Remember: I will evaluate your participation on whether: 1) You answered all the questions; 2) Your answers and comments reference (or use) and correctly apply the theories, concepts or ideas from the required readings, lectures and related media (if there are any).
Answer the following questions after you have read the required articles and viewed the required lectures and related media (if there are any):
I was a welfare mother. Eight years after Id flunked out of college, gotten pregnant, eloped, had a child, divorced and then fumbled my first few do-overs of jobs and relationships, I was readmitted to the University of New Hampshire as a full-time undergraduate. I received a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, a work-study grant and the first in a series of college loans. I found an apartment subsidized, Section 8 about two miles from campus.
By the end of the first semester, I knew that my savings and work-study earnings wouldnt be enough. My parents could help a little, but at that point they had big life problems of their own. If I dropped to a part-time schedule, Id lose my work-study job and grants; if I dropped out, Id be back to zero, with student-loan debt. Thats when a friend suggested food stamps and TANFTemporary Assistance to Needy Families.
Me, a welfare mother? Id been earning paychecks since the seventh grade. My parents were Great Depression children, both ex-Marines. Theyd always taught self-reliance. And I had grown up hearing that anyone on the dole was scum. But my friend pointed out I was below the poverty line and sliding. I had a small child. Tuition was due.
My initial cash welfare benefit (which edged up slightly over the next three years) was a little more than $250 a month. Rent was around $150. We qualified for $75 in food stamps, which couldnt be used for toilet paper, bathroom cleanser, Band-Aids, tampons, soap, shampoo, aspirin, toothpaste or, of course, the phone bill, or gas, insurance or snow tires for the car.
At the end of the day, my son and I came home to my homework, his homework, leftover spaghetti, generic food in dusty white boxes. The mac-and-cheese in particular looked like nuclear waste and tasted like feet. Lets have scrambled eggs again! chirped my game kid. We always ran out of food and supplies before we ran out of month. There were nights I was so blind from books and deadlines and worry that I put my head on my desk and wept while my boy slept his boy dreams. I hoped he didnt hear me, but of course he did.
With help, I graduated. That day, over the heads of the crowd, my 11-year-olds voice rang out like an All Clear: Yay, Mom! Two weeks later, I was off welfare and in an administrative job in the English department.
Ronald Reagan loved to tell stories. When he ran for president in 1976, many of Reagans anecdotes converged on a single point: The welfare state is broken, and Im the man to fix it. On the trail, the Republican candidate told a tale about a fancy public housing complex with a gym and a swimming pool. There was also someone in California, hed explain incredulously, who supported herself with food stamps while learning the art of witchcraft. And in stump speech after stump speech, Reagan regaled his supporters with the story of an Illinois woman whose feats of deception were too amazing to be believed.
In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record, the former California governor declared at a campaign rally in January 1976. She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year. As soon as he quoted that dollar amount, the crowd gasped.
Though Reagan was known to stretch the truth, he did not invent that woman in Chicago. Her name was Linda Taylor, and it was the Chicago Tribune, not the GOP politician, who dubbed her the welfare queen. It was the Tribune, too, that lavished attention on Taylors jewelry, furs, and Cadillacall of which were real.
As of 1976, Taylor had yet to be convicted of anything. She was facing charges that shed bilked the government out of $8,000 using four aliases. When the welfare queen stood trial the next year, reporters packed the courtroom. Rather than try to win sympathy, Taylor seemed to enjoy playing the scofflaw. As witnesses described her brazen pilfering from public coffers, she remained impassive, an unrepentant defendant bedecked in expensive clothes and oversize hats.
Public welfare programs have always been very controversial and have been a subject of intense debates among citizens and policymakers. On the one side of the debate are those who argue that welfare programs help those who have fallen on hard times to get back on their feet and become, once more, productive members of society. On the other side are those who point out that the welfare system perpetuates, rather than reduces, poverty. In the context of this debate, some have distinguished between public policies whose goal is to redistribute income (through different public welfare programs that provide cash and in-kind benefits to the poor), and those that equalize opportunities by ensuring that the rules of the game are fair (e.g. by guaranteeing that everyone has access to basic education, or implementing anti-discrimination policies).
- In trying to help the poor, should the government focus solely on implementing policies that ensure that the rules of the game are fair? Why or why not?
- Or perhaps, the government should continue to be involved in policies that redistribute income primarily through the welfare system? Why or why not? If your answer is yes, how can the welfare system be improved to address the issue of welfare dependency?
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