Facts and Myths About “Welfare”

There seems to be waves of ridicule that come and go on social media.  Every so often Facebook is covered with the little “ecards” and other items that complain about “lazy people on welfare” who have an iphone, a new car, buying cigarettes, and who are just generally living the good life off of the rest of us who work for a living.  Close your eyes for a moment, and develop a mental picture of an “average welfare recipient.”  I’m not going to analyze what you saw, but I want you to use that as a frame of reference for what I am about to share.  Be prepared to have your beliefs about welfare shattered.

Myth:  “People on welfare are lazy and sit at home collecting it while the rest of us work to support them.”

Fact:  The welfare reform law that was signed by President Clinton in 1996 largely turned control over welfare benefits to the states, but the federal government provides some of the funding for state welfare programs through a program called Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF).  TANF grants to states require that all welfare recipients must find work within two years of first receiving benefits.  This includes single parents, who are required to work at least 30 hours per week.  Two parent families are required to work 35 to 50 hours per week.  Failure to obtain work could result in loss of benefits.  It is also worth noting that thanks to the pay offerings of companies such as Walmart, many who work at low wage jobs qualify for public assistance, even though they work full time.

Now I can’t speak to the issue of whether welfare recipients want to work, but the law gives them no choice;  within two years they have to find work or face losing benefits.  This fact about welfare was what Mitt Romney brought up during the campaign when he claimed that President Obama was going to get rid of the work requirements for welfare, which was a lie.  Several governors, including the Republican governors of Utah and Nevada, requested a waiver of the work requirement for various reasons.

Myth: “People who go on welfare stay on it forever.”

Fact: According to the site statisticbrain.com, the vast majority of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) recipients (80.4%) receive benefits for five years or less.  AFDC is the program that seems to be most often identified with the term “welfare.”  AFDC programs were replaced at the federal level by TANF in 1996, but it is still common to hear the program referred to as AFDC.

Myth: “There’s a woman in Chicago.  She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards. … She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income alone is over $150,000”-Ronald Reagan

Fact: Ah, the “welfare queen.”  Ronnie loved to tell his stories, and his welfare queen story is one of the most popular.  The only problem is, the woman he talked about didn’t exist.  There is some evidence that this story may have been based on an actual woman, but her abuses were wildly exaggerated by Reagan.

Myth: “Welfare recipients keep having more kids so they can get more benefits.”

Fact: The most recent information I could find on this was from 1994, but I seriously doubt that things have changed much since then.  The average family receiving AFDC at that time had 1.9 children, which was about the same as the national average.  (Here’s another site that has more information about that.)  I also found a chart showing the amount benefits increase with additional children.  Again, it’s old, from the 90’s, but even doubling the amounts shown to allow for inflation, it is quite plain that having additional children is NOT going to work out in the recipient’s favor.  I’m pretty sure adding a child to the family is going to cost a lot more than the additional $100-200 (inflation adjusted from the chart) that the child will bring in in benefits.

Myth: “I see these guys all the time, hanging out and drinking, and doing drugs, collecting welfare instead of working.”

Fact:  The able bodied single male with no dependent children who collects welfare in the United States pretty much does not exist, since the primary goal of most welfare programs is to provide temporary support for children and families.  Single males can receive certain benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they are disabled.

Myth: “Most welfare recipients are minorities.”

Fact:  While I am not sure why this should even be a concern, other than because of racism, percentage-wise roughly the same number of whites are on welfare as blacks.  (38.8% of welfare recipients are white, 39.8% are black)  The percentages of Hispanics and Asians on welfare are much lower (15.7% Hispanic, 2.4% Asian.  So much for the right wing claim that “illegals” come to the U.S. and collect welfare benefits.)

Myth: “People collect welfare instead of work, and they get rich.  They all have iPhones, drive new cars, have widescreen tv’s, etc.  I work and I can’t afford any of that!”

Fact:  Since welfare payments vary by state and by the size of the family, it’s hard to provide all the pertinent numbers here, but here are some ranges:

  • A family of four can expect up to $500 a month in food stamp benefits.  A single person can expect an average of $200 a month.
  • The average monthly allowance under TANF/AFDC is $900 for a family of four.  For a single person the average is about $300.

I’d love to hear what kind of “new car” they’re going to buy on that income, or even an iPhone for that matter.  (Remember, despite what Newt Gingrich may have claimed, you can’t use food stamps for anything except food, so when you’re figuring how much money someone might have for an iphone or a car, take that money out of the equation.)  It is also worth observing that the people who sneer about welfare recipients having things like that don’t take into consideration that the person may have had that iPhone or car before having to go on welfare.  My favorite criticism is of supposed welfare recipients who have tattoos.  Tattoos are permanent, folks!  How do you know that someone got a tattoo after starting to receive welfare?

One final fact about welfare.  Anybody want to take a guess on what the single largest group on welfare in the United States is?  It’s children.  The page in that link has some other interesting information as well. [My apologies.  The info in this link seems to have been moved and I have not been able to find the new location.-WW]

So, there’s a lot of heat being provided by those comments and snarky little posts with the ecards and everything.  And when I read comments like the one I saw posted by a friend of a friend about “big rims, grills, and bling,” how am I not expected to think that some of this stems from racism?  (If that person had been my friend, they wouldn’t be now.)

As I always aim to do, hopefully this provides a little bit of light.

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