Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Welfare Child

When I was born, my father was a broke college student and my mother worked at one of the campus cafeterias.  Upon dad’s graduation, he accepted a low-paying teaching job at a small rural high school while mom took a part-time job at the local bakery.
To put it bluntly, we were poor.
Not dirt poor.  We were never left wanting for food, clothing or shelter.  But, in those early belt-tightening days, mom and dad couldn’t necessarily guarantee all three without a little assistance.
So they did what millions of Americans are forced to do every day.  They swallowed their pride and asked for help from the government.  They went on food stamps and, consequently, were able to maintain a healthy family unit through those first few difficult years.
We were, as some might put it, part of the 47%.  The takers.
Fortunately, our dire financial circumstances didn’t last long.  When I was a toddler – shortly after the birth of my siblings – dad got a nice pay raise when he was hired at a bigger school (and a few years later at the local community college) and mom went to work at an optometrist’s office in town.
My parents were able to get off the government dole through ambition, determination and hard work.  By the time I finished high school, we were living the definition of the middle class American Dream, complete with a nice house, annual family vacations and plenty of other comforts that many people are forced to do without.  All in all, we represented a very American ideal – we were a self-made success story.
But, my folks weren’t really 100% self-made, were they?  Without a taxpayer-sponsored safety net to help kick-start their future, I shudder to think what might have happened to our family.  Would we have been able to ever climb out of poverty?  Would my brother and sister have ever been conceived?  Would we have had chances to play sports, go to Disney World and eventually graduate from college with minimal debt?
The answers to all those questions is, of course, “who knows?”  But, I think it’s safe to assume that my mother and father would have had to sacrifice at least some of the luxuries they were able to provide.  And, I can say with some certainty that I would not have the opportunities I have today if it weren’t for the help we received way back in the late ‘70s.
I share this because I hope it helps at least a few skeptics connect the dots.  That it helps them realize the average person collecting welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, etc. is not a lazy freeloader, but more likely someone who has fallen on hard times and may not be able to get back onto his or her feet without a little boost.
Are there people who game the system?  Sure, and they need to be held accountable.  But would you take away from the many who aren’t to punish the few who are?