We all know the story of the fabled welfare queen, a woman (typically poor, urban and dark-skinned) who supposedly has kids in order to get welfare money. She then allegedly spends that money on living a comfy life instead of investing it in her kids' well-being. Now, forgetting the impossibility of living an actual comfy lifestyle on the amounts of money paid by welfare benefits, I think we've come to the conclusion that this is a myth. People don't, by and large, behave this way. It's a right-wing meme that has been and should remain discredited. Right?
Well, recently I had an interesting talk with a friend of mine about the concepts of taxation, welfare, and generally the redistribution of wealth from those who've got it to those who don't. She grew up quite poor, with an abusive father in and out of the picture, barely supporting his family; with her mother disabled, as the eldest of three girls, she was essentially the sole breadwinner for a family of five. There were times she had to choose between caring for the family's medical needs and paying the rent. Several times they actually did become homeless and had to stay with friends or relatives to avoid being out in the street.
My friend scraped together enough financial and psychic resources to move out, find somewhere better to live, find a job, get loans, and go to college. She's the first one in several generations of her family to actually get a college degree.
Now, her claim is that the welfare queen does exist. As evidence, she points to her two sisters. They are unemployed, and receive some amount of public assistance, I don't know how much or under what programs. The elder of the two rents half of a house with her husband, their two kids, her husband's mother and his aunt. Nobody in the household is employed; my friend says the only person in the household who ought to be receiving any government checks is the mother-in-law, who is eighty years old and shouldn't be expected to bust her butt for her daily bread.
My friend's younger sister, she describes as a grifter - conning everyone, the government, her family and friends, and kind-hearted strangers into supporting her with generous offers of housing and financial support in exchange for... well, nothing really. "She's going to get herself hurt, really badly. Hurt or killed," said my friend.
So, this friend of mine objected to the existence of welfare programs and the taxation required to fund them. "The government is taking my money, which I worked for, and giving it to my sisters," she said. "And [the elder] is basically spending money on luxuries like game consoles and DVDs for the family, instead of medical care for her husband, kids and MIL."
I tried to pin down her feelings on welfare programs in general, but she kept returning to how much she resents her sisters' alleged misbehavior. She did, however, agree with me that a civilized society has a responsibility to take care of children, the elderly and disabled persons if they cannot care for themselves.
I've met my friend's elder sister, and the family does seem irresponsible to my admittedly inexperienced point of view. They own a number of game consoles and buy additional (different) ones every so often; the elder of their two kids, who's old enough to enjoy playing the more complex kinds of games, sits on his butt for most of the day and fiddles with his games. His eyesight is failing, which may or may not be related to his indoor tendencies. My friend's brother-in-law is reasonably able-bodied, or was until recently, but he's ill - he is hardly able to digest anything he eats, because he's so completely blocked up inside, and he's dumped an awful lot of weight as a result. It's just terribly odd to me to see a family whose financial needs are not met (they do come to my friend, not every month but frequently, to ask for financial help) to be buying game consoles and quantities of games and DVDs while the unemployed but employable members of the household are not apparently looking for work. And they are considering having another kid. But hey, I can't judge because I don't know the full story. For all I know, they got the best medical care available to them for the sick family members and doctors just couldn't or wouldn't help them - but then why are they spending remaining monthly dollars on electronic recreation rather than saving it to help pay the bills? It leaves me puzzled and uncomfortable with my doubts of what my friend says.
Anyway, I tried to explain to my friend that since she agreed with the basic goal of welfare systems - making sure nobody had to go without life's necessities for mere lack of cash - the issue was building a welfare system that would help those in need more effectively, and help and encourage them to become economically sufficient, while cutting down on fraudulent claims. She just kept returning to her anger with her sisters. She sometimes disparagingly refers to her family as "white trash" or "trailer trash".
I wonder if there's a way to address this anger, so intense it keeps her from being able to think in more general terms. Is there any way I can encourage her to let go of that anger and just discuss things in general? Is there a way to dispel the myth?
And on a more general note, how does the existence of negligent or fraudulent misuse of welfare funds actually relate to the welfare-queen myth?