The New York Times ran an interesting article recently examining the lives of ordinary Americans who are strong critics of the country’s social safety net – even as they themselves depend on it. These are people from middle-class families who don’t want government money going to those who don’t “deserve” it, but who depend on government tax breaks, social security and Medicare.
It may seem like a contradiction, but many of these people find their reliance on government social programs frustrating. They feel guilty about needing government benefits. They want to be entirely self-sufficient. The article reveals a portrait of a deeply-conflicted group of people who are finding their values simply don’t line up with the reality of living in these hard economic times:
“Spending like this is simply unsustainable, and it’s time to cut up Washington, D.C.’s credit card,” Mr. Cravaack said in a February speech to the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce. “It may hurt now, but it will be absolutely deadly for the next generation — that’s our children and our grandchildren.”
But the reality of life here is that Mr. Gulbranson and many of his neighbors continue to take as much help from the government as they can get. When pressed to choose between paying more and taking less, many people interviewed here hemmed and hawed and said they could not decide. Some were reduced to tears. It is much easier to promise future restraint than to deny present needs.
“How do you tell someone that you deserve to have heart surgery and you can’t?” Mr. Gulbranson said.
According to the Census Bureau, about half of all Americans in 2010 lived in households that received government benefits. That’s about 11% higher than in 1998. Part of that is because the programs have expanded over time, with more relaxed rules for eligibility. But, the NYT article points out, it’s also a symptom of how the middle class has found itself floundering in recent years.
The article is an interesting look into the lives of some surprisingly sympathetic characters. It’s easy to call aging Tea Partiers who rely on social security hypocrites, but there’s some real conflict being experienced here. Many of the people interviewed for the piece express regret and frustration that they need government help at all, and believe that government benefits need to be reduced – not because they demonize others who use those benefits, but because of fears surrounding the Federal deficit.
Read the whole thing here.
Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon