Republicans continue to use long-debunked myths about the poor as they defend lower taxes for the rich and deep cuts to the social safety net to pay for them. In so doing, they are essentially expressing scorn for working class and low-income Americans.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, for example, recently justified reducing the number of wealthy families exposed to the estate tax as a way to recognize “the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
Similarly, Sen. Orrin Hatch raised concerns about funding certain entitlement programs. “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything,” he said.
These statements, the likes of which I expect we’ll all hear more of in coming months, reinforce three harmful narratives about low-income Americans: People who receive benefits don’t work, they don’t deserve help and the money spent on the social safety net is a waste of money.
Based on my research and 20 years of experience as a clinical law professor representing low-income clients, I know that these statements are false and only serve to reinforce misconceptions about working class and poor Americans.
Most Welfare Recipients Are Makers Not Takers
The first myth, that people who receive public benefits are “takers” rather than “makers,” is flatly untrue for the vast majority of working-age recipients.
Consider Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps, which currently serve about 42 million Americans. At least one adult in more than half of SNAP-recipient households are working. And the average SNAP subsidy is $125 per month, or $1.40 per meal — hardly enough to justify quitting a job.
As for Medicaid, nearly 80 percent of adults receiving Medicaid live in families where someone works, and…