Feature

The poor: Too dependent on handouts?

Safety-net programs are not just for the poor, they also benefit the middle class.

We heard a lot of tributes to the middle class at last week’s Democratic convention, said David Crary in the Associated Press, and many references to the rich, “albeit as a punching bag.” But for a party long known as the “defender of the downtrodden,” the lack of attention paid by Democrats to America’s poor was striking. It was striking but not surprising, said Charles Cooke in NationalReview.com. Under President Obama, the nation’s food-stamp rolls have swelled by 18 million, to 46.7 million, with half of all children now relying on food aid at some point. In the “Obama economy,” the poor have become more dependent than ever before on government handouts such as food stamps, unemployment benefits, and Medicaid. People who depend on government tend to vote Democratic, which is why Democrats “are keen to keep them that way.” 

Are the causes of poverty really that simple? asked Michael Crowley in Time.com. Unfortunately, with “the middle class reeling,” there’s widespread resentment against people who receive any kind of government aid. But as Bill Clinton pointed out at the convention, safety-net programs are not just for “them.” About 40 percent of Medicaid spending, for example, goes to provide nursing-home care for seniors who’ve exhausted their assets—many of them formerly middle class. So if we take an ax to Medicaid, as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan propose, do we throw these old people out on the street? It’s easy to cloak heartlessness in phrases like “culture of dependency,” said Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times. But make no mistake: If Medicaid is cut heavily, struggling hospitals and nursing homes will close, and millions of seniors, children, and the disabled will suffer.

When I hear people complain about “takers,” said Colbert King in The Washington Post, I think of the old woman I recently saw in a supermarket checkout line. She watched anxiously as the cashier rang up her meager purchases, then handed two cans of soup back to him. “She didn’t have enough money.” I also think of the working poor I see each morning at the bus stop, their faces drawn with fatigue as they head off to another long day of serving people who have more money. Sure: We could cut off food stamps and health care to these “faceless people.” But do we really want “a winner-take-all” society?

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