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Two Kinds of Welfare
March 4, 2002
By Paul Kienitz

The 1996 welfare reform bill is up for review. The right wing is saying that it's been wonderfully successful, according to a measure of success that consists solely of fewer people getting welfare checks, not whether more people have a real livelihood. Their rhetoric is that welfare should be reduced because it maintains poverty, and they're against poverty just like everybody else, but when you look at what results they endorse as a success, they disregard the amount of poverty and treat reduction of welfare payments as an end in itself, with consequences being irrelevant.

President Bush says the law has done good, and what we should do is take it further. For instance, the existing requirement is that somebody has to get a 30 hour a week job. He wants to enforce 40 as a minimum. Why on Earth should someone who has a job be told by the government that it has to be 40 hours instead of 30?! Do you know what kind of jobs people being pushed off welfare are forced to take? It's like this: the welfare recipient is in a poor town, a menial job exists in a non-poor town quite a few miles away, and the case worker tells the recipient to take the job or else... having no car, the former welfare recipient often has to ride the bus two hours or more each way to commute to work. A 40 hour job takes up 60 hours of their time! What the hell is wrong with permitting 30 hour jobs under such conditions? Not to mention that the bus fare plus the child care bill can sometimes eat over half of their pay.

Now everyone knows that there is a lot of gut-level hostility in certain circles toward anyone getting handouts instead of working. I have a friend who theorizes that it is an extension of an animal instinct to support only those children who carry your genes. I suspect that another factor in many cases is deflected resentment that some people feel for anyone appearing to escape the dehumanizing economic pressure that they live under themselves, which could be summed up by the observation that having a job is considered to be both a privilege you must earn, and at the same time a mandatory obligation. But though these resentments may explain much of the general popularity of anti-welfare sentiment, it doesn't explain this punitive 40 hour requirement that the White House wants.

One possible explanation does occur to me: America's workforce clearly needs more flexibility in terms of length of work week, but corporate America seems to want to give everyone a choice between too much and not enough. When fewer workers do the same amount of work, it keeps unemployment higher and pushes the cost of labor -- your pay, that is -- down. That is what Bush's backers want to preseve.

This proposal to make welfare requirements for the needy even more stringent comes from an administration that has been more generous with corporate welfare than any I can remember. Dick "Big Heart" Cheney just announced more giveaways to revive the high tech industry, and Shrub just posed in front of some fuel-efficient hybrid cars to urge Congress to pass their energy bill, which contains plenty of profitable "incentives" for energy producers. (They're trying to make the bill sound shiny and new and futuristic, but it's the same Enron-designed stinker that they unveiled last spring.) Their previous "economic stimulus" bill, now thankfully dead, was designed to especially stimulate companies like Enron and Kmart (both now bankrupt) by giving them huge retroactive tax refunds. Their measure to preserve the airline industry after September 11 also consisted mainly of a big pile of unearned free money for the company's stockholders, with nothing to reduce layoffs of workers or help them out with their own losses. (Think about that for a minute. If one or two airlines had gone belly up, what would really have been lost to the nation? The same planes and the same workers would still be there when air traffic picked up again, just under a different name. The measure didn't preserve jobs, or restore tourism revenue, or protect our air travel infrastructure -- all it did was shelter stockholders from the risks of free enterprise.) Bush has been as free-spending as any Democrat could be accused of being, to the point that our budget surplus is long gone and a deficit is rising, and some of the biggest new expense items, after the War on Terror, are corporate welfare checks.

They're telling us that corporations work harder and produce more only when you give them extra unearned money, while the poor only become more productive when you take money away.

Paul Kienitz's Ronald Reagan fan page is at

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