Most people assume that the various benefits we collectively describe as “welfare” go to people who aren’t working. The truth is, however, that some people with full-time jobs still find themselves below the poverty line. The U.S. federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. A full-time employee who doesn’t miss a single day of work for a year earns $290 a week; that’s 15,080 a year. According to how the government measures poverty, that’s enough to support a single adult. For a single adult with a child, however, it’s officially below the poverty line. It’s $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three. When a person has a full-time job, but still lives in poverty, they are what sociologists call the “working poor.”
Some welfare benefits, then, go to people who do work. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, is an example. Working parents have always comprised a large percentage of people receiving food stamps. Today the number of working families who rely on food stamps is higher than it’s been in over 20 years (source). These numbers reflect the impact of the recession generally, but also the extra-burden placed on already struggling families. The first chart shows the rise of poor families, the second shows the increase in the working poor using food stamps.
This kind of data inspires me to ask if this is what a functional economy looks like. We have policies — e.g., the federal minimum wage and somewhat laissez faire free market policies — that create a situation in which working full time doesn’t allow a single parent to support even one child. When we hear criticisms of people who receive benefits, then, we should be careful to remember that their economic crisis is not a straightforwardly personal characteristic, one that can be explained by a poor work ethic or disorderly personality. There are structural reasons that people end up in need. We have three choices: let them suffer and perhaps die, help them, or change our society.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Tusconian — September 3, 2012
Eh. The people who have trouble understand that a working poor exist are the same people who don't tip servers/bartenders because "you should have gone to college and gotten a better job, not rely on shaking me down for money" and take the same attitude towards other low-payed, non-tipped employees. And honestly, there's no point in showing them graphs. Because I can show them my college degree and point out that it did not, in fact, magically grant me a 40-100k job immediately, and they will mumble something about "not trying hard enough," because having 2 jobs that pay less than they deem enough is the same as lying around in my robe watching TV and eating bonbons, I guess.
Fun fact, I once had a job that would have paid 30K a year had I worked full time (with a lot of room for raises), and it was not even one tenth as difficult or stressful as either of my less-than-minimum jobs. The only thing more difficult is, working at a bar you don't generally have to be up at 6 AM. Though working in a comfy office with a wheely chair, you also don't have to work until 4 AM, so maybe getting up at 6 isn't as bad as it's cracked up to be if you get off work at 5 PM.
Food Stamps, Public Policy, and the Working Poor » Sociological … | Food News Gator — September 3, 2012
[...] Food Stamps, Public Policy, and the Working Poor » Sociological … This entry was posted in Blog Search and tagged comprised, food, parents, people, percentage, [...]
Andrew S — September 3, 2012
I vote for change. I'm more and more of the mind that "jobs" are the problem.
As technology increases, more and more productivity can arise from fewer and fewer human workers. Manufacturing has long been decimated by automation, and that trend is not slowing. Now we have self-checkout lanes in grocery stores, each group of 4 being worked by a single person who isn't actually a cashier. Wal-mart is now testing self-checkout allowing customers to purchase items using their cell phones with zero human interaction.
Buying online not only bypasses a checkout person, but an entire store, which means no construction, no rent, no cleaners, no maintenance -- all those are jobs that simply do not exist anymore.
Digital media does all of this and then some, getting rid of both manufacturing and physical shopping, but also shipping and packaging materials.
Environmentally this all seems like a great deal -- less pollution and so on.
But when it comes to "Jobs", it will be harder and harder for the country to find enough jobs to fill everyone's time.
Unless we force people to spend money based on their income, creating demand for goods and services where otherwise none existed, we will need to have people work fewer hours for the same purchasing power as they have now. That will allow for more people to have jobs.
Or we will need to utilize this automation to provide each person with the base goods and services required for a decent life: Food, clothing, shelter, healthcare & education and perhaps a bit extra for entertainment. If each person has the bases covered for themselves and their family, a job would provide 100% extra money for luxuries -- a nice car, vacation, bigger or better housing or clothing or food. But by no means would a job be a requirement as it is now -- certainly not as it is now required to provide your family health care and education.
This will free the population to work on things not because they have to, but because they want to. Doctors will still exists. Researchers will still exist. Teachers will still exist. But they won't do their job for the pay, they'll do it because they love what they do. There will likely be more artists, more thinkers, more writers, more philosophers. More people will go to school longer simply for the enrichment.
Yes there will be those who take the base given to them and sit on their bum all day. But at least they will be healthy, will not be starving or begging on the street, and will likely not feel the need to steal or commit other crimes. And the opportunity always exists for them to change their ways.
The filthy rich will not be as filthy rich, but the free market will still exist and those who own the means of production will continue to be much more wealthy than the rest of us, but perhaps not AS much more wealthy.
Arguments against this suggest that money is the only reason people create new business and technology. Ask Steve Wozniak if he created the Apple computer for money. Ask a scientist if they're in it for the cold hard cash. Yes there are some who are in it for money and nothing else, just as there are some who will always prefer to do nothing and take what's given and be a bum watching TV.
But most of us want to do things for love of doing those things, and for the reward of making a better world.
With automation technology destroying our ability to put everyone to work, why should we continue to hold "jobs" as the main connection between a person and society?
Happy Labor Day: FOOD STAMPS, PUBLIC POLICY, AND THE WORKING POOR « Welcome to the Doctor's Office — September 3, 2012
[...] from SocImages [...]
Lunad — September 3, 2012
this is one way that the government subsidizes companies at the expense of the workers - if either minimum wage was higher or people would starve without higher pay, companies would be forced to pay more, as conditions would become intolerable even for the most honest, hard-working poor. Instead, the minimum wage is lower, while the government supplements the wages that should really be the responsibility of the private sector to begin with. (to be clear, I am advocating raising the minimum wage, not eliminating SNAP)
Oso BlakRodd — September 4, 2012
The government really does not know anything because 15,000 a year is not enough for a single person to live on. With the rising price of everything it still is below the poverty level. That single person would have to live in a poor neighborhood with low rent and high crime just to make a decent living.
Gilbert Pinfold — September 4, 2012
The trend in the OECD countries aside from the US is towards 'middle class welfare'. The Swedish nurse who earns 60k may also receives 2k pa per child 'government child allowance', for example. An ever expanding 'client base' for the welfare state is seen as progress, rather than a problem.
Luna — September 4, 2012
In Massachusetts, certain farm workers can be paid $1.63/hr.
A Staft — September 9, 2012
To change society would include changing views that demonize the poor. We have to keep debunking the lies and propaganda used to influence large groups of people to have those incorrect views of the poor, because unfortunately, that is what influences policies and laws that keep poverty going at the rate it is.
Megan — February 13, 2013
I'm really happy to have found this article. I hear so many people constantly complaining about "lazy bums on welfare". I work a full time job, I make $8.00/hour, and I am a single mother with two children. My daughter is almost 5 and in preschool, and my son is 2. I do get child support, but my ex is in an out of employment, so it is never a guaranteed thing. And I have to rely on food stamps. I do not want to, but honestly, I don't know how I would survive without them. I do not live beyond my means, and I want to make that very clear. I buy generic everything. I own my own home and vehicle, and both are falling into disrepair due to my low income. I work in a business that my family has owned for over 20 years, and I really love my job. However, I do not love the constant judgement I feel from my friends and peers who assume that if someone gets welfare, they are lazy. They don't realize what raising children costs, and unfortunately, most of them were born into affluent families and handed everything they have. By the time I pay insurance, bills, and fill up my car, there is little left over. Without food stamps, I would be choosing between buy groceries, or buying non-food necessary items (ie, diapers, medicine, personal hygiene products, etc.). And even after that, my father still has to help me out with my heating fuel.
Jerry R. Mize — February 24, 2013
I vote for change... that's right Hope and Change. Change the minimum wage to GO AWAY so that a true free market economy can prosper without government screwing it up. HOPE that America returns to a country of opportunity instead of one that creates opportunity everywhere else because it is easier to do business abroad than here at home.
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