Welfare prejudice

Often Iím told that the paper should do some kind of story about how our tax dollars are being wasted on social welfare. I hear of how people exploit the system to buy lottery tickets, beer and support all kinds of human debauchery.

Perfect failing examples of the sort of person so often stereotypically described can be seen tipping back government-sponsored six packs and lighting up good will cigarettes on just about any corner in Norwich at the end of the month, but there is something tragic to be seen further in the community.

There are different kinds of welfare Ė basically any money received from the state to supplement the cost of living. That covers a wide range of things from Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment, food stamps, public assistance, disability and so on.

I myself by that broad definition have been a welfare recipient at different points in my life because I received unemployment for a four-month duration and lived in HUD-approved housing (thatís a home that received government aid for its upkeep in exchange for placing rent to help lower income earners).

I know a handful of people who benefit from such programs. A disabled high school friend and veteran who lost part of his hearing in the service, another who is a single mom in her 20s reeling from a divorce and raising two kids, one who is fighting an ever-rising battle with a potent bipolar disorder, an elderly relative on public assistance because the cost of caring for her deceased husband wiped out everything they saved.

But, I also grew up here and like a lot of locals I can name quite a number of people who basically had the exact same opportunities all of us did, but instead inundated their lives with bad decisions often involving lazy mistakes over sex and drugs.

When people make these typical judgments about the laziness of welfare recipients, Iím fairly certain theyíre referring to that generation stereotype commonly seen in Chenango County.

Thatís the person who was raised in poverty (likely by a single parent) whose income also depended on a social program. They were bred in an environment of drugs, complacency and abuse and are transformed by their surroundings so drastically that once they mature, they emulate them, feeding off the system themselves when in fact they are capable of contributing to society.

Other people who fall into the easily-criticized category are those who suffer a great calamity in their lives, sometimes at their own doing, who canít ever escape the consequences and become dependent on the system to survive.

People are indeed ignorant and make systemic mistakes at turning points in their lives, especially those who started off with the deck stacked against them. Theyíre mistakes that spiral out of control with the burden of economics gaining so much weight that few barely escape.

A college kid who never finished, a teen who got knocked up, another who did something stupid and went to prison, again another who was raised in a constant state of poverty and abuse. They all scarcely have a chance to rise above until itís too late.

I try to at least step into their shoes and see their debilitating conditions, apathetic parents, bad influencing peers and a resentful public eye.

I do not believe all these people are lost causes and the economic woes or gains of our time can make all the difference in turning those on the tipping point from lifetime welfare recipient to productive member of society. I want to give these people, who want it, a hand to grasp, not a hand out.

These are the people who screw up monumentally and wish they had a way out. Even after they recant and look for change, they are continually dragged down by depression, a lack of public understanding and debt. Some obviously just give up and accept the role. Some pray for a chance to escape it.

Some people, through their own mistakes or by inherited ones, are utterly trapped or face incredible adversity in order to better their lives. Often a first step is economic mobility. Going back to school, learning a trade, finding the time to provide for a child and at the same time raise it.

These are serious constraints and they can often be eased by those in positions of greater prosperity, who have the means to reach down and offer hope. Thatís the higher, simplified morality behind welfare Ė helping those so constrained by the costs of life to raise their standard of living off the floor and to care for those too ill or disabled to make employment viable. If it can be done right, then you curtail another generation from following in their impoverished foot steps. When done incorrectly, the system will only encourage such lifestyles.

There are certainly those who no matter what will continue to abuse any system designed to help another.

I donít know how you take from one without hurting the other, and where does that leave the people who truly need it? I donít know, but I think Iím going to reserve my sweeping judgments.

Iím definitely not here to defend our current welfare system, but people seem to forget the original intentions behind it, which I do admire.

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