by | Mar 26, 1995 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

This morning, I will write about welfare. Which means most of the people affected by today’s column will not be reading it.

Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Like shoveling your driveway when you don’t have a car?

But it’s true. Most welfare recipients are not reading the Sunday paper — or watching C-Span on TV.

And that’s the problem with welfare, isn’t it? The people arguing it and deciding it aren’t the ones getting it. Or needing it.

Such was the case Friday, when our enlightened U.S. House voted to slash 60 years’ worth of welfare policies, just like that. Who are these men and women?

Have any of them ever stood on a welfare line? Ever asked a grocer, “Do you take food stamps here?” Ever worked as an adult in some greasy minimum- wage job for $4.90 an hour, while wondering where the father of their kids was?

No. Just as most of you reading these words have not. And why? Primarily because you are educated. You graduated from high school, maybe went to college, maybe grad school. You used your education to get a job, and used your job to further your life.

That is usually the difference between the haves and the have-nots.

So how does anyone, be it a congressman, a senator, or merely someone intelligent enough to read a newspaper, even think that cutting welfare without increasing education is going to solve anything?


While we wait for an answer, a brief history lesson . . . A helpful tradition

Do you know how welfare began? You can trace it back to biblical times
— the act of tithing, or giving a tenth of your money to the poor, is the first example — but it really came into focus about 400 years ago, when Germany adopted Town Poor Laws. The thinking was a town had an obligation to help its needy. Feed them. Shelter them. Nice idea.

Of course, in those towns everyone knew one another. Josef knew that Samuel was having problems, and Samuel knew that Josef knew, and so fraud was not an issue. It was a shameful thing to ask for money. Nobody was taking coins and going to the racetrack.

Poor Laws soon spread to England, and eventually, came with the British to America. Still, it wasn’t until the Great Depression, in the 1930s, that the welfare system as we know it today was created.

And why? Simple. The Depression affected almost everybody. And when the masses are affected, they want something done.

Which brings us to today. We live in a prosperous time. Oh sure, Americans complain about their stocks being down, or their parents earning more than they do, but the fact is, most of the country is working, most have homes with TVs and phones. And most people are no longer affected by Depression concerns, such as food.

So what do voting Americans want now? More money, less taxes. And, since we no longer know the needy people personally — Josef and Samuel have been replaced by the inner city — we want those freeloaders to put their hands back in their pockets.

“Get a job,” we say.

Put it into education

Now, I am all for people getting a job. As a working man, the idea of a healthy person taking a check, then watching TV all day makes my stomach turn.

But I also know that everyone needs money, and if welfare is taken away, where does the poor man go for cash? A) A job. B) Selling drugs or stolen goods. C) Taking it from someone else.

How do we ensure A and not B or C? Simple. Provide jobs. Provide education. Am I making sense here?

Then why does this same round of budget cuts that is strip- mining welfare also call for, among other things, the elimination of the summer jobs program and cuts in higher education? Why are teachers still paid less than shop workers, and classrooms overcrowded to bursting?

Why can’t the money saved from welfare be put back into schooling and job training? You want to eliminate slackers — why not give benefits to parents whose children stay in school? How about bonuses for graduation — and college? This way the jobs we keep telling them to take won’t always involve a mop.

The problem with welfare has been its awful cycle — handout-taking parents leading to handout-taking kids. Yet the federal government spends $53 billion

on education and $264 billion on defense. If we want to change our priorities we can’t just yank, then look the other way. These are people we’re talking about, not animals.

Remember that old expression, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime”?

Take away his fish, all you do is starve him. There is no wisdom in that. And we — the lucky ones — ought to know better.


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