Welfare and Low Wages

Ronald Reagan popularized the notion of the Welfare Queen, that black mother-of-many who had babies just to take away your hard-earned cash. It was an offensive myth but still caught on. Since Reagan, welfare has undergone substantial changes, most notably under Clinton when millions found themselves suddenly ineligible for the poverty benefits that sustained them. Any able-bodied adult without dependent children was essentially cut off unless s/he was working at least part time.

Americans often bemoan the portion of their paychecks taken in taxes and some blame the lazy poor for sucking them dry.  A look at what the federal government spends on major benefits for the poor might be helpful here.

$30.6 billion -- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): These are cash payments to qualifying high poverty families. This program replaced the more generous AFDC in 1996 and has lifetime limits. Two-thirds of expenditures are for non-cash benefits like employer subsidies and child care. 3% of Americans receive TANF benefits.
$78.4 billion -- Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP): These are the old food stamps, now digitized.  Figures are for 2012 and do not include newly enacted reductions in eligibility and benefit amounts. 16% of Americans receive SNAP benefits.

$15.1 billion -- HUD Rental Assistance Program: Provides vouchers to tenants to assist with rent in excess of 30% of their income. Less than 1% of Americans receive HUD Rental Assistance.
$248 billion -- Medicaid: This is the federal portion of Medicaid spending in 2011, prior to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.  22% of Americans received Medicaid benefits in 2010.

15% of Americans live in poverty and most receive little or no federal assistance.  But those who do aren't Reagan's "welfare queens".  They're people who get up, go to work every day and still can't make ends meet.  They take your lunch order, deliver your UPS packages and check you out at stores you frequent.  Many of them work part-time.

When companies earn record profits but refuse to provide living wages and benefits to their employees, someone else has to.  This short two-minute video of McDonalds' helping out their long-time employee with advice tells it quite plainly.

52% of fast food workers receive public assistance.  That's right.  You pay when their employers won't.  But it isn't just the food industry.  UPS starts its employees at $8.50/hour and 53% of them are part-time.  Even UPS' full-time workers qualify for SNAP benefits.  FedEx is similar, with 40% part-time workers and low starting wages.  Shop at Wal-Mart, Target, Sears or TJ Maxx and the friendly clerk who rings up your order is living below the poverty level.  For a list of the ten US companies employing the most low-paid workers see this link.

I agree with my conservative friends that your taxes and mine should not be going to people who could be paying their own bills. Corporate America, start paying your own bills.  Pay wages that taxpayers like me don't have to subsidize.  We can start with a reasonable minimum wage.  If it had just kept pace with inflation since 1968, the minimum wage today would be $10.50.  That's still low but a good start.