Welfare Steak and Lobster May Kill the Middle Class

I almost feel sorry for the enterprising Louis Wayne Cuff.  The government does so much to discourage private enterprise that it’s a shame to see the entrepreneurial efforts of Louis nipped in their promising bud.  Here’s a man who had the gumption to get up in the morning, buy six lobsters, two porterhouse steaks and five 24-packs of Mountain Dew, and resell them at a 100% profit.

The interesting thing here is that the government itself was actually funding the effort.  You see, Louis bought all of it using his Bridge Card, i.e., the welfare debit card that replaced the old-fashioned food stamps.  Louis “swiped” the food, then turned around and sold it for 50 cents on the dollar.  For him, pure profit.  For the government, well, it’s probably better than the usual return on its investments.  For the taxpayer, the usual sham and scam.

The really interesting thing, of course, is that buying $141.78 worth of lobster, steak and Mountain Dew does not violate any laws.  If Louis had gone home and thrown a block party, he’d be a free, well-fed, and popular man today.

Welfare steak and lobster.  Why didn’t I think of that?

Because I’m foolish enough to work for a living, my wife is forced to be very careful with how we spend our money.  We’ve got a tight budget and a lot of mouths to feed.  Our grocery cart has only small amounts of meat—chicken and hamburger—and they’re usually stretched out in some kind of casserole.  We’ve been married almost 30 years, and have never bought a steak or a lobster.

How many times have I been in line at the grocery store and watched someone unload a cart full of big hunks of beef, tray upon tray of TV dinners, frozen pizzas, etc., and then magically swipe a welfare card, while I set out our 25% fat hamburger, rolls, flour, potatoes, dried beans and rice?

If I stopped working tomorrow, and joined the ranks of those enjoying the government largesse, our food budget would double.  We’d eat like we never had before.  We could have steak twice a week.  I know this because I actually got on the government website and figured it out.  No more pinching pennies.

This is not a new “development.”  My wonderfully brash but diminutive mother-in-law (God rest her soul) was standing in the checkout line one day with her usual penny-pinching fare, and watched an exceedingly overweight woman unload a cart full of various lovely cuts of beef.  “I wish I could afford that!” she snapped at her.

That must have been 30 or 40 years ago.  Things haven’t changed.

The point is this.  I am not against government assistance for those in need.  Our government is, no doubt, dripping with good intentions when it administers its SNAP program (SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and replaced the old food stamp system).  The benefits are so generous, though, that working folk like us cannot afford to buy the kind of food that the government hands out for free.

At some point, the working folk have to ask themselves this:  Why am I working and pinching pennies every month to put this food on the table, when I could opt for welfare and get that kind of food without working?

Especially because I would also get, on top of that, $1,105 in cash, full medical, dental and vision (which is worth, at least $1,200 a month), and a  housing subsidy.  To match all these benefits, and all the others, I figured that I’d have to make at least $65,000 a year.

So what’s the tipping point?  At what point will working folk get tired of the struggle and say, “Why work?”  Why work a forty-hour week, eat rice, beans, and cheap hamburger, when you don’t have to work at all, and you can eat steak and lobster?

I ask this question, not only because it personally pains me, but because it represents a very large, very present danger, especially in these dark economic times.  The middle class—the great class upon which America so very solidly and for so long built itself—is in danger of eroding because people within it are going to realize that they are better off if they lose their jobs.

If (God forbid!) I were out of work tomorrow, our standard of living would leap upward.  Instead of worrying about every penny in the food budget, we’d suddenly be faced with the interesting dilemma of how to spend our entire now-doubled monthly food allowance (like all such programs, if you don’t spend it, you lose it).  We’d have to shift from our habit of frugality, to a new habit of prodigality.

That’s a real danger—creating a situation in which people are better off dropping downward rather than struggling to stay in the middle class.