Welfare System Designed to Keep the Poor, Poorer

Welfare System Designed to Keep the Poor, Poorer


SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome to The Real News
Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Governor of Kansas Sam Brownback has signed
a new bill into state law that places restrictions on what welfare recipients can purchase with
cash assistance, including movie tickets, liquor, and tattoos. Advocates of the bill
say it will provide more accountability for taxpayer money, but will it actually improve
the conditions of the poor? Now joining us to discuss this from New York is Sanford Schram.
Sanford is professor of political science at Hunter College, CUNY. He is an award-winning
author of many books, including Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism. Thank you so much for joining us. SANFORD SCHRAM: My pleasure. PERIES: Let’s begin with what this bill will
do, and how bills like this throughout the country is affecting the employment and well-being
of welfare recipients. SCHRAM: Yeah, the Kansas law is just one of
another spate of laws that have been passed lately. The country seems to have a habit
whenever things start to go bad or the economy’s not doing well to fall into a pit of invoking
stereotypes, often racist and sexist stereotypes about the poor as deviants who aren’t adhering
to white, middle-class rules of work and family. And amazingly, we’ve seen this happen again
in the last few years post the great recession, and state after state has passed these kinds
of restrictions which really don’t make a lot of sense. A popular one is drug testing
of recipients, though people on welfare are on average less likely to use illegal drugs
than the population in general. And states lose money, they spend more on testing than
they get back from dropping people from the rolls for that. But we see these other kinds of restrictions
coming in like the ones in Kansas, limiting how much money you can withdraw from your
Electronic Benefit Transfer card each day, $25 in Kansas, and limiting what you can spend
the money on. In many cases, about things that low-income people would never even contemplate
buying or can afford to buy. So it’s really more about marking the poor
as deviant, and sort of creating a kind of policy feedback that feeds back into the society.
The policy sort of calls out the poor as deviant and manufacturers their otherness in order
to reinforce or buttress anti-welfare antipathy. PERIES: Now Sanford, what is there to be gained
by marginalizing the poor more than they already are in our society? Particularly given that
we are in economic crisis, it is well-established fact that unemployment and the economy is
in a very slow growth period. What’s the point in marginalizing the poor any more than they
already are? What’s in these heads of these people who passed this legislation in Kansas? SCHRAM: Well I think there are multiple dimensions
to it, but most concretely, materially, it’s about not having to spend money, to avoid
having to raise taxes. Since the welfare system was changed dramatically in 1996, where they
instituted time limits, work requirements– PERIES: This is important. This is not even
under Reagan, this is under President Clinton, and at that time with the assistance of Hillary
Clinton, who’s now running for president. SCHRAM: Yeah, there’s been commentary lately
that allegedly Hillary was very much in support of Bill’s signing of the law. In many ways
the Republicans, I think, backed Clinton into a corner and made him deliver on his promise
when he had run for the presidency the first time, to end welfare as we know it. He ended
up having to sign the law in part perhaps because he knew he was politically vulnerable
with scandal hanging over him. He wasn’t entirely happy with it, though in his autobiography
he said he considered it his greatest achievement as president. So it is bipartisan that we need to change
the welfare system, make it more restrictive, to put more of the responsibility on the poor
to be self-sufficient so they’re not a burden on everyone else. And what’s happened over
time is so many people are not receiving public assistance that are eligible, we’ve gone back
to the bad old days before the ’60s and the welfare rights movement and the civil rights
movement, when people were able to start to exercise their rights to assistance. And now only about a third of all the people
who are eligible for assistance are receiving it. So part of this is about keeping them
at bay, and not having to meet our obligations as a society. So as the number of people who
are extremely poor or live in deep poverty grows, and as the system doesn’t respond,
I think there’s pressure to maintain the restrictions rather than confront the dire need that’s
rising all around us. PERIES: What would you suggest or propose,
since you study this area and must have solutions outlined. What are your recommendations in
terms of short-term and long-term ways to address this kind of poverty? SCHRAM: Yeah, it’s really hard to overnight
just overturn all of this. So I think we have to think more strategically and more incrementally,
as taking steps along the way to get to a better place. And so we have a work-based
system of social provision now. It’s not just public assistance, cash assistance, or food
stamps, and so on and so forth. But the earned income tax credit’s actually our largest cash
transfer program for the poor. And we subsidize people’s wages. And in fact, it’s getting
to the point where states are worried that they’re paying so much through cash assistance
and food stamps to support low-wage employers, now post-great recession a lot of people are
going back to work but they’re still having to rely on food stamps and public assistance
while they do that. So one of the main things we could do is raise
the minimum wage. And there is a lot of growing support for doing that, for more cities to
try and follow Seattle and raise the minimum wage up so that one of the results of that
will not only be lifting families out of poverty if we do that enough, but will be reducing
their need to rely on public assistance, and it will reduce the extent to which the state
will be paying to subsidize employers. PERIES: Sanford, would that equalize–like
at the moment, if your income doesn’t reach a certain level, you have access to various
tax credits and benefits. Especially if you’re having a family. Now, if you raise the minimum
wage, will some of those people become ineligible for some of those tax credits? SCHRAM: Yeah. There are what are called notch
effects. And so, and some people may be discouraged from working more because they’re worried
that their income would get too high and they lose their food stamps, and their earned income
tax credit will be incrementally reduced as their earnings go up. But if we raise the
minimum wage enough, that’ll compensate for that. When the earned income tax credit started
to get expanded years ago, it was–there was a debate about whether it was going to discourage
employers from raising wages because they would know that their wages that are being
paid to their employees were going to be subsidized by the government. And I think there’s more
evidence of that now. And so there is a tension between the minimum wage law and the earned
income tax credit, and we need to worry about their interaction. But I think the weight
of the evidence now is that we should be massively raising the minimum wage, and there are instances
where this is happening, now. Seattle being a precedent. PERIES: And globally, the World Bank just
recently declared that even worldwide, unions who were advocating on behalf of a higher
wage for workers around the world was doing a good thing and should be included in some
of the considerations for loans. So this is not just a U.S. phenomenon in terms of increasing
the minimum wage, it appears to be a global trend. SCHRAM: Right, and it’s increasingly a global
economy. And a lot of employers are concerned about global competitiveness. So I think it’s
important that we think about global responses. PERIES: Thank you so much for joining us today,
and giving us your insights into how this particular problem could be solved in our
society. SCHRAM: Thanks for talking to me. I appreciate
it. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the
Real News Network.

48 thoughts on “Welfare System Designed to Keep the Poor, Poorer

  1. the missing link here is a land value tax to recover the rents from landlords and restore them to the commonwealth. raising the minimum wage only encourages rent-seekers to raise their rents on the poor and absorb the increase.

  2. Keeping any welfare will be chains for the recipients. Must begin whole new era of intelligence that is valued. Begin with schools. They should be taught by subject…yes even elementary schools. If you choose to learn something that's completely different than having it forced. Being a friendly neighbor and connecting communities so they don't depend on govt is more important. End the Fed in welfare…..lets go back to community welfare and gardens….what about algae for food? NASA uses it!

  3. Many immigrant I know came to this country not only with no money no English at all.  But most of them are able to support themselves by hardworking. 

    Americans are enjoying the welfare since born so why work?

  4. Welfare should not exist at all, disability yes, welfare no. Do not support the weakest link or it will never become stronger.

  5. The Kansas bill had a main goal of cutting people off welfare.  They restrict the federal 5 year to 3 and make people who have drug offenses not eligible for assistance.  Kansas has a major deficit from their unprecedented tax cut to businesses and the rich.  They are cutting a ton of services to cover the hole the hand out to the rich made.  This is just another way to make up some of the money on the backs of the powerless in order to benefit the powerful.

  6. I'll tell you how to improve the welfare system. Do mandatory drug testing randomly every month and increase it to a livable standard.

  7. There should be no welfare period there should be  jobs for everyone.
    the money spent on welfare should be used to  fix the infrastructure  and anyone on welfare should  be given a job by the state  it could  range from cleaning the streets to cutting grass and fixing the infrastructure.
    Welfare  reduces the recipient to a non participant in the social fabric of the country.

  8. Addressing the poor? Housing should be number one. These abandon buildings in most states? Could be converted to house the homeless and poor. Without an address? You can't apply for any government help. Want to cut welfare? Quit giving trillions to thieving Banksters!

  9. Americans need a better choice/more choices on who wants to be president. Its been blown out to a point to where if you do not have multi-billion friends, 'YOU SUCK' on having any chance. Why does Bill Clinton always at those G-10/20 conventions? FOOLS!

  10. I'm a Black man and this confuses me. What are, "white middle class rules of work and family?" As a Black man, I'm not supposed to believe in work and family?

  11. this guy should get a job as a cashier and see some of the junk food and crap people are allowed to get with their EBT (stuff that lots of working people can't afford). welfare should be a safety net for people and there should be limits on what people can buy and how long they can stay on it

  12. interesting or government in australia always talk about these welfare models your using in america but they never get introduced nationally i like the drug testing idea to get a benefit it makes sense we just keep talking about introducing it. not sure what happens once you go of welfare jail or crime or homelessness thats your problem

  13. Welfare is a form of “Economic Slavery”, a system developed
    by the Democratic Party that enslaves the poor by letting them believe how much
    the Democrats are helping them with additional benefits year after year, in
    exchange for their vote in every election. It is this “Yess-Sir”
    slave-mentality that has destroyed the family, with the vast majority of
    fathers NOT home raising their children or providing a good example of what a
    father should be, while losing all pride in themselves by NOT providing for
    their family’s needs. Meanwhile mothers are having additional children with 5
    or 6 different fathers, thus destroying the context of what a family should be.
    Welcome to the “New Democratic Slavery”.

  14. Government has no right to tell an employer what to pay its employees, raising the minimum wage will just cause prices to go higher and create a vicious circle where nobody wins. There could be a "fair" minimum wage but these types of jobs are for entry level people who need temporary employment and then need to move on.

  15. Help is there for vulnerable people . For food , bills and rent . Not drugs , alcohol , tobacco and tattoos !

  16. he says Clinton was forced to sign it BC of political scandal. then he shouldn't of been fucking all these women! furthermore, that jackass is a sexual predator!

  17. I would love an opportunity to work a middle class job, not the bullshit they force you in. Most people have a strong need to get off the system, it's a death trap for real. Like I say what system??? Poor is just stuck.

  18. The way the government keeps people on public assistance is by penalizing them for actually working.  After taking into account the cost of working, transportation, child care, etc., most are no better off than they were before going to work.  Further there are rules that prevent people on public assistance from owning assets.  The incredibly low limit on assets prevents many from ever working their way out of poverty by preventing them from owning equipment that would allow them to work for themselves.

  19. This is a fight between two groups… those with souls and those without… the problem is both the groups fighting are smart but those without souls fight dirty and don't care about people.

  20. 50 percent of white families are divorced families with single mothers. Most likely on welfare. While the black family statistic might be higher. It couldnt be higher by much

  21. All I can say is yeah right. Less likely to use drugs if you're on public assistance? If it's other people's tax money you're spending, the taxpayers have every right to stipulate what that money is spent on. Boohoo. They should feel grateful the taxpayer provides for them at all!

  22. Taxpayers don't want to pay for their alcohol or tattoos or a lap dance or anything else like that….
    Some of us might already have people we sponsored all through the year and on the holiday so they can have something… sometimes I get so sick and tired of people not having enough cuz that takes away from me and my household..
    Thank God for my warm and braces with my iron gates close behind me to welcome me home

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