February 17th, 2010

Last week, my friends and I had a pretty intense conversation about the Facebook group “Making Drug Tests Required to Get Welfare” and the counter group “Cringing in disbelief at “Making Drug Tests Required to Get Welfare.”

What’s my take away?  That many people don’t understand TANF (aka welfare) or drug addiction(which even the US Government recognizes is a disease).

These Facebook groups, coupled with South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s comment that when the government helps the poor, it’s like people feeding stray animals that continually “breed,” have re-opened a conversation about Americans’ lack of empathy for the poor in hard economic times.

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a comprehensive examination of this phenomenon on Monday in the article “In hard times, Americans blame the poor.”

Some highlights:

In an April 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center in Washington, 72 percent agreed with the statement that “poor people have become too dependent on government assistance programs.” That’s up from 69 percent in 2007.

“The economic downturn has made the middle class less generous toward others,” said Guy Molyneux, a partner at Hart Research Associates, a Washington firm that researches attitudes toward the poor. “People are less supportive of the government helping the poor, because they feel they’re not getting enough help themselves.

. . .

Matt Wray, a sociologist at Temple University, agreed: “Hatred of the poor is fueled by the middle class’s fear of falling during hard times.”

Americans don’t understand how the poor are victimized by a lack of jobs, inefficient schools, and unsafe neighborhoods, experts say.

“People ignore the structural issues – jobs leaving, industry becoming more mechanized,” said Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson. . . “Then they point to the poor and ask, ‘Why aren’t you making it?’ “

Alabamians are facing hard times – 1 in 6 of us and 1 in 4 children live on less than the federal poverty threshold, which is just over $21,000 for a family of four.  And unemployment has hit 11 percent, the highest it has been in 26 years.

Alabama has poor as long as we have been a state.  And I for one don’t think that’s because Alabamians are lazy or drug addicts.  I think it is because we all face some major structural hurdles in achieving the prosperity I know we are capable of.

Want to learn the facts about welfare in Alabama?  Check out our fact sheet here.

And want to learn about the larger structural issues?  Wayne Flynt’s Alabama in the 20th Century is a terrific resource, and I highly recommend reading the first four chapters.

Posted by Kristina Scott