Friday, March 28, 2014

Why Welfare Sucks

For those who may not know, I've been working in workforce development for about two-and-a-half
years of my adult life.  And for the even less initiated, workforce development (WFD) is sort of a branch of social work.  As the name suggests, WFD deals in helping people who are unemployed--many of whom have found themselves unemployed because of some barrier in their lives--find employment and to attain/regain self-sufficiency.

For a year and some change, I was a job coach for people with disabilities.  Las year, I left that position to return to working with TANF recipients.  Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, is more commonly known as "welfare."  It refers specifically to monthly cash assistance given to families who meet certain income requirements.  Before we continue, readers must understand that TANF has nothing to do with food stamps or medicaid.

I truly believe in the importance of my work because, presently, we are faced with a very serious problem that not many Americans think about: third and fourth generation poverty.  We're talking about young adults whose parents were on welfare, their parents' parents were on welfare, and their great-grandparents were on welfare.  For these families, welfare is as much a way of life as the idea of getting a job, working your ass off, and supporting your family by the sweat of your brow is a way of life for most Americans.

It would seem that those who defend welfare and welfare recipients believe that most welfare recipients are just honest, hard-working Americans who are down on their luck.  But those are people who have never worked with the TANF population, and I am not one of those people.

While it's true that many of my clients have very real barriers that make it difficult for them to secure long-term employment, for most of my clients the only thing truly holding them back is themselves.  Their attitudes towards work, responsibility, and how to conduct oneself in public make it nearly impossible for many of them to land a decent job, especially since most of them are unwilling to change.

Believe it or not, this is how many of my male
clients would dress if I didn't tell them how to
dress appropriately for the workplace.
What attitudes do I speak of?  Well, for starters, I've heard this one on several occasions:  "This is not enough money!  I shouldn't have to work for only $400 a month."  Another variation of that is their response when we tell them their cash will be cut off because they didn't participate in their monthly work hours: "I don't understand why I have to do this."  I'm not exaggerating, either--these are true stories.  Many of my clients truly believe that they do not, and should not, have to work for their benefits.  Some of them even call it "slavery."

Many of my clients do not even possess a basic concept of responsibility, or what it means to be a responsible adult.  Just last week, two of my clients found out that they are pregnant again.  Both of them already have one child each, and since they are my clients that means they can't afford to take care of the children they already have.  Despite the fact that they know that they can get birth control for free at Planned Parenthood, they simply don't bother.  But that's okay, because the system will help them take care of their children.

Lastly, some of them can't even conduct themselves in an adult manner when they're out in public.  Many of them act like petulant children when their cash assistance is cut off due to their intransigence.  Often times they will try to pull on your heart strings in order to sucker you in to giving them a break.  Then when they discover that I don't give anyone a break, they become angry.  That anger is quickly met with scolding from me. 

Yes, I have to scold them like children--because they act like children.  They don't know any better.  Growing up, no one taught them a lick about treating others with respect.  They were only taught that they themselves are deserving of respect regardless of how they treat others.  It's no wonder that these clients of mine have never held a job for more than a year.  Hell, some of them can't even hold a job for more than a few months.

So why does welfare suck?  It's because of the people.  Welfare itself is a good program for those who fall on hard times.  But the problem is that an overwhelming majority of welfare recipients are serving a lifetime of hard times, and for whatever reason, they're totally fine with it.  They live in squalor, they raise their children like animals, they can't even muster the strength to be polite for 15 consecutive minutes, and guess what: they're all totally fine with all of that.

Some people think that welfare provides a disincentive to work.  I can tell you right now that is not the case.  Where I work, we tell every client that comes through the door that even a minimum wage, full-time job will triple their monthly income, and they can still receive food stamps and medicaid until they find a job that earns them more money.  Even knowing that, they're still content to stay on welfare until time runs out (Fact: TANF has a 5 year lifetime maximum).

They're a whole different breed.  They simply do not care about anything, and they bring down the whole system.


Jersey McJones said...

Well, you have some unique observations. Only a tiny percent of recipients receive TANF for the full five years, though many do receive longer term benefits for children at a reduced rate as it's for just the child or children and not the parent. 70% of TANF payments are temporary emergency payments anyway. Of course, all this varies by where you live.

It's difficult to assert that welfare creates dependency and cycles generational poverty as both those social ills existed long before welfare. Throughout history, the very poor would sell their children or put them to hard labor or just turn them out. This would lead to a host of other social ills, in a truly vicious circle, and hence modern developed nations now all have welfare.

We have to acknowledge that we do have this particular subculture that you are describing, and that they are a cultural phenomena that we as a civilized people can only do so much to change. I mean, what's the answer? The Final Solution? Slavery? In the real meantime, we have a very meager subsistence assistance program in TANF.

The "whole system" is a tiny slice of the pie and there's no reason to say it's going "down" or that it should. It's just trying to deal with things as they are.

It would seem to me that the best way for the government to address this cultural issue would be via investment in the schools and infrastructure to grow the country creating a vacuum to be filled by otherwise idle hands. That is a market/government way to deal with this, and would be good for the country anyway. Wasting money on the war machine is doing nothing to address this, and is actually exacerbating it.


Fred Baron said...

The best way to deal with this is to cut it all off, every last damned bit of it. No foodstamps, no paying people for laying about, no section 8 housing.

You don't work, you don't eat. That is the only thing that will spur the stubbornly lazy to get off of their asses and fend for themselves.

Jersey McJones said...

Oh, they'd fend for themselves, alright. And all your capitalist heroes would be strung up high the next day. That would fix quite a bit.


Anonymous said...

So you're not a capitalist, Jersey?

Thought you were a business owner?

Ditch the OWS bullshitt and stop being a poser

Jersey McJones said...

I'm not a capitalist, not in any pure sense, and certainly not an unfettered capitalist as the retarded right want, and I'm not a business owner, and even if I was, why would it matter? I still have to earn a living where I happen to live, whether I like the system or not.


Jack Camwell said...

"I still have to earn a living . . ."

And that is the crux of the issue. For many of my clients, "EARN a living" is not a phrase in their lexicon.

Jack Camwell said...

"It's difficult to assert that welfare creates dependency and cycles generational poverty as both those social ills existed long before welfare."

I think your observation is correct in that generational poverty existed before welfare. My argument, however, is that welfare has exacerbated that.

Welfare dependency was/is a real thing. It used to be that as long as you had children under 18, you could receive welfare. That's why many welfare families would keep popping out kids every few years because it was just another meal ticket. Trust me: it's true.

And because it was like that for so long, the damage and the cyclical dependency is almost permanent. The children of the old welfare system--where welfare had no limit--have already learned the terrible patterns of behavior from their parents. They're teaching their children that as well.

I can tell you right now that for Franklin county, Ohio, the vast majority of TANF recipients will end up exhausting their 5 years over their lifetime. These are the people who fit the description above. The hard-working American who is down on his luck--we have a few of those--take TANF begrudgingly, and they're never with us for long. Most of the time, we never see them again.

Fun Fact: the 5 year maximum is broken up into 36 months and 24 months. Normally, most people can only get 36 months of lifetime cash assistance. The last 2 years can only be used in time of hardship. In Franklin county, it's difficult to prove hardship, so most are only going to get 36 months of TANF.

Jersey McJones said...

Jack, by your logic, the fact that there is so much corruption on Wall Street, for instance, means we should do away with or completely reinvent capitalism. As well, you seem really fixed on your own personal observations and take in no consideration of the fact that most welfare recipients are not represented by your examples. And the random "fact" thing was just weird.

I don't know where you're going with this.


Jack Camwell said...

I'm not sure why you put "fact" in quotes . . . what I said about the 5 year maximum is fact, not a "fact."

Anyhow, I never called for dismantling the whole damn thing. That was someone else up there. All I've been saying is that the system is being bogged down because of the general attitudes and unemployability of the majority of TANF recipients. Part of the problem is that the people running these programs are too afraid to address the real, underlying issues because they don't want to be accused of "stereotyping." But god damn, there's only so many Shaquayla's you can meet before you start to wonder if there is some merit to the stereotypes.

Where is your data that shows "most welfare recipients are not represented by [my] examples"? I would be willing to bet that the data includes everyone who has ever received a cash assistance payment, even if it's just one payment. But that data does not tell the story.

The reason that would not be good is the fact that *many* TANF recipients only receive one or two payments because they don't fulfill their monthly work requirement, and then they get their benefits cut off. It would be interesting to see if whatever data you're looking at takes that into account.

Franklin county is a fairly typical county. It is a combination of urban and suburban areas, unemployment is fairly low compared to the national average, and the economy is not too bad. It's home to Columbus which is the 15th largest city in the country. So one would assume--as is often done in these scenarios--that it can serve as a good model for the "typical" American county.

Fred Baron said...


re: Wall Street. No, you grubby communist, Wall street is not an indictment of capitalism. It is an indictment of government-sponsored corporatism. They cheat and gamble and get away with it because government had given them a special pass.

How do you clean up Wall Street? Make them eat their losses. Bush refused to to that in 2008, and now the beast is even more powerful, and Obama has done nothing to punish them. Bernie Madoff is the only bankster in jail, and he was small potatoes compared to the shenanigans that crashed the economy.

Jersey McJones said...

Nice try, Baron, but regurgitating Fox news talking points does not an adult discourse make.

Jack, the stats I got with all of a minute on Google. You can look them up yourself. Just the same, these facts are already well known. You offer no alternative and you exaggerate the impact of a small sub-set of Americans. The whole welfare system is not nothing but Jerry Springer guests. That's just silly. It's a complex issue, but at some point, as a civilized society, we have to at least draw a line and not allow innocent children to fall through it. It's not their fault their parents are idiots.

Maybe if we invested more in our public schools we could help to keep the numbers of these idiots down a little more. But I don't see what you want here.


Jack Camwell said...

"Jack, the stats I got with all of a minute on Google."

Really? You think that there have actually been studies conducted to see how many welfare recipients are lazy assholes? Not likely. No one is willing to do a study on the attitudes and work ethics of welfare recipients, because people are afraid to be branded as racist. And it's absurd because it's not racist to point out simple observations about a person's character.

Today I had a client who brought her three children in with her. She's currently 7 months pregnant with her 4th child. Anyway, her children ran amok and she did nothing to stop them. We had to send her home because she did nothing to stop her children from being disruptive.

A few months ago, I had a woman come in who has 5 children. She is 22 years old, yet her oldest child is 7.

Since I have been working with this company--I started in mid August--I've had to cut off 93 people from the cash assistance. Why? Because they won't go to their work sites.

Are you trying to tell me that somehow, Franklin county Ohio is just oddly filled with asshats that don't want to work for their welfare check, while TANF recipients everywhere else are just hard-working Americans who are down on their luck?

If that were the case, then why is it that there are so many people outside of Franklin county Ohio that have the same stories as me?

Please, Jersey, tell me about your personal experience with any Job and Family Services office. Please tell me about your experience with TANF recipients and how your experience contradicts my own.

The "cultural subset" that you speak of is more than just a "subset." There's a lot more people who fit that bill than you think or than you are willing to admit.

Oh, and did I ever tell you the one about the guy who actually told me that working for his welfare check is "slavery"? It's a doozie.

jez said...

"since ... mid August--I've had to cut off 93 people from the cash assistance

Not making any critical interpretation, but just for context (without looking it up, I had no idea how big Franklin County is) that's out of thousands of recipients. See for some numbers (eg. the OWF table at the bottom of page 2).

Jack Camwell said...

A fair point. I shall provide some context.

My company, and the other 3 partner organizations here in Franklin county working with the TANF population, is primarily responsible for enforcing the monthly work requirement for TANF (or OWF) recipients.

Of the OWF recipients here in Franklin County, over half are actually employed.

(Before anyone here starts to say "AHA!" keep this in mind: the employed TANF recipients receive a radically reduced amount of cash assistance. Even a large family will only receive a cash payment of $80 each month, down from the $400 they would receive if they were unemployed. Just as well, there are many OWF recipients who substitute the work requirement for school, but that only lasts for a 12 month maximum.)

Where I work, we manage a case load of about 180 people. A little over half are employed and not receiving much cash. So when you consider that our active case load for the office is around 180, then cutting off 93 people from OWF cash assistance over the span of a few months has a little more potency behind it, I think.

But with employed OWF recipients, there's another problem: the idiots. Whether they're too dumb to realize it, or too unmotivated to care, some of the employed clients will lose their jobs but not report it to anyone. And since the county does not require continued proof of employment, they can go on for some time receiving only $50 a month. I think they get back paid whenever they do get off their ass to report the change in employment.

Jack Camwell said...

Keep in mind that none of this affects their medicaid or food stamps. So I'm not taking food out of children's mouths or anything.

The thing is that the cash assistance is only somewhat of a big deal to our clients. Almost all of them are either living with someone rent free or they're living in income based housing, paying $10 a month for rent (or less). They're on income based electric bill plans, so they're maybe paying around $30 or less on electricity every month.

They get free cell phones. They call them "Obama phones."

Then when you figure that almost all of the TANF recipients here in Franklin county are living in poor, extremely low-income neighborhoods, their costs of living are pretty low. Most of them grew up in squalor, and they're pretty comfortable with squalor.

Those who are not comfortable with squalor find jobs and work hard.

So whenever I refer to TANF recipients, I'm almost exclusively talking about the unemployed TANF recipients, because they are the ones who are receiving the bulk of the cash.

Jersey McJones said...

"No one is willing to do a study on the attitudes and work ethics of welfare recipients, because people are afraid to be branded as racist."

Well, two things there. One, there have been piles of studies on the subject, and the results have been all over the place, because... two, it's hard to apply the scientific method to subjective "attitudes" and "work ethics."

Here are some actual, real-life statistics, though:

Took me three seconds, Jack.

And anecdotes, Jack, are like assholes.


Jack Camwell said...

"And anecdotes, Jack, are like assholes."

So when people everywhere are telling literally the same anecdotes--more clearly, welfare social workers allover the country are reporting the same experiences--do we just ignore that as "anecdotal"?

But let's talk about the data you presented, shall we? First, let's look at reasons for TANF case closure.

Note that only 16.6% of TANF closure was due to the participant finding employment. The rest?

This gets a bit technical, but I work directly with this.

Failure to comply and sanction can be lumped together because both of those mean that the participant failed to meet the program requirements to receive cash. Failure to comply refers to when the participant is still in the applicant stage. Failing to comply means that they did not complete the necessary job search and employment skills class requirements in order for their cash application to be authorized. Sanction refers to when a participant does not show up to their orientation in order to be placed into a work site; if they stop going to their worksite; and various other things. In either case, they fucked up, so they don't get their cash.

Adding those together, case closure due to a failure on the recipient's part accounts for 33.3% of TANF case closure. So if we go off of those hard data numbers you presented, one third of TANF recipients can potentially fall into the category of "lazy asshole who thinks they don't have to work for their money."

And it's not really all that subjective, Jersey. When a woman tells me "I don't think I should have to work for this," that's pretty cut and dry. Actually, I had a girl come in and get beligerant with me today because she thought she shouldn't have to work for her welfare check. You might think I'm making this shit up, and I truly wish I were--because that would mean I wouldn't actually have to deal with this shit every day.

Seriously, Jersey. Just go talk to any social worker that works directly with the TANF population. They'll have similar, if not the same, stories that I have.

Jersey McJones said...

Jack, I've been around and I know exactly what you are talking about. And I still see it differently than you.

I also read that link I offered you, and I don't think you read it. I wish you would. Your little corner of the world is not the perfect microcosm of all things.


Anonymous said...

It's 2017, and there's no change in recipients attitudes, here in north dakota too. Plus they come from other states with the same attitude. I've been in this job for 21.5 years. Dealt with 4 generations of clients, single moms, uneducated young people that don't want to get out of bed to feed their baby or change their diapers, and see clients with good paying jobs, but because that money prevents their wife and kids from being on medical assistance, they quit their job so they can have medical coverage. There are to many repeated scenarios to even have compassion any more. I am glad to retire so I can stop beating my head against the wall.