Every time we run a story involving welfare or welfare recipients, we hear from people who resent the practice and the practitioners and offer this as a reform solution: “Why don’t they just go out and get a job?”
If only it were that simple.
Welfare was not the brainchild of liberal Democrats in the United States, although some say that, here, it was perfected. The Roman Empire provided subsistence for those who couldn’t provide for themselves. Germany under Bismarck had a form of welfare. Most civilized countries have it, realizing that it is an enlightened people who answer the needs of their neediest.
The Roosevelt administration introduced welfare to the United States during the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Can anyone argue that government does not need to step in and provide some form of relief for people who simply could not find the means to earn a consistent living? The surest way to foment crime is to deprive people of the means to care for themselves.
Who could turn a deaf ear to the single mother of several young children who cannot earn enough money on her own to give her family the food and shelter they require? With unemployment still over 8 percent, and underemployment far more rampant than that, the solution is not to smugly suggest she “go out and get a job.” Most welfare mothers would be thrilled to go out and get a job if one were to be found.
Of course, the welfare rolls are not filled exclusively with single mothers. There are many reasons a person might be unable to work, including health and wholeness of body and mind.
The trouble with any discussion of welfare and welfare recipients is not with the idea of it, nor is it with the large majority of recipients. The fault for the poor image of welfare is the abusers, the recipients who collect out of laziness and deceit and the recipients who supplement their benefits with crime. Unqualified welfare recipients who sell drugs are the real two-time losers in our society. That has certainly become an issue locally, with more and more people busted for selling prescription drugs also found to be welfare recipients.
Last Thursday, we carried a story from Essex County, where the Board of Supervisors discussed and debated what kind of housing was being given to welfare recipients. Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill told the legislators that the county is barred from inspecting apartments by confidentiality, manpower and regulation.
Among the points that emerged in the discussion is that about 100 people receive welfare in the county, 30 or 40 of whom are eligible to work.
Those 30 or 40 spark resentment among some taxpaying citizens. If they choose not to work, they deserve it.
But don’t assume their situation is their choice. The majority of people on welfare would gratefully trade it in for a good-paying job.