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Moochers, Government Handouts, & You

Welfare (i.e. government monies going to the poor) can really make people mad. Critics of welfare say that the poor are dangerous free loaders who are very different from those who do not receive welfare. They’d have us believe that poor folks are parasites that will suck the life out of our society if we let them. In this post Nathan Palmer explains why this criticism is overblown and most likely hypocritical.

Hey, before we start I want to ask you a question. Do you receive any financial aid from the government? Alright, got the answer? Let’s go.

Moochers, free loaders, drains on the system, good for nothings. We have many harsh names for people who receive aid from the government (i.e. welfare). For whatever reason, in the U.S. we shame and stigmatize people who are dependent upon government aid. Today I want to show you who relies on government social programs and ask you to think about why many of us are so critical of welfare recipients.

The Aid Recipients are Parasites Argument

Most of the arguments against welfare suggest that welfare recipients are people of low character, who abuse social systems. In other words, they are people who will suck resources out of the rest of society like a parasite because they don’t know any better or they are lazy or they are otherwise rotten people. For instance, in 2010 Lt. Governor of South Carolina Andre Bauer said,

  • “My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”

If you can believe it, Bauer said this as an argument against giving free and reduced meals to school children. His logic is clear, poor people are intellectually inferior to the people who can afford to pay for their children’s lunches. Poor people are also ravenous consumers of resources who will “breed” and eat through the resources of a community if they aren’t stopped.[1]

Just Who Are These Dirty Moochers?

Just what do the people who live off of government aid look like? Well, they certainly look like me and I’m willing to bet they look like you. Remember when I asked you if you received government aid at the top of this post? I’d now like to rephrase that question. Are you taking out student loans to pay for your education? Because if you are, then you are receiving government aid.

Stop and think about it, why would a bank loan the average college student a dollar? Many college students don’t have a job nor any assets that could be used as collateral. If you walked into a bank with no income and no assets and asked for tens of thousands of dollars, they’d laugh you out of the joint. The only reason a student in this situation can borrow money is that the federal government guarantees the banks payment. If you die or skip town, the government will eat the financial loss. Furthermore, the interest rate on student loans is far lower than the interest rate all other loans are subject to. Meaning that Uncle Sam is giving a big fat handout to college students around the country just ’cause. Let me be clear, I’m not throwing stones at student loan recipients. I simply would not have been able to go to college if it weren’t for government backed student loans. But let’s not stop with student loans.

Do you own a home? Did your parents own the home you were raised in? Homeowners in the U.S. also get a handout from the government in the form of the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction. This provision in the tax code allows home owners to deduct the interest on their mortgage. The average home owner deducts approximately $10,000 each year and this costs us $70 billion dollars in lost revenue.

Government backed student loans and home mortgage deductions are really just the tip of the iceberg. There are government monies and tax deductions for lots of things. And furthermore, many of the recipients of government aid are unaware of the fact that they receive aid. A study done by Dr. Suzanne Mettler first asked people if they used any “government social program” and then Mettler asked them if they had ever used a series of social programs individually. She found that 60% of home mortgage interest deduction recipients, 53.3% of student loan recipients, and 51.7% of child and dependent care tax credit recipients reported originally that they had never used a government social program. If this wasn’t perplexing enough, a report in the New York Times pointed out that many of the states that used government programs the most (e.g. Louisiana and Mississippi) were the states the reported the strongest opposition to welfare and government programs. These are strange times.

If Everybody’s Doing It?

The question we are left with is, why are people so critical of low income people when they receive financial aid, but not as critical when non-poor people receive aid? Some will argue that student loans are investing in our future and that home ownership stimulates economic growth. To which I’d counter, food stamps are an investment in our future as they feed children and their families. Furthermore, food stamps increase sales at local grocery stores and therefore stimulate the economy as well. But did the poor people earn it? Do they deserve it? Well, most low income folks work, pay taxes, and pay into social programs that are automatically deducted from everyone’s paycheck. So yes, they did earn it. Vilifying the poor for using government programs while at the same time benefiting from government programs that help people go to college or own a home is patently hypocritical. So how about we take it easy on each other.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Why do you think that many Americans are so critical of people who receive government aid?
  2. In 100-200 words write an argument that challenges what Andre Bauer said about low income people who receive government aid. Note: if you happen to agree with Bauer, you assignment here is to take on the point of view of someone who disagrees with him.
  3. Do you receive federal student aid or other forms of government backed student loans? Do you or did your family receive the mortgage interest tax deduction? If so, how does that change your view of other people who receive government aid?
  4. Many people who rely on government social programs and welfare are some of the most vocal critics of it. Why do you think this is?

  1. For the record, there is no sociological evidence to back up Bauer’s claims nor the idea that the poor are parasitic. I’d also like to say that, personally, I completely disagree with Bauer and his logic.  ↩