There’s a nasty stereotype— a skeleton in America’s closet if you will— that doesn’t seem to want to go away. According to this stereotypical view, if you’re poor and on welfare, food stamps or Medicaid, then there’s surely a reason for it.
Maybe you’re poor at managing your money, maybe you’re a drug addict, or maybe you’re just lazy, but whatever the reason, if you’re poor it’s probably your fault.
It couldn’t be that you were dealt a bad hand and live in extreme poverty, or that you hit bad luck on the job market, or that your spouse abandoned you and you don’t have enough to feed your kids.
Otherwise, we wouldn’t have laws like the one being considered by Governor of Kansas Sam Brownback (R), which seeks to restrict those receiving government assistance from using the funds they receive to go to the swimming pool, see a movie, gamble or get a tattoo.
State Senator from Kansas Michael O’Donnell (R) said the bill intends to make sure those receiving funds from programs like Temporar y Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are spending them “more responsibly.”
“We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended,” O’Donnell told the Topeka Capital-Journal.
“This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.”
Having a great life? A life so “great” that if I’m poor I can’t even go to the movies once in a while or go to the pool?
Leisure activities aside though, O’Donnell’s concern is founded on a faulty premise.
Poor people are not irresponsible in spending their money; in fact, they are significantly more responsible with their limited budgets than the rich.
As noted by Derek Thompson at The Atlantic, the bottom 20 percent in America spend nearly twice the share of their income on food that they make at home than the rich do (11 percent vs. 6 percent).
Significantly greater shares of the incomes of the bottom 20 percent also go towards healthcare, gas and utilities.
In all, 77 percent of low-income Americans’ budgets go towards food, housing and transportation. Poor Ameicans are already spending significantly less than most Americans on entertainment, but according to legislators in Kansas, that’s not enough.
Thanks to the dominance of media outlets like Fox News, however, we are still battling with pervasive stereotypes about the poor that are as offensive as they are inaccurate.
In 2013, Fox News broadcast an interview with a young man receiving food stamp assistance where he noted he was using the benefits to buy lobster and sushi.
While this anecdotal account doesn’t constitute evidence for most Americans, some seem to have taken the story and ran with it, demonizing the poor for taking advantage of their tax dollars.
It is this Kansas and Fox News mindset that dictates that we need government to tell the poor that they can’t blow Uncle Sam’s dime on anything they feel like, including the indulgent luxury of a $9 movie ticket.
Poor people under idiotic welfare restrictions like those being considered in Kansas would be clear about what government thinks of them: they are irresponsible, they are broken and they are less.
Let’s wake up, America: the circumstances of the poor are our circumstances. The hard times that have fallen on them could one day fall on us, and unless you’d be happy to relinquish having any fun in your life as a poor American, maybe these draconian welfare policies should be kicked to the curb where they belong.
-Henry Ashton ’15, Senior Politics/Opinions Editor