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Demonizing the Poor
Author: BobR    Date: 2015-07-08 10:12:05

The human psyche is a strange beast. When we hear about a particular person going through a hard time, we are likely to open our hearts and wallets to help. People with little to give will share when they encounter a person in need. However, when it's not a particular person, but instead a nameless faceless group of people, the reaction ranges from indifference, to relief it's not oneself, to more hard-hearted "should have planned better" or "that's what you get when you [a-b-c]". This ranges from the family whose house gets demolished in a tornado (outpouring of help) to an entire city demolished by a hurricane (freeloaders).

What about those in chronic need? They are often demonized by those who have only a handful more. In our unbalanced economy, as more and more money flows uphill to the wealthiest, those who used to live modest comfortable lives are now barely squeaking by paycheck to paycheck. Despite historically low taxes, they feel helpless and victimized, and feel like their taxes are going to give a "free ride" to those who don't deserve it. That is actually true, but it's not going to the people they think. I have seen too many memes and posts online about tax dollars spent on the poor when our country's solvency may be at risk.

When it comes to the U.S budget, the numbers are a little hard to visualize for most people. Our current federal budget is around $6.2T. That's $6200 Billion. How much of that goes to those at the bottom of the economic pyramid?

It sort of depends - welfare (depending on how you define it) comes in at anywhere from $212B to $367B a year (I've seen much lower numbers, but I suspect they are using a very narrow definition). Food Stamps amount to $74B per year. How much is that to the average person?

Doing the math, that means welfare is anywhere from 3.4% to 5.9% of the Budget, and Food Stamps are 1.2%. So for every $100 in taxes we pay, $3.40 to $5.90 goes to help needy families, and $1.20 goes for Food Stamps. From where I stand, that isn't much.

Sure it's easy to find those who have no interest in working. Despite the common misperception, however, for the most part - these aren't lazy people sitting home all day watching TV. The majority of them are working. The problem is wealthy companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald's paying their workers a pittance while they rake in the big bucks. That leaves us - the taxpayers - to pick up the slack:
A report from House Democrats in 2013 found that a single 300-person Wal-Mart Supercenter store in Wisconsin costs taxpayers at least $904,542 per year, or about $5,815 per employee
In New Hampshire, 65% of federal welfare assistance went to working families, followed by 64% in Texas.

While the Congress and pundits dither over Food Stamps, it's the Corporate Welfare that really matters. $100B of our tax dollars goes towards corporate welfare, including subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies, etc. This doesn't include the obscene amount spent on military hardware. Looking at just one item - the F-35 Joint Striker fighter plane - has cost taxpayers $400B already, with another $1.5T lined up in the queue. This is for a jet which doesn't even work right.

Over half of that $6200B is spent each year for the military, and a large part of that is on hardware. If this was going to the soldiers during and after their service, I wouldn't call it out, but the reality is that we take worse care of our vets than we do our poor:
  • Nearly one in seven homeless adults are veterans, as of December 2011.
  • 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.
  • 30.2 percent of veterans ages 18 to 24 were unemployed according to unpublished 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
(there are more depressing stats at the link)

The solution isn't to take even more from our nation's poor to help vets. We need to spend less money on military hardware we don't need and which doesn't work, and we need to readjust our lopsided tax structure so that money starts flowing back downhill again. That is the unfulfilled promise of supply-side economics (aka: Reaganomics, aka: Voodoo-economics). It didn't work, so we need to reset the tax code to pre-Reagan values to get the economy working for ALL Americans.

It isn't the poor taking money from the middle class - it's time we quit demonizing them.

31 comments (Latest Comment: 07/08/2015 20:10:48 by Raine)
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