Our topic of the week in social policy is “Understanding poverty causes and measures.” One of the questions in the middle of the lectures was this:
You are attending a celebration of a beloved uncle’s birthday. At dinner, the issue of poverty and welfare comes up. Someone says that we should abolish welfare altogether because we are spending too much on the poor who would rather receive a handout than work. Someone else agrees, saying that there are plenty of jobs out there and, as a matter of fact, he’s had trouble finding someone to work part-time in his hardware store. A third guest pipes up that if only poor people wouldn’t have so many children, they could get somewhere. Someone else says, “You’re a social worker, what do you think?”
How do you honestly respond?
Now, look. This sounded like many a Facebook discussion to me. Why should I pay for this? Bootstraps, amirite!? I’ve engaged many – maybe too many – of these. HOWEVER… Will I debate you over dinner where I don’t have the option to close the app and come back to it later? I dunno. I dunno. How hungry am I? How well do I know these guests? Is this beloved uncle impatiently waiting to blow his candles out? Who goes to a birthday party with ripping the rug out from under poor people at top of mind? (More than enough people, I suppose.)
But I guess (I know) it’s my ethical responsibility to advocate for social policy I deem necessary or against policy I deem harmful. So here’s what I said:
We spend more on welfare for the non-poor than the poor in the form of entitlements, corporate subsidies, tax exemptions for example, so the problem isn’t that we’re spending too much on welfare, it’s that we are distributing it in a way that reinforces inequality and oppression. Even though your own anecdotal evidence might make it seem otherwise, poor people do want to work, but they want and NEED to work for a living wage, which, sadly the minimum wage is not, especially if you have a family. Also, the data actually shows poor people are less likely to have children than middle- or higher-income households because they cannot afford it, and THAT is a reproductive justice issue because building a family should not simply be the domain of the wealthy.