterans’ benefits, federal employees’ retirement funds, and so on) consists of $545 billion.

    Actual welfare spending is tiny. The only way to make it sound big is to include Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security as “welfare”.

  10. Corporate Welfare says:

    The U.S. government spends way more on social welfare than $59 billion. That number is ridiculous.

    A lot of people seem to be confused as to what constitutes welfare. This is hard to pinpoint since “welfare” is used to indicate many different things. A responsible definition of welfare includes programs that combat poverty, and/or are strictly targeted towards people who are poor. This does not include most of social security and medicare, nor does it include unemployment insurance, all of which might be considered entitlement programs. Yet the author’s $59 billion fails to meet even the strictest definition of welfare. First of all, the CBO never claimed that $59 billion was spent on social welfare. The figure comes from a blogger who creates his own ridiculous definition of welfare in order to arbitrarily omit programs that unequivocally count as welfare. By using the $59 billion figure, Eric odiously mischaracterizes the reality of social welfare spending. This is subterfuge in the first degree.

    For reasons that make absolutely no sense, the blogger Eric erroneously cites as the CBO choses not to include medicaid in his definition of social welfare. Medicaid is designed for people who are disabled, poor, or otherwise can’t pay for their own healthcare. If this isn’t social welfare, I don’t know what is. Medicare and Social Security are guaranteed for the elderly, regardless of income, but are also provided to individuals who are disabled, or meet other means-based qualifications. Here are some figures for medicaid, social security, and medicare spending that are aimed at the needy based on means/income (as opposed to age). These figures are for 2010:

    Federal Medicaid Outlays: $271 billion
    Social Security Disability Insurance: $124 billion
    Medicare (only including spending on people who also qualify for SSDI): $59 billion
    Federal Outlays for Children’s Health Insurance Program: $8 billion
    Total: $462 billion

    $462 billion is a lot different than $59 billion. A few things to keep in mind: the figures above do not include state funding for these programs. Contributions from state governments make up about a third of the spending associated with Medicaid and CHIP (~$150 billion for those of you keeping track).

    In reality, $462 underestimates what government truly pays in welfare programs. Unfortunately, the behemoth that is the U.S. Government does not have a Department of Welfare Spending, so looking at the federal budget for clues about how much is spent on social welfare is a waste of time. There are dozens of different welfare programs that are run by a number of different departments. I got to the above figure of $462 by picking a few large programs, but if you go through every federal department and include all of the welfare programs (about $700 billion in 2011), and then include state and local welfare programs, you end up with just around a trillion dollars.

    The Congressional Research Service did just that as Jamie pointed out. The CRS is widely regarded as being objective; this isn’t the Cato Institute. Even if you ignore the comprehensive study done by the CRS, there’s no way you can genuinely claim that the government only spends $59 billion on social welfare programs.

  11. David Hunt '90 says:

    It’s all irrelevant anyway. Within a year or two – I predict when our public debt reaches $20 trillion – the economy will collapse as creditors refuse to loan money to us entirely. Raising interest rates won’t work.

    When that happens and the gravy train stops, I look forward to all you parasites starving to death. (I already have pikes picked out to mount the heads of looters that come my way.)

  12. Neil says:

    Yeah David Hunt, it’s irrelevant because you have no way of arguing it so all you can do is wish starvation on people and brag over the internet about how you are going to decapitate a bunch of people and put their heads on pikes.

    You are a pretty sick piece of trash. I sure hope you don’t have a wife or children, you sound like the type of person that would abuse them.

  13. The Juggernaut says:

    “Of course, not all the U.S. housing facts are so benign. A visit to any American city will reveal conditions of housing squalor probably unmatched in other wealthy countries, although even America’s worst dwellings are actually quite spacious and amenity-laden by international standards. The key to both the best and worst aspects of U.S. housing conditions is America’s vastly greater reliance on the private market for the production and maintenance of housing. ”

    http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc1/Housing.html

    Not to mention EBT cards in Massachusetts will purchase you cigarettes, alcohol, and other non-necessities, yet our Governor will not do anything to stop this, citing it as “unenforceable.” My credit card company can give me a transaction list of every thing I have EVER bought, but we can’t reform welfare.

    Gotta keep them pulling that D lever on voting day.

  14. txr says:

    The point of welfare is that people should have enough money for basic necessities. If they choose to spend some of that money on non-necessities… then they’ll go hungry tonight. Will some people buy cigarettes and go hungry instead of buying food? Yes. Is that a problem for taxpayers? No.

    The same amount of money goes into EBT cards regardless of what they are used to purchase, so why, exactly, are you so concerned that some people are using them unwisely?

  15. Alan says:

    Hi Eric,
    Nice article. Good to see someone actually taking the plight of millions of Americans seriously.
    But I think you miss the real cause behind the growing American poverty. It’s neither welfare, nor the lack thereof. It’s that there just aren’t enough good, high-paying jobs left.
    We have a real employment shortfall of about 23 million right now (http://www.usdebtclock.org/). But even among people who have “jobs”, many don’t make enough money or benefits to support their families without some form of government assistance. If you count true unemployment as “the number of people who don’t make enough money to survive on their own”, the number is vastly greater, perhaps half the US population. Only about half of the US population makes enough money to pay federal income tax, for example, meaning that they are getting a lot of federal services “for free”.
    Why is there such a large difference? Simply because our labor force exceeds the number of available jobs. We eliminated hundreds of thousands of secretarial jobs with answering machines, thousands of house-painting jobs with vinyl siding, and on and on the list goes. New technology creates some new jobs, but not nearly as many as it eliminates – one of the major reasons we adopt new technology is to reduce labor cost. So we now have a labor force that is much larger than the number of true, useful jobs.
    As a society, we have responded in part, not by having fewer children, but by creating BS jobs like fast food and telemarketing, which serve a dubious societal function and treat their employees like crap. Most pay minimum wage, which is not sufficient to support a family in most cities, and they play games like hiring two people half-time rather than one full-time so they don’t have to provide benefits. How do they get away with it? Because there are so many people out there who need jobs, they can’t afford to quit, no matter how they’re treated.
    The real solution is to reduce the labor force *below* the demand for *real* (ie not fast food) jobs, so that every employer is forced to treat their employees well, because employees are a scarce resource. Americans need to respond to the declining demand for labor by reducing the supply – having fewer children – rather than blaming the government or the rich, the Democrats or the Republicans. This is the only real solution.

  16. hm says:

    David, I can’t imagine why you would advertise the fact that you keep coming here to argue with people who weren’t even born when you graduated. Doesn’t someone your age have anything better to do?

  17. David Hunt '90 says:

    hm: Sure I do. But I enjoy popping Leftist bubbles, so… you’re stuck with me. :)

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