Grassroots Commentary

Honest Talk About Welfare

By George Rogers Clark · Nov. 29, 2012

In liberal parlance, I am an “old white man.” I am a conservative. But in spite of my ideology and that liberal characterization, there are two subjects that I refuse to be categorical about; race and welfare. Here are my thoughts on those today:

Following the Civil War and the loss of approximately 625,000 lives, the US government initiated an aid program for the widows and orphans of the war. Over the next 100 years the program was expanded somewhat, especially under FDR during a time of economic depression. The programs still provided assistance to those who were truly needful. They were programs most Americans were happy to support. For some Americans, the happiness factor may have diminished in the early 1960s under the Johnson administration.

Johnson's “Great Society” project expanded welfare by several magnitudes with many new programs. The one some conservatives speak most critically of was ADC, or Aid for Dependent Children. The old Widows and Orphans aid was now extended to any single parent. As the costs exploded, critics began seeing a correlation in the exploding numbers of single, female parents, especially among blacks. These appeared to be the results of out-of-wedlock births and divorces of convenience. The perception was that the aid was declining our focus on the family as the bedrock of society.

Over time ADC became AFDC and then TANF. Many folks still refer to it as AFDC. The reach, requirements, and goals have sometimes changed. The system was even eventually reformed to encourage the protection and continuance of the two-parent family system.

Temporary Aid for Needy Families is only one welfare program, but it has roots in the oldest program. Briefly, let us look at some data.

AFDC/TANF payouts by race:

  • White 39%
  • Black 40%
  • Hispanic 15.7%
  • Asian 2.4%
  • Other 3.3%

If you see that blacks and whites are receiving the same amount of benefits, you are correct. However, with the white population at 196,817,552 and the black population at 37,685,848 (2010 census), it is clear blacks are receiving more of these benefits as a percentage of population, in fact, slightly over 6 times more. By comparison, there are now 13,000,000 more Hispanics than blacks in the U.S., but they receive only 16% of these benefits.

That one example provides a good starting point for some generalization you will find more interesting, and perhaps more challenging to your viewpoint:

I live in a very conservative part of Ohio. There are very few blacks living here. When people around here talk about the U.S. debt and deficits, most blame welfare. Furthermore, to hear many of them speak on the subject, you would think that the only people on welfare are blacks. Again, in some circles there is that assumption that welfare and blacks are synonymous. Thus, they see race as a big factor in welfare costs. However, it begs the question:

Why are some seeing race as the critical factor when the cost, regardless of race, is more important to balancing the nation's budget?

Let us now examine some poverty information. The following is quoted from the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan:

“In 2010, 15.1 percent of all persons lived in poverty.

"In 2010, 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.1 percent of Asians.

"Poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. In 2010, 31.6 percent of households headed by single women were poor, while 15.8 percent of households headed by single men and 6.2 percent of married-couple households lived in poverty.”

Like it or not, the need and qualification for assistance is driven by poverty.

I realize now that I have to defend the poverty point in reference to blacks.

Even a few of my friends are going to say, “Blacks will not work.” It is a categorical statement they cannot defend to me. It is just a matter of personal pride, but I believe it unreasonable to think categorically on any subject.

Here is that defense: The biggest causes of poverty are old age, bad health or handicap, and lack of economic opportunity. My imagination just heard a muffled, “Yeah, which one of those fits the blacks.” My reply is, “all three.” Blacks get old. When they were young they lacked opportunity. And, some of them have handicaps. In their younger days, the really old ones survived on minimum wage jobs when they could get them. That was during a time when the minimum wage was between $1 and $3 per hour. The Social Security check they receive today is far less than mine. They are below poverty.

Further evidence, at least for me, is that I have worked with plenty of blacks that were excellent workers; people I respected and appreciated as my co-workers. My best friend, John, has always been a hard worker. He is still a fireball, even after retirement. Probably 75% of the work John does these days is to voluntarily help other people. My family lived in the south for part of my formative years and I have spent most of adulthood in the north. I have experience working with blacks in both regions. On all kinds of jobs, at minimal pay levels and up to very nice pay levels; the blacks I worked with were just as productive as the whites. Sometimes on the lower paying jobs their attitudes were superior to whites. It appeared to be something about being more accustomed to that pay/work ratio. The final point about blacks and work is that they are like everyone else. If they find opportunity and are able, they will work, and their work results are at least equal to others.

Welfare for 2011 was budgeted at 13% of federal spending. The mandatory spending items of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were 53% of the budget in 2008 and growing rapidly. Even budget fix gurus like Paul Ryan agree that welfare might need some reform, but the budget-breaker is the rapid growth of the mandatory or entitlement budget items.

With experts, congress, and honest academia focused on entitlements, why are so many conservatives on the street focused on welfare and race? I have not answered the question here, but I hope I have encouraged some to resist their assumptions and try to achieve a more reasoned and balanced perspective. We cannot just throw people off welfare without just cause. Auditing and inspecting a nationwide system will be costly. But when we get out of the ditch, we must do it. In the meantime, if we are going to end the deficits and debt of the federal government, we better supercharge the economy and still cut the biggest costs that are the easiest and most cost-effective to cut. Grit your teeth. This is going to hurt.

One subject that I am bull-dogmatic on is faith. More than anything else, I believe America needs a Christian-conservative led, God inspired, moral-spiritual-ideological revival.

George Rogers Clark blogs at myFreeBlogs: http://www.myfreeblogs.us

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19 Comments

Eleanor in AK said:

I long for the time when "race" is omitted from all government forms. The welfare queen stereotype is perpetuated by the media to further the Progressive divide and conquer strategy.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 3:00 PM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio replied:

Hi, Pam in Cincinnati. I live near Cincinnati and worked for several years for People Working Cooperatively, a non-profit there with a wonderful mission. It is there that I was blessed with many good co-workers, at least half of which were blacks.

I agree, Pam, with race on government forms. And I agree that stereotypes based on race have done many a disservice to both sides.

Thanks for your comments. I hope to see more of them here on the Patriot Post.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 4:05 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

Mr. Clark, you need to come back to the South of today and you will find it isn't the same. I grew up here in Georgia and I'll tell you the young blacks and some whites of today don't share the work ethic of their parents. It is easier to go on welfare than to work. No matter what lie is told by the Demorats the third or fourth generation is living on welfare. It has become a way of life for them. None of them, white or black, feel any shame or lack of pride to have others furnish them a living. They think nothing of having children they can't take care of because they know the government will do it for them. Free medical care, subsidized housing, food stamps, EBT cards, and now a free cell phone. Where is the incentive to work or better yourself when you don't have to? I feel no compassion for them because most of them made the choices that caused their situation and the taxpayers are paying for those choices.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 3:19 PM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio replied:

Please, Wayne, just call me George. I appreciate you and feel like a friend.

I must confess, I cannot speak about the South with confidence; I have been gone so long. But I hear many folks here say the same things you are saying but they are speaking of blacks in Cleveland, Ohio.

As I said in the essay, I cannot be categorical on the subject. But I spoke the truth about blacks I knew and have worked with. I think my main point is that there are lazy, no-count whites and lazy, no-count blacks, but people are still people; some good, some bad. And I know you and I agree that if some people need to change, then it will take a miracle, and much effort and prayer, but God is still in the miracle business.

Thanks, Wayne. Your wisdom and honesty are valuable to us all. May I still call you Sarge? I like it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 4:21 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA replied:

George, Feel free to call me Sarge. I also have worked with some hardworking blacks who just wanted to raise their families, save a little money, and live a decent life. The ones I am referring to are the freeloaders who thrive on other people's hard work.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 10:46 PM

P. Long in Texas said:

"The biggest causes of poverty are old age, bad health or handicap, and lack of economic opportunity." Here's what Dr. Walter Williams has to say about poverty in the black community,"The poverty rate among blacks is 36 percent. Most black poverty is found in female-headed households, but the poverty rate among black married couples has been in single digits since 1994 and stands today at 7 percent. Today's black illegitimacy rate is 72 percent, but in the 1940s, it hovered around 14 percent. Less than 50 percent of black students graduate from high school, and most of those who do graduate have a level of academic proficiency far below that of their white counterparts. Black men make up almost 40 percent of the prison population." With that quote, I must add that what Dr. Williams observes in the black population in regards to illegitimacy is duplicated in the white population. I do agree, we can't just blame all our problems on the 'other' group. Also, I agree, all of the budget needs to be examined. But at the same time, poverty is not even mostly due to circumstances. Lifestyle and choices have to be right up there with the unavoidable.The community I live in judges people by what they do, not what they look like and we all do have our problems.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 6:21 PM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio replied:

You are probably correct, "P", on all you say. In this particular item, I was trying to shift the focus to other problems, away from welfare, and share my personal experiences to explain why I could not be "categorical". Actually I did not intend to dig deep in the causes of poverty, but I should have dealt more explicitly with "lack of opportunity". However, you have covered that well with the info from Mr. Williams and the stats you supplied. I think that adds something to the discussion, so thank you.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 9:38 PM

joanie-f in PA said:

Thank you for the excellent commentary. I would only add a few minor observations.

Too much of the time our politicians, and our media, want us to focus on symptoms rather than diseases. The concern about ‘entitlement programs’ – especially those to which many of the recipients have not significantly contributed, such as welfare and Medicaid – is misdirected. The ballooning of entitlements and the massive burden that they place on the average hard-working American is not a problem, but a symptom of the breakdown of the nuclear family in America. And that breakdown has been encouraged by the increase in progressive, nanny-state government programs, which diminish the power and sanctity of the family in a concerted effort to foster dependence on government.

Back in the 90s when Alan Keyes was running for president, my husband and I attended a republican committee dinner at which he was the featured speaker. He spoke for over an hour to an audience of more than three-hundred dinner guests. After his first ten minutes, one could hear a pin drop, and the atmosphere remained that way for the remainder of his talk. The essence of his speech revolved around his belief that every domestic problem that plagues America – runaway entitlement spending, truancy, school dropout rates, crime, etc. – can be traced back to a single factor: the disintegration of the nuclear family.

At the time, I didn’t entirely accept his premise, but, after having had twenty years to mull it over and allow the seed that he planted to grow and mature, I believe him to be right. The diminishing of the importance and influence of family is indeed the root cause of most, if not all, of our societal degradation. Without strong families, government inevitably steps in to pick up the reins, resulting in a massive, across-the-board reduction in personal responsibility and a ballooning of national debt.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:50 PM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio replied:

JOAN: THANK YOU. Exactly right, you and Alan Keyes. I agree that the breakdown of the family is the key. I think it is closely associated with AFDC/TANF. Furthermore, family disintegration led to a a lack of moral/spiritual leadership and a gradual move away from a moral/spiritual foundation for society. There begins the negative spiral that creates generations of welfare recipients, bad politicians, government handouts, etc.

However, I believe that Washington believes that we do not have time for the lesser budget items. Honestly Joan, I have felt it coming for three years. They are NOT going to reduce the size of the bloated bureaucracies. They are NOT going to cut wasteful, useless foreign aid. They are NOT even going to cut welfare. They have wasted 4 years and finally, now, they are going to raise taxes AND probably very soon they will ALSO CUT Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.... They will blame the demographics. Too many people got old at the same time. And they will say we are healthier now and do not need those benefits until a later age.

Whatever. I say.... before we experience a financial collapse and a death spiral, fix the deficits and debt, somehow. I am tired of the lies coming out of politicians mouths when I know that the two party's are merely doing dog and pony shows before they force their decisions down our throats "No other way." they will say.

Well, I say to them, get it over with, time is wasting. As for me, I am going to work and pray and never give up.

Sorry, Joan, I am preaching to the choir again. Thanks again for adding real value with your comments.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 10:01 PM

demsarerats in Oregon said:

George, great points. Your question “why are so many conservatives on the street focused on welfare and race?” really answers itself doesn’t it. We conservatives just can’t get past those old stereotypes about race and welfare, we are no better than those hicks from Ohio you spoke about, “Furthermore, to hear many of them speak on the subject, you would think that the only people on welfare are blacks.” You are so right, that is just what I thought prior to reading your article, I was astounded to discover that there are actually Whites, Hispanics, and even Asians drawing welfare.

You also make a good point with your “Like it or not, the need and qualification for assistance is driven by poverty.” I had been thinking that welfare checks were simply mailed out randomly.

Regarding your “I hope I have encouraged some to resist their assumptions and try to achieve a more reasoned and balanced perspective. We cannot just throw people off welfare without just cause. Auditing and inspecting a nationwide system will be costly. But when we get out of the ditch, we must do it. In the meantime, if we are going to end the deficits and debt of the federal government, we better supercharge the economy and still cut the biggest costs that are the easiest and most cost-effective to cut;”

I’m already seeing things in a more reasoned and balanced way. Throwing people off welfare who could work wouldn’t solve anything, and you are so right that “Auditing and inspecting a nationwide system will be costly.” Better to wait until, as you say, “when we get out of the ditch, we must do it.” The explosion in welfare costs probably doesn’t contribute much to the deficit anyway, better to wait until we “supercharge the economy,” that would be more reasoned and balanced.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 8:56 PM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio replied:

Demsarerate: is there a hint of sarcasm in what you say? I am a dork in some ways and could easily be confused by subtle intent.

In my defense, I never said anything about "hicks in Ohio". Those are my friends and neighbors. Nor did I intend to imply that characterization. I did not say anything about people "who could work" but were on welfare. Well, at least not here. I said that it would cost a lot of time and money, at a time when we have little of either, to determine WHO WE COULD THROW OFF WELFARE.

The dems and the repubs have already sold us down the river, long ago. It has been the people against the political class for longer than we know. In my opinion we must quit buying into the "bread and circuses" the two parties are deceiving us with. There are no conservatives in Washington to help me. I would not wish a liberal on my worst enemy. I think we need a moral/spiritual revival in America that will finally propel the people to actually "take back America" instead of talking about it.

Thanks for your comments. Sarcasm or not (I really do not know) you added something to the conversation. Let's do it again, soon.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 10:28 PM

demsarerats in Oregon replied:

George, your article is merely the same old bs leftists have been feeding us for years, now is never the time to cut welfare and we always must wait until some nebulous time where the economy is ”supercharged” and we are “out of the ditch.” It is your leftwing welfare crap that put us in the ditch.

Nothing in your article is original, the points are simply warmed-over demorat talking points, with the usual demorat condescension thrown in as if anybody here doesn’t know that blacks aren’t the only ones on welfare or that the qualification for welfare is poverty.

Friday, November 30, 2012 at 3:52 PM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio replied:

demsarerates: whoa, reign that thing in before it hemorrhages.

I am a conservative. I had no intention of someone "reading between the lines" where I did not write anything. I do not say, or even imply, that it is never a time to cut welfare. Where do you get that? I said that reforming welfare is a costly and time consuming process and perhaps it could wait.

Please reread the thing. Carefully. Please.

The point of the numbers was not to prove that blacks were not the only ones on welfare, or to be condescending. I stated clearly that blacks, as a percentage of population, accessed nearly 6 times more welfare than whites. But, I think being categorical in our thinking about race and welfare is non-productive... AT THIS TIME.

My point was: welfare, not including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, is a much smaller number than those so-called entitlements. The Republicans want to cut entitlements because they are a much bigger number. The Democrats do not want to cut anything, they want to raise taxes. Since politicians hardly ever cut spending, of any kind, we will probably get the tax raises.

Personally, I think the fix will take a miracle. To get the miracle we need the blessings of God. So many Americans today are secular that it may be a stretch to hope and pray for that miracle, but I am.

Read more of my stuff on the Patriot Post and you may see me in a different light: http://patriotpost.us/commentators/56

Friday, November 30, 2012 at 4:40 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA replied:

The latest report on the 83 different welfare programs stated that it cost the government $1.5 trillion last year. That came out to $60,000 per family. You have to take into account the overhead costs to run these programs because each family did not receive $60,000. I would suggest that would add to the deficit. I saw this in the local newspaper so don't know just how true it is but if so it is incredible.

Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 10:53 PM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio replied:

Sarge, I am sitting here gazing at my screen with my mouth open and slack. I wonder if those figures lumped any of what most accounting label as "entitlements" in as "welfare"?? I have seen that several times and it sure makes the welfare numbers BIG. Well, apples, oranges, or tangerines.... the debt cannot be reduced until we end the deficits and we cannot do that without more revenue and less spending.

I just read an excellent article titled, "the Death of an Empire" which occurred on Dec.6, 2012. It ended, as I often do, with, "Only God can save us now with his mercy and grace." I say, Amen.

Friday, November 30, 2012 at 1:57 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA replied:

George, That is one of our problems today. Many of our people have turned away from that mercy and grace. To them its too hard being a Christian because that means you have to live a moral life. Being a good Christian limits their ability to pursue sins of the flesh, makes them responsibile for their actions, responsible for bringing up their children to be good citizens, and tells them not be a burden on others. They have abdicated these to the all-knowing government.

Friday, November 30, 2012 at 4:51 PM

Magneto259 in Heath, Ohio said:

The biggest causes of poverty are old age, bad health or handicap, and lack of economic opportunity.

I believe the third cause is self induced. If you cant find adequate imployment you need to take control of your life and do whats necessary to survive. I believe it is too easy to use race or gender as a crutch. I am a white male 33 years old. I worked full time since I was about 16 and now own my own business as well. When I was trying to apply for a government business loan I was told don't even bother filling out the form because I wasn't a woman, ethnic or handicapped. I think in the land of equal opportunity shouldn't I have been able to use this service?

Why are so many conservatives focused on welfare and race? They are not. Thats what the liberals keep telling you so you will vote for them because you know the conservatives are the angry old white racist party.

Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 7:36 AM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio replied:

Good thoughts Magneto. Thank you.

I had similar experience to yours, years ago, looking into a SBA loan. Didn't happen. And... I agree a lot of the "lack of opportunity" is self-induced.

My point was that IF (big if) they cut any spending it probably will not be welfare anyway, more likely Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. So... why spend time focused on welfare and race. BTW.... I cannot speak of the majority of conservatives, I do not know them all. I was just speaking of ones I know personally and communicate with on a regular basis.

Truthfully, I think we need an economic boom AND some pretty major spending cuts, not a trivial amount.

I think what the nation needs most is a moral-spiritual revival that will change the hearts and minds of the politicians and the people. When a large majority turn back to God, we will more likely want to do what is right -- the polar opposite of the motives of many today.

Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 9:35 AM

Roger Mitchell in Montana said:

George, you made some good points here. I noticed that no one answered your question as to why the "man on the street" focuses so much on welfare. I will address that.

Many of my friends on Facebook post comments or slogans concerning this very issue. Virtually all of them follow the pattern you outlined. I think there are two reasons why these people feel this way.

1. The general belief probably has to do with the understanding that people on "welfare" have not earned what they are receiving and don't deserve it. This is in contrast to Social Security where people also receive "welfare", but have earned it and do deserve it. Mention cutting SS benefits or changing the system to any person drawing on it and you will get a statement that, "I earned that money and I'm going to have it." As America grows older and grayer, this belief will grow more adamant and will eventually destroy it. SS is viewed as a right, welfare is not.

2. I think that there is also a substantial amount of jealousy involved. People who work for a living see others living without working and wish that they could do the same. However, because of social stigma, pride, or an understanding that welfare is a dead end, they don't participate. What they exhibit is resentment. They wish they could live without having to work and hate that someone else does.

None of these attitudes will change by passing laws or budgets. The root cause is something else far deeper--sin and the effects of it. "Thou shalt not steal" has been changed to "Thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote." Conservatives are as bad as liberals in this respect. Far too many people in this world think and believe that the world owes them. They all buy into the ideology that government can correct societies ills, if we just give it enough power and money. This applies to the Right as well as the Left.

Somewhere people lost the truth that God supplies their needs and bought into the lie that government does. This will go on until the day we realize that government cannot deliver and we turn back to God. Unfortunately, as you said, it is going to hurt. Government welfare, in whatever form it takes, is like a highly addictive drug which cannot be removed without serious withdrawal pains.

God is not mocked, however, and we are beginning to experience that withdrawal, even as we speak. It is going to get worse, but when the nightmare has ended, we will be clean.

Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 11:36 AM