I try not to get too personal on this blog as I try to stick by facts and opinion as opposed to personal stories from my life. It’s not a “rule” per se, but I often feel paranoid that if I include bits and pieces of my home life; that it makes me look like a “whiner” or someone that needs to “grow up”.
Then I realized I was catering to the very same thought process as those who partake in the prejudice that I like to call “welfarism” or the inherent distaste and disgust with those who receive government-funded social initiatives.
Now, I won’t go into specifics but I’ve never lived off of food stamps nor have I had the fear of my house being foreclosed. In that sense, I can call myself a lucky individual.
But I saw my father lose his job of 25+ years and then struggle to find re-employment (he would). I’d see him fill out application after application in a struggling job market and the gradual sense of “maybe, we are not going to find one”. My father searched and searched, used contact after contact, and still turned up empty-handed.
To make matters worse, I was starting up the search for a college as I was preparing to be a senior in high school. So, no it wasn’t fun trying to study/practice whilst freaking out that somehow I’d lose my home or anything else as my family’s enthusiasm dropped every week.
Meanwhile, our family was firmly living off of unemployment check after unemployment check as we let things such as our insurance expire. If you were to watch the news, we’d be lumped in attacks by the Republican Party as people who were “living off the taxpayer’s dime”.
Now what is the common response to those who are against social institutions such as “welfare” or “food stamps”? “GET A JOB” of course. The same argument that’s used against the Occupy Wall Street crowd but not to the Tea Party groups. No, no, they are patriots of course because they are fighting for something that they believe in. That’s part of the quandary that our country is currently in.
But what happens when you know, you “can’t get a job”? What happens when you are a barely over 50 year old parent who has to help feed a family, help pay a child’s college tuition and find a new job in a trade that is NOT the one that you worked your whole working life in? Sorry, random 19-year old on Tumblr; you do not have all the answers.
If it were as simple as “getting a job”, we would not have 8.3% unemployment. If you think “getting a job” is the solution to everything, then you have no right to blame President Obama for the economy because he has a job.
Yet we do. How many times did we hear Newt Gingrich espouse the line of President Obama being the “first food stamps President”? Well, it was enough to get him to win the South Carolina primary at least.
Often times we hear the word “entitlements” used as a slur and food stamps being equated to some sort of “welfare queen”. I, often see the whole “DRUG TEST THE POOR” argument used ad nauseam on various social media outlets and try not to punch a hole through my computer each time I see it.
If there was anything that I did not feel in my year-long odyssey of living on unemployment it was “entitled”. Nothing felt worse when hopeful family friends came up to me at a track meet or store and ask “how’s your Dad doing? He’s got a job now, right?” only to hear the reply “No, not yet”.
There is no entitlement in being on government assistance and my situation wasn’t even that bad in the grand scheme of things. My Dad took a job and our nightmare was, well not over, but at least eased.
But I never felt entitled and neither does a high majority of those who have to live off of governmental assistance. That’s a pure fact, regardless of your opinion on the one person who uses food stamps to buy cigarettes. When your sample size is limited to a small handful of people you come across in a single township; you can not qualify yourself as an expert on the topic of welfare.
Yet if you are still not a believer in things such as “entitlements” and still in those vociferous “GET A JOB” or “drug test the welfare” camps. I want you to go to a city such as Camden, New Jersey or Chicago, Illinois and tell a majority of those people that the end of their problems could simply come if they got a job. I want you to go to any lower-income family, you know the type where they work three jobs to make ends meet, and tell them “get a better job”.
That’s not how life works. For a few, there are success stories that happen and should be a source of American pride. But for most, life on government assistance is one filled with tough choices, major setbacks and social embarrassments.
How do you tell a family in Chicago, one of the biggest food deserts in the country, that they are in the situation that they are in because it’s all of their fault?
That’s what capitalism has become unfortunately in America. It’s become an excuse to get citizens to advocate for entitlements for the wealthy (tax breaks, etc.) while demonizing the impoverished as lazy bottomfeeders who leech off the government and taxpayer.
We often talk about “class warfare” with headlines such as the 99% vs. the 1%. That does exist, but we forget that the 99% is not entirely unified amongst each other. The lower 30% often gets the worst stereotypes amongst various walks of life and is looked down upon in too many ways to count. The homeless are “gross”, the man on food stamps is “lazy” and the ones who don’t make it to college are simply a product of horrible parenting.
That’s where class warfare becomes even more significant. The vilification of the poor is often volatile yet some still have hope that they can create a future world in which their children can prosper.
Until then though, are we just going to sit aside and let it happen?