welfare system officeHaving spent a few years of my childhood as a recipient of the “benefits” of the welfare system, I understand first-hand the dangers that the current system here promotes.  Things have changed in the last 35 years in terms of how the welfare system in the U.S. is run, and they’ve changed for the worse, in my humble opinion.  Although there have been little dips here and there in welfare spending, it has, by and large, risen steadily and dramatically since its inception around the year 1900, with a dramatic rise occurring during the Great Depression.

Disclaimer: Know that this post is not a criticism of those who work in the welfare department or those who receive welfare benefits, but of the system in general as it operates today.

When I was and kid and our family was on welfare (my parents split up and my mom had no skills or work experience), the system was pretty tight.  You were given a monthly cash stipend along with a monthly food stamp allowance, and then you were constantly harassed monitored and assisted in getting the skills necessary to get a viable job.  My mom was on welfare for roughly three years on and off as she worked to learn how to type (with an old typewriter she’d picked up at a garage sale) and then tried and failed at several jobs until she found one she could do well.  Us older kids were in school, and she found a cheap sitter for my baby brother until he started school.  Money was tight: we had absolutely nothing but the basics, and sometimes not even that.  But my mom sacrificed and worked her tail off, and slowly, things started to get better and she could regularly provide for our basic needs with a strict budget and the willingness to do without any extras, in the areas of groceries and clothing and everything else.

How the Welfare System Hinders its Recipients

Sending the Wrong Message

The welfare system is different today than it was when I was a kid in the 70’s.  Due to what I’m sure includes a lack of adequate staffing, at least here where I live, no longer does the welfare system keep constant tabs on its recipients and their efforts to learn skills and find viable work options like it did when I was a kid.  Instead, recipients are left unchecked for years, simply being allowed to access their money electronically and get on with life.

The problem with that is that it sends the message to long-term recipients that “you’re not capable of working”.  When you hand people a check with no accountability or responsibility on their end, you are, albeit subconsciously, telling them they’re not smart enough to earn a living, and the cycle of the capable-but-non-working adult continues.

Making it Too Easy

Another problem with the lack of accountability for welfare recipients is that the system simply makes it too easy to stay home.  My mom went out and got job after job – even when they didn’t work out – in large part because she had no choice.  Social workers called every week to find out what she had done to help herself, what jobs she had applied for and what skills she had worked on that would make her more marketable.  They also called each week with available job openings that might fit her skill sets. These accountability tactics encouraged her – and forced her – to get out and get job hunting.  The more she worked, the more confidence she gained in herself and her abilities, and the more she was able, from a psychological standpoint, to gain new skills and better her employment situation.

After 25+ years of hard work, my mom retired at the age of 62.  She managed to save a small amount for retirement, but by managing her money very frugally and by staying out of debt, she’s doing okay.  And she credits, in large part, her success story to the fact that the welfare system she worked with didn’t allow her to sit back and just collect a check, but instead, showed her via discipline and accountability that she was capable of achieving more.


Image via tvdxer