Monday, February 27, 2012

Welfare

It's a party-line debate that's been discussed many times: at what point do we stop providing support to people who are living in poverty? The argument of conservatives is that little to no support is the right course of action, since it encourages people to go out and find work. On the other side, liberals tend to claim that a strong welfare system keeps people housed, clothed, fed, and cared for when they can't afford to do it themselves. To be sure, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. We can't simply leave people to their own devices, especially in an economy with 1 job for every 5 applicants (I spoke with one person who was one of forty applying to the same job), but neither can we afford a long-term welfare state that grows exponentially with each passing generation.

Michigan recently hit upon the idea of limiting access and time frames for people to receive subsidies. They point to various numbers that show that limiting funding of welfare pushes more people into the workforce. However, critics point out that the numbers do not actually round out. According to the article, not only did Michigan limit access to welfare, but also to food stamps, causing the number of eligible families to drop. They then used the drop in food stamp recipients to point to the success of their welfare cuts. In other words, they engineered their own success.

The welfare debate is important, because it highlights an underlying question: what is the responsibility of government to its citizens? And, what are the citizens' responsibilities to themselves? To be sure, America has always been a DIY nation. The government was founded to be in an endless tug-of-war between it's own power and the rights of the people. Unlike in the UK, which is founded on Monarchy and a more extensive governing power, the US struggles with what should and should not be given by the Federal government, and who should receive it.

While the solution to welfare cannot be an extreme in one sense or the other, it is important to at least acknowledge the need for the social safety net. Even if it were limited to the elderly, disabled, and those who could not work for other reasons, the system would be necessary. But I believe it must also encompass those who are simply destitute. While you can make the argument that people should be able to provide for themselves, consider how many jobs must be filled in this country that are menial, low-paying, but otherwise necessary? Someone must fill those jobs. And that someone likely has children at home. No matter how you look at it, there are people who will be making substantially less money than others, but still have to support themselves and a family. I happen to believe that it's the duty of government to provide for the health, nourishment, and lives of its citizens. I would no sooner see families subjected to starvation in this nation of plenty than I would allow my own family to starve.

Welfare must have its limits. We must work to cut out those who do not need help, and those who use the system as a way of subsistence. But the overarching goal of Welfare should be to provide support where it is needed, and encouragement to the next generation to do better. In order to truly end government support to those in need, we must make it to a point where none are in need. Realistically, that can never happen, so welfare must persist, and be funded, for the sake of our own humanity.

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