mericans consider this nations welfare system a failure and a disgrace (LeVert 10). Most people use the word welfare to mean income support or public assistance programs designed to help people who are already poor. Although it is geared to poverty-stricken people, families, and children, most people have benefited from government aid or assistance programs, in other words, welfare.
Poverty in America is a disease for which there is plenty of treatment, but no known cure. In the essay, On Dumpster Diving, Lars Eighner describes what life is like scavenging for food, and living on the street. In order to survive he had to dumpster dive. Eighner describes this as scrounging dumpsters for his basic needs, food and clothing (19). Whatever he eats, drinks, or wears come from dumpsters. The unfortunate circumstances that led to his situation occur to millions of people throughout the country. The growing problem of homelessness is worsened by the welfare programs that offer subsistence rather than opportunities, or incentives (Long 23). Federal expenditures for public and private low-cost housing have been cut from $30 billion, in 1981, to $7 billion in 1987, and only about 4 million of 10 million eligible households receive federal rental assistance of any kind (Long 29).
In the essay, A Nation of Welfare Families, Stephanie Coontz discusses her belief that all families in American history have depended on the legislative, judicial, and social structures set up by the government (Coontz 994). The suburban family of the 1950s was far more dependent on government assistance than any so-called underclass family of today (Coontz 995). Federal GI benefit payments, available to forty percent of the male population between the ages twenty and thirty-four, permitted a whole generation of men to expand their education and improve their job with The National Defense Education Act (Coontz 996). Government spending was largely responsible for the new highways, sewer systems, utility services, and traffic control programs that expanded the suburbs. In the postwar period, the Federal Housing Authority, supplemented by the GI Bill, put the federal government in the business of regulating loans for single home construction. FHA policy required a down payment of only five to ten percent of the purchase price and guaranteed mortgages of up to thirty years at interest rates of just two to three percent (Coontz 995). The current welfare system tries to help the poor in the form of in-kind benefits, not cash assistance. These programs aim to improve the quality of life of those without enough money for food, shelter, medical care, or education. Such programs include food subsides such as the Food Stamp Program, the School Lunch Program, and the Women and Child Nutrition Program; medical insurance or Medicaid; housing subsides, which provide public housing or vouchers toward rental assistance; and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance, which helps needy families pay their energy costs (LeVert 40).
Although there is a great amount of welfare given to the poor most people benefit in some way from our system of social welfare. The retired person who collects Social Security checks, the low-income family who receive Food Stamps, the college student who is granted a low-interest federal student loan, and the worker who collects unemployment after losing their job are all beneficiaries of the system of welfare. Composed of more than two hundred federal and state programs, the welfare system is a complex patchwork of social insurance, means-tested programs, and includes cash assistance and non-cash, or in-kind benefits (LeVert 36). In 1992, total expenditures for all of these programs amounted to about $700 billion with more than two-thirds of this money spent on only three programs: Social Security, Medicaid, and Unemployment Insurance (LeVert 39). Almost everyone in this country will benefit presently, or in the future from these three programs.
Social Security provides cash assistance to retired citizens who are sixty-two years of age or older, survivors of deceased workers, and those forced to retire because of disability. In 1991, the federal government allowed an individual to receive a maximum of $1022 a month, and the average Social Security pension for a worker who retired at age sixty-five, however, amounted to about $602 a month (LeVert 47). When one retires he or she will receive social security, as financial assistance paid for by the government, or in other words, welfare.
Medicare provides limited medical coverage to elderly citizens. Beneficiaries commonly contribute to the cost of insurance, and because the services it provides are limited, many people must purchase additional medical insurance. This program accounts for about 22 percent of all social insurance costs. Unemployment insurance is available to workers who are involuntarily unemployed. Benefits are based on a percentage of past earnings and are funded through employers payroll tax. Although the maximum duration of benefits for an unemployed person is usually twenty-six weeks, a state may extend this coverage if its unemployment rate exceeds a certain percentage. The amount a worker may collect depends on the salary earned, but a maximum weekly amount is fixed by each state. These maximums range from about $100 to $300 a week, and in 1992, a total of $37 billion was spent in funding this program (Maloney 11).
In conclusion, whether in the past, present or future one will be the beneficiary of government aid. People receive federal assistance from the government but are reluctant to refer to it as welfare because of the stigma surrounding this controversial topic. Welfare is not just for the poor, in fact, even the wealth benefit from federal aid in some ways. Whatever reforms re made to our welfare system one thing is certain, they will need to be reexamined regularly because the effect everyone living in this country
Coontz, Stephanie. A Nation of Welfare Families. The Norton Reader. Ed. Linda H. Peterson et al. 9th
ed. New York, 1996. 993-997.
Eighner, Lars. On Dumpster Diving. The Norton Reader. Ed. Linda H. Peterson et al. 9th ed. New York,
LeVert, Marianne. The Welfare System. New York: The Millbrook Press, 1995.
Long, Robert Emmet. The Welfare Debate. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1989.
Maloney, Lawrence. Welfare in America: Is it a Flop? U.S. News & World Report. Dec. 1984: 10+.