A Notion in Need of a Change

It doesn’t take a sociologist to make an assumption about society. Wherever you were raised or currently reside has a major effect on your worldview. I live in Elizabeth City, North Carolina: a slow-moving harbor town whose epicenter of gravity boasts a Wal-Mart and a small university (honorable mention: the new Chick-fil-A). However, before I moved to this area around the end of my high school career, I lived on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This area is what I’d call upper middle class suburbia where my friend’s moms were trophy wives, and our neighbor down the street had a six-car garage. Still, our neighborhood was older and not as kept as the newer subdivisions and gated communities. Our house was built-in the 60’s when our orange carpet and mismatched wallpaper was apparently popular.  We always joked that we lived in the “ghetto” part of town, which is telling since our neighbor had such a palatial garage.  In a nutshell, our home’s cosmetic blast from the past was the most exposure our neighbors ever got to the needy. In fact, whatever condition families were in, they were expected to keep up the persona of “Oh, I’m great! How are you, Mr. Jones?” Therefore, when conversations arose about the less fortunate I was privy to such phrases as,

Don’t give a homeless person money, because he’ll spend it on drugs and alcohol.

All those people on welfare are just trying to live off of the government!

If those people stopped being so lazy and got a job, they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in now.

I still hear this in Elizabeth City. You don’t have to shop on Rodeo Drive to have this misconception, but I think it’s time we shift our worldview a little bit. Here’s something I found very interesting about all those “lazy” people on welfare.

The Institute for Social Research took a sample of 5,000 families who used some type of federal assistance and traced what happened to them over the span of 10 years. This study has been ongoing since 1968, and new families are chosen every 10 years to study.

The myth is that this welfare population doesn’t work and that they just live off of the government. The reality (and the conclusion from the study) is that the persistent welfare poor who rely solely on government assistance and continue to have generations of family on welfare is such a small percentage that an official percentage doesn’t even exist. So, what many think is the majority is barely even the minority!

Less than 50% received some sort of welfare for a temporary time of one to two years (over the 10 year time frame) returning to self-sufficiency.

Over 50% work part-time or full-time while receiving government assistance.

I hope everyone is still with me. This means that the former perception of those on welfare alone is wrong. Many people are struggling in this economy to find jobs or are struggling to provide for their families on the income they receive. If they do go on welfare, the average time that they stay on welfare is only one to two years.

Hopefully, this makes you stroke your chin for a second and think about the type of person who requires financial assistance. No matter where you’ve come from or where you are now in your life, it’s important not take everything you hear at face value. It’s easy to brush off those in need when you perceive them as shady con artists trying to scam the system. Start looking at that beggar on the street as your neighbor or that guy at the soup kitchen as your cousin. In this tough economy, it may be a little easier to do that.