Even Those Who Criticize U.S. Safety Net Rely On It

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.


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Local Politician Spends Month on Welfare

Santorum’s “Moral” Argument For Gutting the Social Safety Net

Economic Inequality Running Rampant in U.S.

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon


LD B5 years ago

Actually, Lindy, "entitlements" are what the Law says you have a legal claim to based on your having met certain conditions, not just toward which you have contributed; and, to which you have no claim if you do not meet such requirements, even if you have contributed.

Lindy E.
Belinda E5 years ago

@Marg W.: tell me about it! We needed to refinance our home, and my husband's income was not quite enough to qualify. So I got a job at a fast-food place a few blocks away. That lasted six months, and even though my kids were old enough to take care of themselves and each other, so I didn't need to pay for child care, I still could not keep the job any longer because I was spending so much - mainly on convenience foods - that I hadn't been spending before. It's amazing what a family can NOT spend if they are willing to work hard at it, but it still requires time as well as effort, and a working mom simply cannot do both.

Lindy E.
Belinda E5 years ago

@cecily w.: you are right - if you're talking about people who have had 40 or more years to contribute to Social Security and have never done so, then that would certainly be a "perpetual non-working (or non-contributing) spouse." I was reacting on the basis of the fact that I was out of the workforce for twenty years and therefore receive, in my own name, only about half as much social security as my husband, although in truth I worked much harder than he did over that twenty years. (Incidentally, that's more than my "spouse's benefit," and one cannot receive both.) It is shameful that we do not value the contributions of the stay-at-home mom, so we force most of them out into the workforce to earn money, and then wonder why our children are idle, disrespectful, and unhealthy.

Thank you, thank you for pointing out the differences between "entitlements" and "welfare." If you paid into the system (as with social security, unemployment benefits, and health insurance), then you are ENTITLED to receive the benefits in accordance with the rules. If you did not pay into the system, it is charity, and you are receiving it because the government (or the church, or whoever) decided it is the right thing to do to help you out.

Sheila D.
Sheila D5 years ago

It still surprises me when some of the people I talk to don't realize they are getting money from the government, in some form or another. And then there are those who are livid to think they should HAVE to get Medicare. What it comes down to: if you need assistance, it's nice to have help. If you don't need assistance, then don't take it, in any way, shape, or form. Unfortunately, there are too many people who are willing to take the assistance, even when they don't need it, and there are always the unscrupulous who are going to figure out how to get as much as they can without doing anything.

Marg Wood
Marg W5 years ago

Lindy E. They also contribut to society by raising well ajusted kids who go on to be well ajusted adults. They probably save more then they would earn outside the home. It used to be that women were encourged to stay home to raise their families! They also make it possable for someone else to have a job!

cecily w.
cecily w5 years ago

Lindy E--Sorry this response is delayed. I did not coin the phrase "Non-working Spouses", the Social Security Administration did. Nevertheless, people who are not employed do not contribute to either Social Security or Medicare--but they receive benefits on the record of the
"working spouse". It might have been better if the SSA had referred to "Non-contributing (to these programs) Spouse" and "Contributing Spouse".

But, no matter what it's called, here is what happens with Social Security Old Age Benefits. The "Working Spouse" receives his or her full benefit (no problem), and the "Non-working Spouse" receives half of the benefit while the worker is alive. So, the couple receives 150% of the worker's full benefit. After the "Working Spouse" dies, the "Non-working Spouse" (who never contributed to the program, or who contributed only marginally, will receive the "Working Spouse's" full benefit. (This also pertains to certain "Non-working Ex-Spouses.)

These "Non-Working Spouse" benefit provisions went to effect more than 70 years ago. They
discriminate against single workers and working couples, and have resulted in extension of the full retirement age for young workers.

There are 40 years between the ages of 22 and 62 (for reduced benefits), and 45 years between the ages of 22 and 67 (for full benefits). Are you saying that 40-45 years is not long enough to stay home with a preschooler or two, and still contribute to your own benefits?

Lindy E.
Belinda E5 years ago

@Rahul R: "Not Just Facts about Property, But More" - What is "more"? Is it home furnishings and decor? It is green living, including how to build your own solar power generator? Is it how to turn your property into an investment for your children's future?

I visited the Home page and still don't have a picture of what it's all about (much less what it has to do with the federal safety net).

Frances C.
Frances C5 years ago

DeWitt, The idiots aren't concerned about the debt. They weren't under Bush and they aren't now. All their blather is just about "Making President Obama a ONE TERM PRESIDENT" not jobs, not the gap between the rich and poor, not about the Bush/Cheney attack on Iraq, not about the fortune spent on that war, not about all the young people injured and killed in that war, and certainly not about the poor. They only care about the rich, and getting elected. With their very bad behavior lately they can kiss that shit goodbye. Sorry about the language, but I am so angry about the right wings war on women.

DeWitt J.
DeWitt Henderson5 years ago

Where were a lot of the Tea Party idiots who are so concerned about the debt when Bush was spending a gazillion bucks on the totally unnecessary Iraq War?

Rahul R.
Rahul R.5 years ago

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