A Modern Paradox: How Conservative Policies Ensure A Welfare State

There is an old saying: “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”  There are policy choices to be made and you must decide at some point what is most important to you.  If you want healthy children then there must be policies in place that support health care and nutrition programs for people living in low-income households.  If you want all children to learn at their full potential so that none be left behind, then there must be policies enacted that support early childhood education, smaller class sizes, and well-paid teachers.

If conservatives want, as they assert, limited government and a residual safety net, then you would think they would support policies that favor American workers—policies that would ensure American workers receive livable wages that would allow them to purchase in the marketplace those goods and services that are necessary for themselves and their families.  You would think.  If—as I have written in this blog space before—conservatives abhor the very idea of the welfare state and millions of Americans dependent on their government for assistance, then they would not be promoting policies that limit the ability of American workers to maximize the value of their labor.

Yet these same conservatives have been carrying water for corporations for decades, ensuring that the minimum wage would be as minimal as possible, that there would be strict limits place on the ability of workers to participate in unions and exercise the right to bargain collectively.  They vilify Americans who see public service as a noble endeavor, who realize that government cannot work without highly qualified workers performing essential tasks.  They reward corporations through trade agreements that allow foreign workers to compete with Americans in an effort to drive wages down and profits up.  These conservatives resist efforts to lower interest rates on higher education loans.

Conservatives are outraged by the number of American citizens who receive food stamps and they see a Liberal agenda that promotes welfare and dependency by encouraging Americans to get onto the government gravy train.  What else would explain the escalating number of Americans receiving Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) payments from the federal government?  Conservatives claim that SSI is replacing welfare.  They refuse to factor in the increase in SSI payments that is due to the growth in population and the fact that so many women have entered the workforce in latter decades.

Approximately 8.3 million Americans received SSI payments in March—about 6 million received only federal payments and another 2 million received federal and state supplemented payments—up from about 7.7 million in 2010 and 6.3 million in 2000.  As you can glean from the chart below, participation in SSI is closely correlated to the unemployment rate.  Like food stamps and other means-tested programs, many people who are eligible to receive benefits are reluctant to claim them but when they are out of work, they have little choice but to take advantage of the safety net.


The point being made here is thank God there is a safety net.  The United States has always been a reluctant welfare state.  It was the last of the industrialized nations to institutionalize social welfare programs and it took the Great Depression to get that done.  We in America owe much to the Roosevelts.  I am reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt, Lion in the White House by Aida D. Donald.  I am drawn to him because he had the courage to take on corporations.  He did not want to destroy corporations but felt they should exist to serve the public’s interests.  Now there is a dream.

As I stated before, conservatives set out to undo New Deal legislation signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1935 before the ink was dry on the legislation.  They have fought tooth and nail over decades to roll back as much of the welfare state as possible.  You must acknowledge their perseverance.  But the policy positions they have taken over the years are doing as much as anything to ensure the permanence of an expansive welfare state in America.

Written by Dr. Charles E. Lewis Jr.
President of The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy

Twitter: @CharlesELewisJr.
Email:    celewisjr@gmail.com

Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr. is President of The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. He has served as deputy chief of staff and communications director for former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns and was the staff coordinator for the Congressional Social Work Caucus. He was a full-time faculty member at Howard University School of Social Work prior to joining Rep. Towns’ staff and now is an adjunct associate professor. As staff coordinator for the Social Work Caucus, Dr. Lewis helped to plan and to coordinate numerous briefings and events on the Hill and in the 10th Congressional District in Brooklyn, New York.

Originally from: http://crispinc.org/?p=646


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