Stereotype Busted: Poor People Are Lazy Moochers

Posted on by

image of people in line at an Unemployment officeI’m sure many people have some evil thoughts about going to work, especially after what seems like a too short of a weekend. ‘Why don’t I just go on welfare so I don’t have to work. I want to lay around all day drinking and popping out kids to get more welfare. It has to be easier than my life.’ Those of us who actually have experience with public assistance knew welfare didn’t make all poor people lazy moochers looking for free stuff. Now some actual research backs us up.

Today, almost 20 years after Mr. Clinton signed a law that stopped the federal entitlement to cash assistance for low-income families with children, the argument has solidified into a core tenet influencing social policy not only in the United States but also around the world.

And yet, to a significant degree, it is wrong. Actual experience, from the richest country in the world to some of the poorest places on the planet, suggests that cash assistance can be of enormous help for the poor. And freeing them from what President Ronald Reagan memorably termed the “spider’s web of dependency” — also known as forcing the poor to swim or sink — is not the cure-all for social ills its supporters claim.

Take births to single mothers. Already in 1995, an analysis of rates of birth to unwed mothers by Hilary Hoynes of the University of California, Berkeley, found that welfare payments did not increase single motherhood. And the experience over the next 20 years suggested that ending welfare did not reduce it.

The charge that welfare will become a way of life reproducing itself down the generations is also dubious. Before welfare reform in 1996, some four in 10 Americans on welfare were on it for only one or two years. Only about a third were on it for five years or more.

And what about jobs? There is little doubt that welfare can discourage employment, particularly when recipients lose benefits quickly as their earnings from work rise.

Still, the effects are muted. For instance, in 1983 Robert Moffitt, then at Rutgers University, estimated that welfare reduced work by some four hours a week out of a total of 25.

The Myth of Welfare’s Corrupting Influence on the Poor

The idea that welfare makes people lazy is insulting but I get why that false idea gets traction. People only see the surface and don’t know the whole story. Of course people don’t need to know the whole story however poor people have to jump through more red tape, which includes giving up one’s privacy, just to qualify for what little assistance they do get.

All of the red tape is because those who don’t need assistance wrongly assume the person asking for help doesn’t need it and just wants tax payers to pay for their “bad behavior”.

As the studies mentioned in the New York Times article point out, the stereotype of lazy poor people is not backed up by actual research data.

Stripping people of their basic dignity won’t make poor people go away. It will just hurt those already vulnerable. I think we need to base our views on concrete data and not some made up stereotype extreme.


Comments for this post are closed. If you wish to send a note to the editor, visit our contact form