Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Welfare Rant

This one's been in the blog hopper for a long time. I've been resisting posting it because it's pretty opinionated. Here goes...

Karen Zemek once wrote a post about how a young man's life was changed because of an act of kindness on her part; she made it possible for him to attend a summer camp.  This warmed my heart, because I, too, was the beneficiary (back in the day) of someone's kindness and attended a summer camp because of it. I am a big fan of charity like this, given from the heart; many of you know this about me and know that I am a giver. (Government-forced charity, though? Not a fan.)

I interject here to let you know that I grew up familiar with Housing Allowance and Food Stamps, which we received on and off for most of my childhood. I am grateful for such programs. As an adult, at one particular financial low point, I applied for and received Food Stamps, because I believed (and still do) that the system is set up to help people in a bind, and since I had paid into that system for many years, I had no guilt about taking advantage of it for the brief time that I needed it.

Here's my take on the Welfare system in this country:  We are spend a lot of time saving "drowning victims" but spend little time teaching them how to swim. Because they love the water but hate swimming lessons, we pull them out and they jump back in again, knowing they'll be rescued; it's sick.

One of my biggest pet peeves about welfare in this country is that so many people just get in line and hold their hands out; it seems there is no incentive for getting off of welfare, and we now have generations of families born with a "This is what we do" mentality. I hate it.

I would like to see able-bodied people without jobs volunteering their time in exchange for benefits. Just think of the good that could come of this! Job skills could be gained, connections could be made, and people collecting support could also gain self-respect. So, not only would society benefit from having volunteers, but the volunteers themselves would benefit.

Let me reiterate my point clearly:  I do not (at all) object to welfare programs to help meet people's basic needs; I just think people who are receiving benefits should also be giving back when they are able-bodied. This would benefit them as much as society.

I absolutely hate that so much of our charity in this country is focused on handing stuff out (food, clothes, money), and there seems to be very little focus on getting people onto their own feet. Don't believe me? Look in your phone book or Google "job skill development programs" vs. handout programs. In Tinytown, I spoke to our food pantry supervisor, who told me that they have offered job skill classes, but "no one ever takes advantage of them." Do you know why? Because they can still have everyone take care of them without having to work; if your parents have raised you without valuing independence and hard work, you will grow up not caring if you work a day in your life (except that you know others will judge you for it, so you might pretend to care about getting a job). I hate that.

One year, on a student vacation day, my principal and I drove to a new student's house to pick him up to take him to school (so I could meet him and show him where his classes would be, etc.) because his mom said she had "no transportation." We took him to school with the understanding that we'd be dropping him back off in an hour and a half. When we returned, the parent was not home (and the door was locked), so we waited for her to return. Fifteen minutes later, she arrived in the car of a friend and casually stated that they "had to run to Walmart." She made no apologies and offered no thank yous. It never occurred to her to apologize or to pick her son up herself, because she is so used to sucking off the teat of society to look up and ask "What the heck am I doing?!"

Don't get me wrong; I understand disabilities, mental health issues, unemployment, etc . I am not talking about those circumstances. I'm simply saying that there has been a shifting attitude of complacency about our welfare system when it comes to able-bodied people, and I'm not happy about it.  A hundred years ago, people came to this country knowing they would have to sink or swim, and the vast majority of them came to the pool with at least water wings and their own towels. They learned to swim (self-taught, with no lessons from the government) and helped others learn, as well. We now have pools surrounded by busy lifeguards but no one taking swimming lessons.

Maybe it's time to drain the pool.

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