The Welfare State of the Union

President Obama has been speaking lately of what he views as an upswing in the economy. "The economy is growing again," he declared in the State of the Union address. Not surprisingly, he failed to mention that for 104 consecutive weeks, larger and larger numbers of Americans have become dependent on welfare. Or that within those families receiving welfare, fathers have become more and more irrelevant, and youth crime has increased.

But, then, those are not facts that one expects to hear from the President in a State of the Union address, or anywhere else. What we hear, again and again, is the fantasy that government creates jobs, government drives the economy, government feeds kids and sends them to bed happy. The facts are just the opposite.

In fact, the Department of Agriculture has just reported that 43.6 million Americans are now receiving food stamps.

Significantly, in 2006, near the height of the historic Bush economic expansion, the number of Americans receiving food stamps was just over 20 million. Since then, the number of recipients has more than doubled, with nearly all of the increase coming under the presidency of Barack Obama. In fact, one of the under-reported stories of the past two years is that the number of Americans receiving food stamps has increased every single month under the Obama administration. Even with the recent decline of the unemployment rate from 10% to 9.4%, the number receiving food stamps has continued to increase.

That increase is not good for the taxpayer or for the welfare recipient. The increase in federal welfare spending is one of the main reasons for annual budget deficits now totaling $1.5 trillion. In the 2011 budget that Obama has submitted to Congress, over $1.43 trillion is to be spent on Medicare and Medicaid, with Medicaid the fasting growing component. Next to defense, health and human services is the largest component of discretionary spending in the Obama budget, coming in at $83.5 billion. But housing is not that far behind, with $41.6 billion. And other major redistribution programs, such as the Earned Income Credit, do not even appear in the budget.

The annual cost to the taxpayer of the Earned Income Credit program, which provides a maximum of $5,666 per family, is $59 billion. This is a high cost to pay, especially since as many as 30% of those claiming the credit are not entitled to it.

Clearly, Obama's redistributionist politics are not good for the taxpayer. But welfare is not good for welfare recipients, either.

The impact of food stamps, Section 8 housing subsidies, Medicaid, and other support programs has been to create a permanent welfare class which, in terms of skills and attitudes, is poorly equipped to return to work. Not only that, the children of welfare moms are nurtured in a mentality that perpetuates dependency from generation to generation. And liberal politicians are in no hurry to end this dependency since the system of welfare patronage serves their interests.

The destructiveness of welfare goes beyond political dependency. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan documented long ago in The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, the welfare system contributes greatly to the breakdown of the family. What Moynihan wrote in the 1960s holds true today. The more welfare that families receive from government, the less necessary fathers are for their support. Lacking the role model of a responsible father, children grow up to believe that dependency is a natural condition of life.

Furthermore, a great deal of evidence points to a close relationship between crime and welfare. It is by no means an urban myth to suggest that housing projects are dangerous locales. Statistical mapping reveals that murder sites in urban areas are clustered around public housing locations.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1994, Michael Tanner documented the relationship between welfare and crime. Pointing to the ill effects of high rates of out-of-wedlock birth and fatherless families among welfare recipients, Tanner concluded that "the welfare system is a significant cause of juvenile crime and violence." Clearly, welfare entails a cost to society that goes beyond its effect on the federal and state budgets.

As to why so many Americans are receiving food stamps and other welfare benefits, one reason is that so many have dropped out of the workforce altogether. The January 2011 jobs report confirmed that Obama's economic policies are not creating jobs. In fact, there were only 36,000 jobs created at a point in the economic cycle when one would expect a quarter million or more.  The "good news" is that the unemployment rate fell to 9%, but only because so many more decided that welfare beats work. Expect the big increases in food stamp numbers to continue.

Maybe Obama is pleased with the jobless recovery we are in. America now has the lowest labor force participation rate in a quarter century. As of November 2010, the rate had sunk to 64.5%.  That number includes not only those persons of working age who are employed but also those who are unemployed but looking for work -- currently 16% of the workforce. In other words, 35.5% of working age adults have simply given up on finding a job.

One would think these numbers would be alarming to a President who has already kicked off his re-election campaign with a partisan State of the Union address and numerous appearances in swing states. But Obama was schooled in the Chicago patronage system which equates dependency with votes. For a politician like Obama, a vigorous private sector expansion just means fewer votes. Maybe that's why he has done so much to prevent it from happening.

Democrats have a vested interest in expanding the numbers of Americans who have simply given up looking for work. Why should Obama wish to create more jobs when it is welfare recipients who are his greatest fans? 

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture.
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