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home : opinions : opinions May 22, 2015

12/11/2012 1:05:00 PM
My Turn: America’s safety net has become too comfortable
Jim Barber

To paraphrase Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, “America, we have a problem.”

Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare has released a study concluding that a single woman with two children is financially better off with a job paying $29,000 than one paying $69,000 due to entitlement benefits. With $6300 food stamps, $16,500 Medicaid and child healthcare insurance, $4300 rent subsidies, $5000 (low) earned income tax credit, school lunch programs, family assistance programs, she has more disposable income.

Of course, there are variations from state to state, but the facts are ominous. Our “safety net” has become a hammock, sucking the work ethic from a once dynamic population seeking, through hard work and initiative, the “American Dream.” America is notoriously generous, but the unintended consequence of that generosity is that, through increasing welfare payments – now exceeding $1 trillion a year, excluding Social Security and Medicare – we increase the incentive to not work.

Today, expectations are different. A recent Wall Street Journal article, “What’s wrong in Fort Wayne?” told of employers with job openings that go wanting. Part of the problem is a lack of skilled workers, but part of the problem is “a mismatch between…available and desired pay.” When being unemployed is made comfortable enough, a pay scale commensurate with the skill level required for some jobs is not incentive enough for many to give up that comfort.

In this highly technological age, new jobs are constantly being created that require new skill sets. Technology is also changing traditional areas of employment, such as manufacturing, requiring fewer workers to accomplish the same job. That means that those entering the labor force need the tools – education and initiative – to acquire and adapt to ever-changing technology. It also means that those who fail to get those “tools”, mostly the consequence of poor life-choices such as dropping out of school, substance abuse, having children before becoming adults, etc., are destined to fill those jobs at the bottom of the economic ladder. And, unless they overcome those poor life-choices – return to school, get clean, go to night school, etc. – they are destined to stay there. For most of those job seekers just entering the labor force, those low level jobs are known as “entry level” employment – a transition stage from teenage to adulthood in which they learn what is necessary to gain and hold a good job, such as showing up ready to do whatever is required.

The safety net was intended for those who, through no fault of their own, lose their job, are injured, chronically ill or are otherwise unable to work. It was not meant to support those who make decisions that relegate them to a lower economic status. Unfortunately, it has become a popular theme by liberals to place the blame everywhere but where it belongs – on the individual. Under our runaway welfare spending, no one has to live below the poverty line, even if they fall into that economic stratum. With the various subsidies and grants they easily attain the lower-middle class lifestyle. Too many are perfectly comfortable there. Meanwhile, the country suffers a labor shortage, the inability to create jobs, and a class of citizens permanently dependent on siphoning the fruits of the labor of middle-class America.

Yes, we need a good safety net. But it should be for the helpless – not the clueless.

Jim Barber is a resident of Camp Verde

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Article comment by: John A. Bond

@ Oh C'mon:

I am NOT on any side. I take no side. I merely seek the truth. I search for it endlessly and when I encounter hyperbolic lies like the one presented here by Mr. Barber, I challenge it.

Speak truth to power, and present your truth without concern for whether it is accepted or rejected.

An old Cheyenne proverb says, "truth talkers are always persecuted."

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Article comment by: Don't know what to say

Yes, of course, there are many ignorant folks who are taking advantage of government aid, and that's wrong. No brainer there. But to then take that information and try to use it as rationale for totally eliminating this kind of assistance is such a shallow oversimplification, it leaves me almost speechless. Because some are misusing, then all who truly are in need and would be homeless/without healthcare/not eating should go out like the baby with the bathwater???

I guess this is where that narrow neocon mindset comes in so handy, right? If you're not managing to support yourself, then you must be ___________ (fill in the blank with whatever derogatory judgment you feel like making up about them). So easy, that mindset, and so incredibly violent.


Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Article comment by: Gaia Gurl

Yes, I agree.

After making BILLIONS in profits . . . Big Oil gets subsidies and pays little in taxes.


Walmart makes BILLIONS in profits and then pays their workers low enough to QUALIFY for welfare and food stamps.


After BANKRUPTING the entire NATION, banks got bailed out to the tune of TRILLIONS and NO ONE went to jail.


"STEP RIGHT UP and see the poor pauper trying to feed his kids, he is obviously robbing our tax dollars (Midline barker slips hand in your pockets unnoticed while you gawk at the attraction)."

There's a sucker born every minute. ~ P. T. Barnum

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Article comment by: @ Mary Jane and Others.......

You are blind if you do not see this. As a hard working married couple making less than $50,000 a year with 4 kids..we see this all the time. It pays to be divorced, the more kids the better. We know too many people to count, that receive food stamps, AHCCCS, and cash from the government who drive nicer cars than us, who have cell phones (we do not can't afford them) and who are subsidized for their housing. Some of these people have boyfriends or husbands who live with them but they manipulate the system for their benefit. I don't care if you are Republican or Democrat, but to deny what we all know is true is ludicrous. We have a problem in this country and it is that the Government pays you to be lazy and stay single and have kids. People need to be held accountable. Absolutely disgusting.

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Article comment by: Nux Man

I couldn't find this Penn. DPW report either Mr. Barber, although I'd sooner believe they scrubbed it rather than the made up fox bashing suggested by our local Verde Gestapo here, (JB, MJ, etc.).
As to your point I had a co-worker in his 20's, married w/2 kids. He worked barely 4mo. while his wife made all the applications she could find - they bragged about all the bennies they were signing up for. Last week they were selected for section 8 housing in another town not too far away, already had food stamps & State Healthcare, and had just received their free obama phones. In just 2 days he screwed up so bad the boss fired him on the spot - exactly as he wanted. His wife has been on unemployment, and he's just started his. According to these two leeches this was all coordinated by social worker at Az. DES,..... so never mind Penn. welfare scams, we have our own right here in the Verde Valley.

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Article comment by: Phil Sarkisian

The handwritting is on wall. It seems that the city of Clarkdale is preparing its citizens to the fact that the city pool will never open. You would think with VonGausig connection to the Walton Family Foundation he could squeeze out some grant money, you know call it a Clarkdale Sustainbility Project. Maybe then the citizens will understand what Clarkdale Sustainbility is all about!

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Article comment by: Lynda Kuglitsch

I found a link with the information Jim had in his letter. There may be other links Jim could provide.
I believe the 2008 recession created a perfect storm that allowed Americans to receive government assistance equal to or greater than compensation for available jobs. Why? Because there were so many job seekers, employers were able to offer below market compensation. Job seekers became frustrated. Those looking for a job comparable to the one they lost, actually ended up better off monitarily with their unemployment and other benefits than accepting the same type job for far less compensation. How would that be the "Great American Dream" for someone who was laid-off from a job paying $20.00 hr. to accept a similar one paying $9.00 hr.? If their unemployment paid the equivalent of $9.00 hr., it would seem to me they would be better off staying at home and spending some quality time with their kids. Should the work ethic make them see things differently? Generational welfare..well that's another story.

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Article comment by: Lee Cali

The submit section of this newspaper declares: "Those with special insight, knowledge or expertise may submit commentaries to 'My Turn'" I would certainly like to know how the editor decides who has these qualities. I, for one, do not see why Mr. Baber qualifies. But here are some possibilities, that perhaps other readers may want to consider and/or contribute their own ideas:

l. best friends with the editor?
2. runner up to Mitt Romney in the Republican National "Facts Aren't Everything" contest?
3. undercover agent for Fox News?
4. self-proclaimed disseminator of distorted news to higly ignorant rural populations?
5. all of the above?

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Article comment by: Oh c'mon John Bond!

Hey, I'm on your side, but even I have to pipe up here and say ENOUGH with the hypercreative alliteration already! LOL It just looks silly and doesn't further our cause at all, in fact goes a fair ways in the other direction.

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Article comment by: certainly you can isolate a few egregious examples ...

but is that really the whole story?

perhaps if it suits your agenda it is... but the truth has no agenda.

sure there are abuses but by and large they are the exception and not the rule.

perhaps if more job creators were creating jobs then there would be fewer folks in the net? of course the JC's will cry Govt' foul...etc...

so rather than be part of the solution they deflect and become the problem...

so just as those in the net abuse the system so do those far above the net...

just on a larger scale perhaps...

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Article comment by: @ Peter, YC

Your letter expresses the reason why I ask Mr. Barber to document his source for the "report."

I also spent some time on the PADPW site and could find no such information. I did find case studies provided by the DPW of people prosecuted for cheating the system.

I wait with bated breath the information substantiating Mr. Barber's claim.

Regretfully, it is not as if a Romney supporter can be trusted-- as was the case with Mr. Romney, to tell the truth.

I do wish the far-right folks would spend 1/10th the time retching about the crimes and other abuses of the mega-banks and Wall St. vandals who ruined the economy as they do picking on the little fish of the country.


Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Article comment by: M J

I am tired of supporting the parasitic leeches.

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Article comment by: nutso fasst

I had little trouble finding the Pennsylvania 'study' in a presentation given by Pennsylvania's Secretary of Public Welfare titled "Welfare’s Failure and the Solution."

The slide show is online here:

Very interesting presentation.

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Article comment by: Bill Bassett

Ok, you are kvetching about people at the lower end of the economic scale who have made poor life choices. These people seem to be below your level of contempt. Well, I have to agree with you that there are some mooches out there, some who would game the system to their advantage. Sure there are, just like there are greedy people everywhere. Just like there are lazy people everywhere. I hear you complain but I don't hear any suggestions on how to improve things. I did infer that you would simply cut those moochers out of the safety net if you could. Did I get that right?

I am reminded of another conservative idealog who completely blew his chance of becoming president by making similar "inarticulate" comments about the "47%".

So, how do you get them off the government dole? Educate them? Treat their addictions? Job train them? Offer assistance with child care, food, transportation? Nah, that would cost too much. And, they would not appreciate it anyway. Better to just cut 'em loose. Did I get that right too? Yeah, that's what I thought...and I suspect you call yourself a Christian too, right?

Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Article comment by: Danny Smith

Hit the nail right on the head JIm. Our system has created an incentive not to work. I know several people who are comfortable not working so why try? We at least need to do like the U.K. does now and require recipients to work required hours on public projects in order to collect. Stop making welfare an incentive. Of course the left will be on here shortly screaming about how unfair it is for people with ambition and drive to make money and to not support people without.

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