Up until I was 13, “welfare” was what kept food on the table. There certainly weren’t luxuries and my mother didn’t sit around in slippers and curlers. She always worked.
We moved often. Transiency and low-income often go hand -in-hand. I don’t remember feeling that I lacked much, however, I remember being bullied about my clothes, about my free lunch ticket, about where I lived.
I certainly did not feel entitled.
Fast forward fifteen years. I had been teaching for several years, in a Title 1 school. One day my principal made a remark to me on the hopeless situation of the students. Something along the lines of – all we can do is feed them and teach them to follow directions because they can’t handle learning with everything else in their lives.
It was in that moment that I am certain I displayed the most perfectly delivered “you’ve got to be shitting me” faces ever seen.
I challenged my administrator on this immediately, telling her that I myself had been “one of these kids” all through grade school.
My principal looked shocked, but not the least bit contrite. She simply asked me, in amazement, how I ever possibly “made it” growing up in “that” environment.
Having lost the desire to be overly tactful, I responded that I was fortunate enough to have teachers and administrators who, unlike her, had not given up on me based on my socioeconomic status. In hindsight, I think the attitude of my principal came from a caring albeit ignorant place. Convinced that her students were stuck on the bottom tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, her main expectations for their schooling became providing daycare, safety, and crowd control.
This is an example of why the efficacy of “welfare” cannot be analyzed without taking into consideration the bias projected onto recipients of supplemental services. When people are seen as stupid, lazy, or otherwise ill-equipped to create success for themselves, the labels tend to stick no matter how untrue.
When I see people posting about pee-tests for food stamp recipients, or condemning someone because they have a cell phone or own a television I really would like to come unglued.
My annual taxpayer contribution to one person receiving the two most commonly discussed forms of assistance (food and temporary income assistance) is less than the pennies I drop in the “need a penny take a penny ” jar at the quick mart each year.
The big deal people are screaming about here is not how much of their hard-earned money is being wasted, it is about how superior they can make themselves over someone else.